(Photo: James Dittiger)

Some days, your best intentions get you nowhere. And then some days, your best intentions lead you to make incredibly stupid choices, fueling an already unstable situation and sending it spiraling out of control. Norma and Dylan are trying to protect Norman, true, but this week it causes them to absolutely blow it in the intelligent decisions department. Once Norman confronts them about their shady behavior, the only reasonable thing to do would have been for them to confide in him, or at least to talk honestly about their concerns. Instead, they shut him out completely, with Norma just talking around him and Dylan straight up saying, “Stay the hell out of it.” Perhaps next time they could wave a red flag in front of his face, or maybe warn him not to think of polka-dotted elephants? Seriously, “Unbreak-Able” was chock-full of bad ideas on the part of the Bates family.

And when I say “Bates,” I’m including Dylan in that equation. Last week I referred to him as Dylan Bates, rather than Dylan Massett, but forgot to explain why. As this episode highlighted, Dylan is becoming one of the family, a Bates in all but name—calling him by his mother’s last name seemed a useful strategy for defining this particular version of Dylan, as someone who isn’t just mending his relationship with Norma, but actively trying to be there for her, to be a son to her. But apparently that bonding has been more of a threat to Norman that anyone realized. Or at least anyone but Norma, who practically was handed a Day-Glo “THIS UPSETS ME” sign by Norman regarding her relationship to his older brother, and chose to disparage her younger child’s feelings rather than address them. True, she had a wonderful beat with Norman in the kitchen, when he expressed worry about their changing connection and she replied, “No, Norman, I don’t think anything is different—or ever will be.” But she completely missed how, to him, that felt like a brush-off, a way to not acknowledge what was happening. As such, it distanced them even more. Well-intentioned mistakes, paving a certain road.

This episode was often difficult to watch, as the show becomes awfully uncomfortable when Norma and Norman aren’t getting along. Especially this week, as the case of the flash drive MacGuffin starts to heat up. It seems that whatever is on that flash drive is very well encrypted, or at least protected enough that some random dude in a coffee shop can’t hack into it in three seconds. (Norma’s frustrated interaction with the coffee shop computer guy was one of the few moments of levity in an otherwise extra-gloomy installment.) Trusting Dylan with the drive shows just how far their relationship has come, to say nothing of doubling down on her mistrust of Norman. The Arcanum Club is going to make this a real issue, given that it has no compunction about breaking into the motel office to search for its missing software. And now that we know Bob was directly involved with both of our dead girls, Sheriff Romero is facing some hard choices of his own. At least he has somewhat of an excuse for digging through the motel room of Annika Johnson, even if it didn’t sit too well with Norma.

Not that much of anything sat well with Norma this week. Vera Farmiga did her level best with this dour material, but it seemed obvious that she, too, was somewhat stymied by having Norma be such a joyless stiff this time around. In her coffee rendezvous with Mr. Professor, she reveals some feelings that seem at least half-true, even if she can’t talk about what’s behind them. Admitting that she feels like she can’t trust her son any more rang true for me, especially when proceeded by her open and jokey acknowledgement that perhaps they have too close a relationship most of the time. This wasn’t Norma trying to shield herself; this was the closest she’s come to sharing her current state of mind, and yet she still was at her wit’s end, because nothing’s changed. She still doesn’t know what’s best. But trying to shield Norman from anything dark or unpleasant is coming back to haunt her. Her terrible efforts at lying only poured extra salt on Norman’s emotional wounds, alienating him further from both mother and brother. Which led, inevitably, to that ugly showdown at Dylan’s cabin.

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My heart broke a little bit for Dylan during that confrontation with Norman. He’s trying so hard to be the good son with both of his parents, to do right in this impossible situation. And instead of helping either one, he’s about to be ejected from the Bates’ lives all over again, to go back to being Dylan Massett, unwanted outsider. Norman’s smirking sense of triumph in that scene was understandable: Here’s the guy who seems to be supplanting Norman’s place in his mother’s heart, and he’s sheltering her rapist. Frankly, that whole storyline would be more bearable if it hadn’t spent all this time treading water, feeling like a gross plot point the writers thought was necessary to move Dylan’s character forward. It’s taken him out of the house and away from where he does the most good on the show, instead saddling us with these repetitious back-and-forth mini-dramas about Caleb’s regret and need for acceptance. If nothing else, this finale suggests that we’ll finally get some movement on that front. Maybe Chick can come live with Dylan as a replacement?

Most upsetting of all, Norman hurts Emma in this episode, which of course hurts all of us, because Emma is the best. Their “romantic hypothermia” outing in the cabin by the roaring fire almost immediately blew up, as Norman confessed his mother’s commandment that they not have sex. Seeing Emma vent at Norman felt right, though, because Norma isn’t wrong: Norman is using his girlfriend as a pawn to try and hurt his mother. And it’s working, despite Norma’s protestations. She was crestfallen when she was told she wasn’t invited on that picnic. Just because she doesn’t trust her son doesn’t mean she won’t love him just as much, if not more, than before. These two people are still as co-dependent as ever, but that connection looks ugly when it’s bent out of alignment so severely, as it is this week. I get why the show is leaning into this fracture in their dynamic; I just wish it was more fun to witness. As is, this was some rough going; it’s becoming clear just how much the show needs its dark drama leavened with the arch camp magic that takes place on planet Farmiga. Everyone angry at everyone else doesn’t make for compelling television—it makes us wish these people could get it together, or at least not push each other, and the audience, further away.

Stray observations:

  • Business at Bates Motel is not so hot these days. Who would’ve thought multiple homicides at your cozy little place might start to drive away customers?
  • Norma Bates Has No Poker Face: Norman: “What are you two talking about?” [Pregnant pause.] Norma: “Nothing.”
  • I have to admit, when Caleb plunged off the top of the unfinished roof, I felt relieved that we might be done with that story. Sorry, Caleb!
  • Norman’s post-blackout recovery time is really getting rough. Seeing him standing there over Annika’s body, wondering aloud if he did it, felt very on the nose, and takes the character perilously close to being too much of a mess to function.
  • On that same note, I never, ever, ever want to see Norman try to make his mom jealous by making out with Emma ever again. Yuck.

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