Norma Bates is still thinking like someone who’s expecting to get control of the situation. When she sees a big hole being dug in her front yard, she demands to see the plans. The hole is obviously too big, and she naturally wants to see the design, so that it can be fixed. She’s a fixer. When a problem appears, she tries to race ahead of it, as quickly as she can, to stave off any accidents. That’s why she wants the hole roped-off, as a warning sign preventing anyone from falling in. If she can just keep everything in its proper place, life can go on.
But some holes are just too big.
This week’s episode was a minor number, sharp and necessary but definitely a setting-the-table installment as the show kicks into the final arc of the season. It was clear, last week, that the Bates household was experiencing its final moment of peace for the rest of this year, and sure enough, tonight wasted no time in knocking over the dominos. Norma and Norman’s relationship took one step forward and several ongoing lies back, as Norma, for all her commitment to intimacy with her son, refuses to tell him the truth about the flash drive. To his credit, Norman doesn’t give her the same treatment in reverse, but instead lays his cards on the table: Yes, Finnigan suggested that Norman is attracted to his mother, and he’s terrified that the gross doctor is right.
Which led into the best scene of “The Pit”: Norma gives Norman one of the most level-headed, rational, and helpful speeches she’s ever given in her entire life. (Or at least the duration of the show.) Her laughing and empathetic response to his fears about being sexually attracted to her weren’t just the usual Denial Norma behavior, because she didn’t deny anything. With a smile and playful hug, Norma told her son that having weird and sexually confusing feelings is completely normal. Hell, she even calls out her own crazy impulses while she’s at it. Life is messy and emotions are a disaster, and being a teenage boy makes all of that ten time worse. She’s so mature and sensible, it’s almost too confident a gesture from this spastic, brittle woman.
It works, because these are the moments that show us exactly why their bond has always been so deep. When the rest of the world leaves them alone, the Bates’ codependency is borne from a place of profound love and trust. But that’s what Norma can never accept: The world isn’t ever going to leave them alone, and things will never stop changing, no matter how much she insists that some things don’t change. And she is a terrible liar. Norman, through all of this, knows she’s lying to him about the source of this whole “pool” endeavor. She can’t have it both ways, absolute love and trust and bald-faced lying, even if she thinks it’s just to protect him from things that may put Norman at risk. Fences are far too permeable for that.
Meanwhile, we get the Caleb and Dylan road trip show. Much like the previous seasons’ drug war nonsense, there is some good work being done by the actors, but it’s awfully tough to care about it as much as Bates Motel seems to want us to. Faceless goons threatening the guys’ lives may push the story forward, but it feels a bit out of left field, which the show acknowledges by working overtime to quickly dump some Chick backstory into the main antagonist’s mouth. Clearly, there’s going to be a showdown with everybody’s favorite backwoods arms dealer, which mostly sucks because Chick has been the best thing to happen to this series’ non-Norman/Norma storylines since…ever, actually. He’s the first compelling character who feels worth investing in outside of what I’ve started referring to as the Bates extended family, i.e. everyone at dinner last week. To lose him thanks to a left turn into “he almost got them killed” territory would be irritating, at best.
At least it got Dylan away from Emma for a couple of days. There seems to be some debate about this in the comments, but I am 100 percent not on board the Dylan/Emma love train. (Demma?) It feels like a rehash of the Bradley arc (which, nice timing, no?) that also felt ugly and small, only this time it’s worse, because both Dylan and Emma should know better. They make small disclaimers about it—Dylan to Caleb, Emma to Gunner—but they don’t exactly hide the fact that they’re flirting like crazy. It’s a lazy well to draw from, and for characters so invested in the well-being of their family and their lives, it just doesn’t make much sense. Granted, Emma has the excuse that she’s dying, so making some ill-considered romantic maneuvers isn’t crazy. And hey, at least it gives Olivia Cooke more to do on the show.
Whereas Sheriff Romero maybe should think twice about his plans. Norma doubles down on her lie, in a moment where it’s obvious to everyone she should do the opposite. I get it—given that she had just spectacularly dropped the ball by confiding in James (and is it wrong that I didn’t mind seeing Bob Paris threaten him?), she wasn’t about to make that mistake again—but Romero’s too close to the family for that kind of treatment. It doesn’t work on Norman, and the sheriff has even less reason to accept it.
So he doesn’t. He walks away, and Norma loses one of the best friends she had. But again, it’s only our knowledge that Bates Motel is ultimately a tragedy that lends it the force of affect underlining these scenes. Just like Norma’s endearing sex talk with Norman, that hug at the end makes us squirm not because of anything in the moment, but because we know what’s to come. We know that Norman’s imaginary dog is always going to run away. We know the Norma in his head not only can’t be escaped, but is going to grow ever stronger. And we know that Norma was right when she yelled, “You’re gonna kill me, Norman!” She may not have meant it, but it was a gut punch to Norman. As always, he can tell when she’s lying, and when she’s telling the truth. And some holes are just too deep.
- Norma Bates has no poker face: You can’t respond to Norman pointing out that he couldn’t even buy new down comforters with a “Just be happy you’re getting a pool,” Norma. Sigh.
- As much as I’m down on the Dylan/Emma thing, I did enjoy her pushing together the brownies and flowers while telling Gunner, “The last thing on my mind these days is anything romantic.”
- Speaking of which, her breakup speech to Norman was a great example of the old “Emma Decody tells it like it is, a little too accurately” syndrome.
- This week’s heartbreaker award goes to Sheriff Romero, for being so sweet and thoughtful as to get Norma’s car back for her, only to have Bob Paris wreck him with the evidence that Norma has been lying all this time. At least it keeps him alive longer, because he’s nowhere near a relationship with her now.
- Norman was just so angry at that rope he couldn’t untangle!
- This Bradley thing better pay off in some way. Nicola Peltz is a fine actor, but I’m hard-pressed to see a good reason to bring her back. Surprise me, Bates Motel.