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The Unraveling Begins in Bates Motel “A Danger to Himself and Others” 

Photo Credit: Bettina Strauss/A & E
Photo Credit: Bettina Strauss/A & E

Wow, I have missed this show. My DVR’s hard drive failed right after Christmas so my ready-to-go Bates Motel fixes from last season went with it, and I hadn’t sought them out online. Watching the season premiere, I was enthralled, if I’m going to be honest. There’s so much going on, and, we know, so much yet to come, that to have a premiere that’s this emotionally exhausting is sort of terrifying.

I’m very glad we pick up immediately–no pesky time jumps or rug sweeps. We’re right back in it as a frantic Norma can’t find Norman, and Dylan is papering White Pine Bay with flyers. Out in the bay, Romero is disposing of Bob, and because Nestor Carbonell is a treasure, it’s all over Romero that this is a devastating turn of events, and the last possible scenario he wanted.

Norman wakes up in a field and immediately begins arguing with the Norma in his mind (who I’m going to call NIHM going forward) when a farmer discovers him and immediately realizes that boy isn’t right. When Norman makes a move on him, he knocks him out, which gets Norman a complimentary 48-hour 1040 hold at the local country psychiatric ward. Norma tries to get him released to no avail, and that sends her straight back to the 5-star facility she visited last season, and they tell her the same thing again about wait lists and costs and treatment plans.

She catches a doctor on her way out and pleads her case, with a dose of her Norma charm until he flatly tells her he’s gay. He finally offers her his card and tells her to call his office. Armed with that promise, Norman is released to her custody but the admin still finds the time to accuse Norma of neglect because of the titular accusation that it was dangerous for him to not be under a doctor’s care.

Dylan races to Portland to be there for Emma, but he doesn’t arrive before she’s rolled into surgery. He is there when she wakes up, and when they see each other, it’s as intense as it was when we last left them and I am still floored by how much that snuck on me and how much I adore it.

Photo Credit: Bettina Strauss/A & E
Photo Credit: Bettina Strauss/A & E

Emma’s mom shows up at the hospital long enough to be booted by Emma’s dad and get a quick hello from Dylan. If she’s to be believed, Emma’s been writing to her, and she’s been trying to contact her back but hasn’t been able to. She shows up at the motel (which is a scoche plot devicey) and admits who she is and asks Norma to deliver a letter to Emma. Norma refuses, saying that she doesn’t want to get in the middle of it (since when?).

After Norman comes home, he and Norma make nice with a haircut and a home cooked meal and she tests the waters that he’ll need a doctor, and he responds unfavorably, as expected. The next morning, she wakes up early (after sleeping in the same bed with him, which is not a great idea) and locks him in her room (again, bad idea).

She goes to see Romero, who she previously asked to help spring Norman and he told her no. Even though it’s before 7 am, she shows up on his doorstep, after calling ahead that she needs to talk to him in person. She blurts out that Norman is home, and he needs treatment and she has no insurance (*cough* ObamaCare *cough) and he does, and she thought he could marry her. He lets that register for a minute and then he tells her no. She fumbles over telling him she knows he’s attracted to her and she’ll sleep with him. And it’s still no.

Dejected, she heads back home.

Norman wakes up alone and quickly discovers he’s locked in, so he throws himself at the adjoining door until he breaks through and when he dusts himself off the floor, Norman has left the building. NIHM takes over and he puts on Norma’s robe and sits down at her vanity as NIHM looks on over his shoulder. And then, because she has impeccably bad timing and a badly-calibrated sense of personal safety, Emma’s mom makes her way up the steps and knocks on the front door.

A be-robed Norman answers the door and invites her in after she introduces herself, and the poor woman at no point twigs that the teenage boy in front of her is severely ill and very, very dangerous. She spills her story about wanting to give a letter to Emma, and that Emma had written her about him. He hears her out and then stands up over her on the couch, and the switch flips. He chokes her to death with her scarf while screaming at her about abandoning her daughter, filtered through the rage of his own perceived abandonment issues. It’s a terrifying, and terribly sad, scene.

Freddie Highmore does a fantastically layered, supremely creepy job of portraying Norman’s unraveling, and it’s particularly intriguing to watch the moments where NIHM shows up and where she doesn’t. When he’s in county, strapped to a gurney and shoved aside in a hallway and locked in a room, she never appears, and he doesn’t have any hallucination conversations, so there’s still a degree of self-control within the mania to make him appear reasonable, and sane.

Vera Farmiga amps up the desperation as Norma literally tries everything to help her son, even though the reality is apparent that she’s much, much too late. The marriage proposal was completely left field (and unnecessary if I understand the mandatory health care laws, although I get that they likely wouldn’t pay for anything beyond a county-type facility) but I am totally down with them somehow putting Norma and Romero under the same roof, and eventually in the same bed.

Romero continues to be a surprise for me. We see him be much more human in this first hour. He’s reeling about Bob, and then torn about what to do for Norma and Norman.Carbonell has always played Romero as sort of shaded, and shady, and very possibly not a good man, but as we saw last season, and are seeing again now, there are many, many sides to him. LOVE.

The Dylan and Emma scenes, which had almost no dialogue, were beautifully staged. I applaud the show for sneakily, and successfully, pairing Max Thieriot and Olivia Cooke, two actors who are just phenomenal at using their eyes to say everything. More and more and more of this, please.

I’ve seen next week’s episode already and as super speedy and bananas as this one was, HOLY CRAP. Hang on, y’all. We’re just getting started.

Bates Motel airs at 9/8c Mondays on A & E. If you missed the episode, it’s available now on the A & E website.

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