Sheriff Alex Romero may as well have the acronym “MVP” permanently embossed on his business cards, because he is the saving grace of Norma Bates. The peacekeeper of White Pine Bay did something tonight that’s never happened before to the brittle and volatile mother of Dylan and Norman: He accepted her for who she is. And more importantly, accepted her for who she was. The past caught up with Norma once again, but rather than accepting her fight-or-flight ultimatum—”Pack your bag”—Romero nods. “Okay. Where are we going?”
That openness and generosity of heart is what makes Romero a good man, one who could finally know Norma’s big secret and not run. (I’d call it her biggest secret, but let’s be honest, she’s got more than a couple of facts about Norman that give it a run for the murderous money.) Her tearful confession, both tragic and pitiable, is a tough one, because Norma—as we’ve had lots of time to see—is not so hot at the whole “emotional honesty” thing, or even just the “honesty” thing. But Alex cracks open a wellspring in her, one from which pours affection, attraction, and even truth. As she has been so many times before, Norma is pushed to the brink, and she explodes under the pressure. But there’s no damaged child at home to wound, and no tentative suitor to be driven off. There’s just Alex, and he’s not going anywhere.
The struggle with the past defines ”The Vault,” and it pushes every character to act, as an unresolved element from their respective histories confronts them, forcing a choice. But whereas last week’s “Refraction” concerned the value of lies, this episode was its flipside, addressing a kernel of truth, an inescapable reality, hidden within everyone. Watching how each character addressed that unspoken truth laid bare characteristics and desires long suppressed. For Norma, it was literally a question of speaking that which had gone unspoken. “Just say it,” Chick urges, and she does, admitting out loud the secret incestuous history of her family. Chick then prods her into making a choice, and Norma finds out who she is once more. She can’t kill Chick, despite his threats of blackmail; and she can’t give up her brother, even if part of her hates him for what he did when they were younger. So she makes a stand, one she’s convinced will bring her happiness crashing to Earth. But she bets on honesty and herself, and at long last, that bet pays off.
Watching her choose to refuse Chick’s pressure to reveal her brother is something to behold, too. Her final confrontation with him exposes both her traditional weakness—raging against any threat, no matter how useless that rage—while also showing there are some things to which she will not yield. She will remain unbowed. And Chick, not wanting to hurt her, is impressed, even chastened. “I hope you enjoy your new window, Norma,” he says, planting a small kiss on her cheek. It’s an impressive window, one that will let in the light and cast a colorful but beautiful illumination on the inside of Norma Bates’ existence. For that, Chick, thank you.
Norman’s truth is much darker, and doesn’t have any happy ending in sight. While Norma never had control over her secrets, Norman’s are kept under lock and key by the Norma/n persona. His mind has locked it up tight, in the safe box of another personality (the “Vault” of the title), in order to protect him from himself. The discoveries Norman makes this week are enormous, as he not only learns he suffers from dissociative identity disorder, but that the other persona in his head is a version of his mother. That’s an enormous reveal, both for him and the show, and it’s not clear yet how Norman feels about it.
This episode played Norman very close to the vest, only deploying him in scenes where he could react to the prodding of others, primarily Dr. Edwards. He offers nothing but responses, and since we’re stuck in the presence of staff or family each time, it’s unclear how he’s processing all this new information. In a single episode of the series, Norman has learned of his alter ego, an intense childhood memory, and Dylan and Emma’s burgeoning relationship, and he’s…ok? It’s honestly impossible to know where he stands. He’s quiet, controlled, and calm, but he also seems to be genuinely trying. In his therapy, he’s offering real answers, to the best of his ability. What he doesn’t realize, of course, is the traumatic reality of his childhood, particularly the horrifying memory of his mother’s rape, which is one of the most disturbing images the show has ever done. Watching young Norman under the bed, holding hands with his mother, is a chilling image, and it’s suddenly a lot clearer why he would create the Norma/n persona as a means of ensuring his continued ignorance.
Hence’s Norman’s insistence on the normalcy of his upbringing. It all lines up: The obvious aptronym of his family’s names (Norma/Norman/Normal), his perpetual confidence and easy relatability regarding the “average” nature of his young life, even his mannerisms. They’re all the outcome of a carefully constructed identity, one based on a fundamental rejection of his harrowing childhood and the emotional havoc it wreaked upon his mind. When Dr. Edwards talks to Norma/n, it’s because the mother persona is once again doing its best to keep Norman safe. “Don’t make him remember these things,” she implores Edwards, tears streaming down her face. “…or I will have to do something about it.” And with that, we’re reminded of Norma/n’s true facility: She’s a mother who silences threats, by any means necessary. The real Norma may be in love, and having to remind herself she’s not in some romantic movie, but Norma/n only has her son. And when he learns the real-life Norma is married and happy, it will introduce an irresolvable split between the mother in his head and the flesh and blood one. ”It’s funny, isn’t it? You and I?” Not nearly as much as you think, Norma Bates.
- As her character was pushed to the breaking point, Vera Farmiga got to deliver a few small scenes of the old Norma, a nice reminder of the live wire that runs through Norma in times of danger. From her screaming and waving a gun on the bridge, to her angry chopping in the kitchen, to that beautiful moment where she tells Chick exactly where he can put that window…thank God for her (temporary) happiness, but the old Norma was a titanic force.
- In fact, someone please make a GIF of Norma’s telling Chick where he can put it and send it to me on Twitter. I’ll be in your debt, as will be the whole world.
- Norma Bates Has No Poker Face: After Dylan warns her not to contact Caleb and put anyone in danger: “I won’t.”
- Norma Bates Has No Poker Face, Vol. 2: Dylan again, asking in the kitchen if she’s really okay, receives, “Yeah, I’m great.” Choppity chop chop.
- Romero also gets a superb underplayed line after Norma screams at Chick that he’s alluding to double meanings. “I think he was just talking about the window.”
- Is Dr. Edwards really surprised that Norma/n is charming?
- We didn’t talk about it, but Romero is giving up a vault of his own to Rebecca. One worth about $3 million—let’s see if that actually works.