This season of Bates Motel is really heating up, which makes sense as we’re technically in the back half now. A lot of things came to a head in this episode. Not everything, obviously, but it was nonetheless intense. The first thing we had to pick up from was Norma storming out in the middle of the last episode and apparently abandoning her two children.
What that means is that we get a lot of alone time with Norma, as well as seeing how Norman and Dylan function on their own. None of them are doing great. Norma on her own is a train wreck. She’s having a complete mental breakdown and I actually think I would have liked to see this develop a little more. If I have one complaint with this episode it is that it resolved things too quickly. I understand that there are only ten episodes in the season, but it would be nice to give things a little more breathing room. I definitely think that Norma on her own, with Dylan and Norman having to function without her, is something that could have been sustained for several episodes if not the length of a whole season.
Norma is clearly in the middle of a mental breakdown and instead of dealing with it, or anything else, her first instinct is to simply disappear. It’s interesting to see how well Norman knows his mother’s mind by pointing out that this is what she does. When things get hectic, when things get to a point that she can’t handle or turn into something she can’t control, she just leaves. That’s what she always does and Norman is justified in his assumption that that is what she’s doing now.
That is, however, Norman’s last moment of clarity for the remainder of the episode. He is not doing well without Norma. He lies sick in bed, wanders around the house in a catatonic state and finally assumes her identity to perform her role around the house. Dylan walking into the kitchen and finding Norman—as Norma—making breakfast is probably one of the most important moments in the entire series so far. This is the first time we have actually seen Norman assume her identity as opposed to talking to an imagined version of her. And Dylan is there to see it. I can’t imagine that this won’t be addressed, but I also can’t imagine how they’ll deal with it now that things seem to almost be calming down. At least regarding the family. There’s still the flash drive to worry about.
Which brings us to Sheriff Romero. He’s not in the episode a lot, but none of it is filler. There’s a lot of major plot work here, including Romero getting shot and his murder of the man who was planted to take his place.
Emma has a bit more to do as well, as she volunteers herself to look after Norman. Ironically, this brings her closer to Dylan. We’ve never gotten to see these two interact very much and I’ve always wanted to, because they actually have a lot in common. Luckily, the writers don’t waste the opportunity and the characters become aware of their connection as well. It’s not cheesy or overdone, there’s a subtle element to it that both actors play extremely well. Emma sells the whole scene with a simple “You too?”
The crux of the episode, however, is Norma’s reunion with Caleb. I have a lot of emotions about this. Even now, after watching it, I’m not totally sure what to say about it. Norma made it extremely clear that she did not want to do this, that the only reason she was going to talk to this man was because she was obligated to do it as a mother. Her anecdote about The Giving Tree is extremely telling about her character. This is a reunion with her brother, who was the only person she was close to in her youth, who betrayed her trust and raped her. He raped her. And it seems like she is going to talk to him out of spite. And it’s not even clear if she’s doing it to spite her children or to spite herself.
And then there’s the scene. As soon as Caleb looks at her, he collapses to his knees, sobbing, apologizing over and over again. There’s no way it’s not honest, there’s no way it’s not heartfelt. It’s the best acting that Kenny Johnson has done during his time on the show. His apology is tricky, because it’s still rape he’s apologizing for. On the list of offenses, that’s pretty unforgivable, no matter how sorry he really is. Yet, if anything, Norma looks relieved. She doesn’t chew him out or kill him, like I was honestly expecting her to. They hold each other. At first I couldn’t understand that relief, but the way I see it now is this: Norma’s relief is not from her brother’s apology, but from the fact that for the first time in her life she has finally stopped running.
If anything, that is what the episode is about. On that level, it’s one of the best of the season, even if it does resolve things too quickly.