Poor Norman Bates. He’s really starting to lose control of his emotions—and not in a blacking out, other-persona-takes-over, murderous psychopath kind of way. He’s losing control as himself, as frustrated teenager Norman, who can’t seem to catch a break, and whose own mother is looking at him like he’s a killer. As he says to Emma, having the closest person in the world constantly making you feel like you did something wrong wears away at you. It makes you feel like maybe you did do something wrong. “She thinks there’s something wrong with me. That I’m bad,” he says, the sadness and confusion starting to outpace his ability to keep it together. So he nearly drowns himself trying to get the truth. That’s how badly he wants to just have everything be clear, to stop the silent judgments and uncertainty.
Poor Norma Bates. As I mentioned last week, she no longer knows what’s best for her son. The not knowing who killed Annika was bad enough, but at least Norman seemed sure of his innocence. Meaning, even if he did kill her, it was the part of him that was sick, and in a sense, not really Norman. But when she tucks him in, and he quietly asks her, with all earnestness, “What if I did kill her, Mother?” That’s the line she can’t handle crossing. The one between her son dealing with a mental illness that makes him do terrible things, and the world where her sweet son, in full control of his faculties, is actually a homicidal killer. When she breaks down behind the concierge desk, telling God she doesn’t know what to do, it’s the kind of heartbreak and despair you’re not sure it’s possible to come back from. Thank God Annika showed up alive, just in time to die for real. It means there’s still hope for her son and her—at least for now.
Poor Emma Decody. No matter how hard she tries, she’s still not quite a member of the family, and never will be. She gets a dressing-sexy montage all to herself tonight, getting all dolled up just so that when Norman, chin hitting the floor, tells her she looks good, she can breezily exclaim, “Do I?” It’s a rare moment of power for her, one that quickly vanishes during her heart-to-heart with Norman at night. She can see him struggling to open up to her, and honestly, he mostly does. His confession of the painful rupture in his relationship with his mother strikes Emma as true, but when she tries to help him, to reassure her boyfriend that he’s a good person, it’s not enough. He storms off, leaving her in the dark and out of the frame once again. She’s working overtime to be a part of things, but at the end of the day, she can’t seem to worm her way into Norman’s heart the way she wants. No wonder she eagerly clutches at Dylan’s secret about Norma’s brother being in town. At least someone is trusting her with something intimate. It’s just not the member of the Bates family she wants it to be.
Poor Sheriff Alex Romero. He’s on the outs with the major players in town, after the previous months of DEA raids and serious losses to White Pine Bay’s singular cash crop. And now they’re threatening him with ouster, even bringing in their handpicked successor, Marcus Young, to win the election. He can’t even just do his job, investigating a poor girl’s murder (maybe “poor” is the wrong choice of words, given that she cleared ten grand a weekend for driving in to be an Arcanum Club prostitute), without being stonewalled by important people like Bob Harris (Mad Men’s Kevin Rahm, smirking happily in his villain role). Even Norma, with whom he’s shared so much, won’t just talk to him like a friend tonight, even if she is protecting her son. The woman who almost kissed him last week is suddenly trying to act like a stranger. He doesn’t seem to have anyone.
And finally, poor Dylan Bates. He’s stuck again in a sodden father-son bonding plotline that feels even more boring now that we know he could be hanging out with Chick. (Okay, maybe this one is more of a “poor us, the viewers” lament.)
There were some momentous moments this week, but they all felt weighted down by the burden of Norma and Norman’s strained relationship. Which is certainly necessary, story-wise, but isn’t especially pleasant to watch. Norma in particular had a rough go of it this week: With the exception of her delightful morgue realization that she wasn’t looking at Annika, and her theft of the professor’s chair in the psychology class she wrongly sat in on, Vera Farmiga had nothing but dramatic heavy lifting to perform. And since the show kind of cheated a bit with the coy workaround of Annika’s death (oh, now she’s dead, okay), we were put through the emotional wringer with mother and son, only to realize it wasn’t necessary. Not yet, anyway.
What the show did give us this week was a real demonstration of what’s going through Norman Bates’ head. It was a crucial move, especially given all the inscrutable stares he offered up last week, and let us understand just how persecuted Norman feels by the one person who’s supposed to love him unconditionally. When he’s slamming the bed up and down in frustration, while a wide-eyed Norma looks on, it’s not the actions of a maniac. It’s the actions of a messed-up kid who doesn’t understand why his mother is looking at him like he’s evil. We feel for Norman here.
And more importantly, we realize just what kind of power the Norma in his head wields. The “persuasion” of this week’s title is Norman’s inner self, convincing this good kid that he’s not who he thinks he is. Whereas everyone in the real world—Emma, Norma—can’t measure up to his assessment of himself, the inner Norma can pull him from his self-assured ways, convincing him that maybe he did kill Annika, after all. All these females who feel comfortable with Norman (even the sheriff sees it, noting that, weirdly, women trust him), and the only one who can lead him down a path away from himself is the one who can’t be challenged. Going forward, it will be tough to feel like Norman can ever come back from this crisis of confidence. Maybe the discovery that Annika hadn’t been killed will strengthen his resolve not to let this inner voice control him—or maybe, at long last, this is the beginning we’ve been hoping would never come.
- Okay, first off, mea culpa: Yeah, yeah, Annika wasn’t dead yet. They brought her back just in time to have her die in Norma’s arms and hand her that flash drive. Which, fine, whatever, a nice plot tease; but I still maintain the whole “twist” was a pretty cheap trick. I should’ve known this show still isn’t capable of killing someone without shoving it in our faces immediately.
- Freddie Highmore, on the other hand, was superb, the weaknesses of this episode aside. When he tearily reminds Norma, “I stayed in this world for you,” I felt my heart shred a little.
- The only really delightful part of the episode, the one that felt like Bates Motel at its most gonzo, was Emma, car packed full of marijuana plants, driving to Dylan’s while listening to the Specials. That was special.
- I’ll be curious to see if Joshua Leonard’s psychology professor actually becomes Norma’s shrink. I love Leonard as an actor, but I worry that he’s going to be set up as boyfriend material instead. Which would’ve been fine before last episode, but come on—who didn’t start ’shipping Sheriff Romero and Norma the moment that awkward goodbye happened?
- Incidentally, is Marcus Young the first black person in White Pine Bay that we’ve seen in a speaking role? If so, it just makes it even weirder that they took pains to point out he’s actually from the South. We get it: White Pine Bay is lily-white.
- Norma Bates has no poker face: “I threw up on myself in the car.” There’s the Norma we know and love.