It’s taken me three years to realize that Bates Motel is so much easier to watch with the lights off. Tonight’s episode was visually and thematically dark as Norma grasped for some sort of control in her life, but had to fall back into old habits to get there, and Dylan witnessed his brother’s descent firsthand.
In what I think is a series first, the episode is time-stamped over a period of 12 hours, beginning immediately after Norma storms out.
While she drives and cries, DylanÂ deals with a despondent and frantic Norman, who’s destroying the kitchen plate by plate and yelling at Dylan to get her back. When he’s beyond reason, Dylan controls him the only way he can, knocking him out cold with one punch.
He texts Norma over and over and she finally stops, gets out, throws down her phone and shoots it twice. Then she drives away.
Back home, Dylan has put Norman to bed, and he’s calmer. He tells Dylan he feels like he’s outside his body, and that Norma won’t come back, because this is what she does–the way she ran with them when they were little and the way she took Norman and bolted Arizona without telling Dylan. Dylan says he’s different, that she won’t leave him. Norman insists she will, that Dylan doesn’t know her as well as he does.
Norm makes it to Portland and ditches her clothes and her car for shinier versions, and crashes at a motel (YVR Shoots staple 2400 Motel), but she’s agitated and restless and can’t stay put. So she winds up in a bar, and gets cozy with a guy to whom she lies that she just fled her wedding day.Â He wastes no time in getting handsy and they retreat to hisÂ truck and start to make out.Â I have Thelma & Louise flashbacks until he unzips and she finally comes out of herÂ booze haze and recoils and gets the hell out.
Emma comes to the house and offers to stay to help with Norman. DylanÂ initially begs off, but realizes he needs her. While she stays with Norman, heÂ goes to see Caleb and tells him what’s happened and that he’ll have to go. Caleb says it’s OK but he cries as Dylan leaves.
Norman wakes up to find Emma in his room and then he goes looking for Norma. He winds up in his basement shop, envisioning his animals alive, until he blacks out and goes catatonic and Emma and Dylan find him but can’t get through to him and Dylan says it’s happened before, they just have to wait it out.
Norman finally emerges enough that they walk him upstairs and put him to bed. Emma has a coughing attack and asks Dylan to help clear her chest. He’s hesitant to hit her with enough force and she talks him through it. They awkwardly apologize to each other for the scenario, and Emma says she wanted to be there, that she wants so badly to be part of their family, and she realizes that Dylan wants that, too.
NormaÂ drunk dialsÂ James from a pay phone and then turns up at his door. She confesses Norman’s blackout murder of her husband and then tries to take it all back. She gets more and more frantic and tries to leave and he won’t let her. She gets as far as the porch and then he carries her back inside. He puts her to be and she kisses him, and he weakly rejects her until he doesn’t, saying he could lose his license (which, frankly, he should, if only because of how drunk she is).
Dylan wakes to someone rattling dishes in the kitchen and he sees the back of Norma’s bathrobe. He starts talking and then the figure in robe backs out of the cabinet and it’s Norman. Dylan can only watch quietly as he tries to navigate the crazy. All points to Freddie Highmore because he goes full Norma, preparing breakfast and chattering away and telling Dylan to go wake his brother.
We don’t see how that resolves, but the next morning, Norman is back in Norma’s bed asleep and Emma missed the whole thing. She leaves to go home, and Dylan lies down beside Norman.
Across town, Norma is getting dressed and taking her leave.Â James tries to talk her into staying, to take care of herself, and she gives him a Norma-esque excuse that mothers can’t do that, and she skewers “The Giving Tree” as a distortion of parental sacrifice.
Out at the farm, Chick pops by to see if Caleb wants the job, ad he says yes, maybe. He wants to know more and Chick says not yet.
Norma turns up in the doorway of her bedroom and wakes the boys, telling them they’re going to see Caleb. They try to argue against it but she’s firm. They pile in the new car (and Norman hilariously asks Dylan why she is driving it). They reach the farm and Norma takes a few shuddering breaths before she gets out of the car and approaches Caleb’s van. She reaches it and starts to knock and then the doors open.
She steps back as Caleb emerges and they’re both overwhelmed. She backs away and walks toward her sons and he goes after her, grabbing her arms to turn her back to face him. He calls her “Norma Louise” and tells her how sorry he is. He drops to his knees, holding her legs andÂ apologizing, and they both start to sob. She goes to her knees as well and takes his head in her hands, holding his face close to hers.Â They hold each other and cry. Dylan and Norman watch. Dylan is overwhelmed, disbelieving, maybe hopeful and not quite so broken. Norman is dark, cold. This is not what he wanted.
Elsewhere in town, Romero gets shot by someone unseen andÂ Marcus comes to the hospital to tell him he can fall in and work for him and be safe from Bob, or he can be killed. Romero hearsÂ Marcus out and then because he is AWESOME, follows him out to the car–barefoot and still in a hospital gown but wearing pants–breaks out his window with his IV pole, takes his gun, and shoots him with it. Then he moves his body over to the passenger side and drives .the car away.
I loved this episode. I don’t know what I expected the Norma and Caleb reunion to be, other than that I was worried she’d try to shoot him and accidentally kill someone else. When she’s alone in the 2400 Motel, she has a childhood memory of hiding under the house as Caleb hugged her, reassuring her their dad would be passed out soon. The reality of what they were to each other was shattered by Caleb’s rape, but she was still able to pull forward a memory of him that wasn’t awful and terrible and ugly.
I have no idea where this will go, especially now that Caleb is falling in with Chick, but it sets up an interesting dynamic if Dylan’s nuclear family is somewhat restored and healing and Norman feels like more and more of an outsider.
On our press call last week, someone asked Max Thieriot about a potential love story between Dylan and Emma, and that never crossed my mind because of the age thing, but tonight I could see it. Thieriot and Olivia Cooke were so good. That won’t bode well for Norman’s fragilityÂ if something sparks there.
As usual, Vera Farmiga, Max Thieriot, and Kenny Johnson KILLED it. Farmiga was just raw–you can completely get why she said last month that the role is physically,Â emotionally, and psychologically traumatizing. And we still have four left.
You can rewatch “Norma Louise” at 11/10c on A & E and throughout the week on A & E and its website. If you missed our new interview with Thieriot, Johnson, and Ryan Hurst, click here.
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