Photo: Cate Cameron

If there’s one undeniable thing to be said for Bates Motel’s style of storytelling, it’s that sometimes the show just can’t help itself. For all the efforts to remain above the often tawdry subject matter, to go arch and arty during moments of particularly noteworthy bloodshed, the reverse is just as often true: This series likes to wallow in the sleaze. It can’t resist giving winking nods when plunging into sudsy theatrics, as if to nudge the viewer in the ribs with a sly, “Eh? Can you believe what we’ve all gotten ourselves into?” And during moments like those in “The Convergence Of The Twain,” where Norman realized the man having an affair in his motel is none other than Sam Loomis, husband to Norman’s new obsession, Madeline, the A&E show does everything but pour you a glass of red wine and hand over a tray of bonbons. I hope you packed your sleeping bag and tent, because things are about to get campy.

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Luckily, the show gets away with it for the same reason it always has: great actors who can sell this tenor of absurdity. As Vera Farmiga settles into the role of Norma/n, she’s finding ways to play around with the hollowness of Norman’s interiorized version of his mother. During moments of quiet, rather than the swirling eddies of emotion that used to roil behind real-life Norma’s eyes, there’s now a placidity, a surface sheen to the woman, that speaks to the incomplete nature of the person. This chimera waits for Norman to prompt every outburst, and in between saying things he imagines she would, the character sits, doll-like, only taking on deeper reserves of feeling when Norman expects her to. It’s nowhere near as rewarding as watching the actor play a flesh-and-blood human, but when she’s given juicier scenes, like her confrontation of Norman in the bathroom, there’s fun to be had in the shallower end of things.

Similarly, when Farmiga and Freddie Highmore tackle a scene where Norma/n comes out to play, watching the pair offer up their respective takes on Norman’s version of his mom makes for compelling television. Norma/n order her bourbon neat, and launches into a lengthy spiel about her unhappy life as a caretaker and the ingratitude of her charge, using language just veiled enough to pass for plausible. It’s telling that Norman would see his mother as believing only in her own long-suffering martyrdom when it comes to hiding from the world and caring for him. She recites a litany of failings in her son, saying he doesn’t even like her anymore. And the odd thing is, there’s an element of truth to that: It takes Norman a moment to reassure her that he still cares for her, and that pregnant pause speaks volumes about how much of a burden he finds caring for Norma to be. It’s as if, in order to make up for his guilt about resenting her continued presence, Norman has to make her into more of a villain, one who genuinely thinks (and would tell a complete stranger) she’s “a caretaker for a mentally ill person.”

But no matter Norma/n’s complaints—there’s trash in which to revel! Every encounter between Sam Loomis and Norman is a gold mine of shade throwing, the equivalent of a catty Real Housewives-esque sniping match on Norman’s part, and lunkheaded intimidation on the part of Sam. “Ah, Mr. Davidson!” Norman exclaims when Sam comes to visit him at the motel, bearing a threat to kick his ass “across the gravel” should Norman so much as hint at Loomis’ infidelity. This version of Norman is a delight to watch, a smarmy wiseass who continually taunts Loomis with the knowledge of his failure as a husband. It’s as if the young motel manager took all those years of petulant and acidic zingers between Norma and himself and honed them into a razor-sharp edge of scorn. It’s understandable he would develop this skill—after all, he learned from the best.

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And that’s not even the juiciest plot development this week. After only one day back in town, Caleb has already made a fatal mistake, and triggered the full-on Norma/n assault. Clad in blond wig and dress just like Psycho, Norman knocks out his uncle with one blow to the head. It was only a matter of time—if you start to question Norman, you either end up dead, or if you’re lucky, in prison like Alex Romero—and Caleb had already discovered the moldy mess that was the house. Still, no one wants to hear from a hotel clerk that their sister died, and Caleb’s rage drives him to storm the house, eventually winding up in the infamous cellar, where he stumbles upon Norma’s preserved body sitting in the gloom. Caleb’s too much of an unpredictable element to keep him alive, and Norman likely always continued to believe his mother hated her brother, despite the rapprochement, meaning Norma’s sibling won’t be long for this world.

Of course, that still leaves Chick. Good old Chick, was was the last person we saw getting through to Norman in the season four finale, and who has apparently become somewhat of a kindly neighbor since that time, dropping by to help Norman around the house and generally keep an eye on him. “Well, now you know, Chick—I’m still alive,” Norma/n tells him, after the bearded recluse sees Caleb felled. Given the new business arrangement between Norman and Chick, it seems safe to say Chick will keep quiet about Norman’s condition for the time being, if only to make some money, something he desperately needs at the moment. And given Norma/n didn’t fly at him and attack, it looks like the Bates will decide to trust him for the time being. Still, things don‘t look good for the lifespan of Caleb’s former antagonist. Secrets have enough trouble being kept between Norman and his imaginary mother; their troubled little family can’t allow that kind of threat to exist in the world, no matter how crippled it may claim to be.

Stray Observations:

  • In this series, Sam Loomis is married and divides his time between home and Seattle, unlike the original film. And it sure seems like a given that his mistress is none other than Marion Crane, a.k.a. RIhanna. And if that’s true, Sam may end up playing a very big role in this final season.
  • Seriously, such delicious zingers from Norman tonight. Sam: “I’m more of a doer.” Norman: “What is it you’re always doing, Sam?”
  • That was quite an inscription on Norma’s tombstone. It’s a laundry list of loving titles for his departed mother, but it ends with the oft-mentioned line from throughout the series: “There’s a cord between our hearts, forever and ever until the sky falls down.”
  • Norma, after seeing the uncanny resemblance between herself and Madeline Loomis: “Are you gonna be one of those guys?”
  • In that episode-opening chat with Dylan and Emma, the irony about “honesty” could not have been thicker if the writers ladled it on with a shovel.
  • Romero’s getting a transfer—and one step closer to getting at Norman.

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