“I don’t want to be dead anymore, Norman.”
I didn’t touch on it in the last review, I think because I didn’t want to believe that it happened, but the return of Bradley is probably on the top of most people’s list titled, “Things That I Did Not Want To Happen on Bates Motel.” But happened it did, as this show seems set on adding more unnecessary wheels to this car. The ancillary drug plot and Romero’s Sheriff nonsense already feel like padding, but this is the worst offender. Norman and Norma are locked in such a fascinating place right now that their dynamic alone could easily be enough to fill the final two episodes. The show knows that we just want more Norman and Norma, so quit fighting it. It’s fine if they want to spread their material a little thinner through the final two seasons, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of what literally feels like them spinning a wheel that landed on Bradley causing them to say, “Yeah, I guess she could not be dead.”
The only way that this whole Bradley thing could have worked is that if she didn’t actually return. If that after the trauma from the end of last episode, Norman is so messed up that he’s just seeing Bradley in his head and disassociating for the entire episode. That’s an episode. That’s a fucking bonkers piece of television and would perfectly set up the finale with Norman being his most delusional yet. I would have loved that and it’d have made me forgive any ill will at rubbing Bradley in our faces again. Sure, the conclusion that the episode does go out on is an effective one, but it’s nothing compared to the weight this would have held.
Norman’s also the only one that sees Bradley or talks to her all episode (in an episode that’s titled “Crazy”), which makes it especially feel like this is the angle the episode is taking until it isn’t. Why bother keeping her such a secret if you’re not going to service up this idea?
The other saving grace would have been that when Bradley asks Norman, “Is there something wrong with you?” that his responses of, “yes,” is immediately followed by him murdering her. Turning her into a victim, as antithetical as it would be to everything that the two of them establish in the episode, would have such power behind it. Bradley works as a figment or a corpse, but as a living person?
Elsewhere in the land of the living, Caleb is looking to claim the money that he and Dylan rightfully earned for the Grand Romantic Gesture that Dylan is planning for Emma. It’s an obstacle for him that has him backpedaling into the man that he very much doesn’t want to be. The sort of man that tore the relationship that he and Norma shared completely apart. It’s a convenient road for the character to be pushed down as the show feels like it’s trying to edge Caleb ever further out of the series as it begins to pick up into its final chapter.
Thankfully though, the money is obtained which will likely mean that we’ll be rewarded with more of Dylan’s awkward banter to Emma, such as, “You’re sleeping…Not anymore.” Goodness. You’re really going to need to up your game beyond basic observations, Dylan, if you want us to ever take this relationship seriously.
I’d also just like to take a minute to talk about how there’s some really beautiful cinematography going on this episode. The brief scene of Norman escorting Bradley out of their vehicle in the middle of the night is the stuff of ghost stories. Really moody footage, and the episode is full of it as the creep factor increases as the season closes. We’re also treated to repeated shots of Norma, alone, in hallways that seem to grow longer and longer leaving her behind. Her isolation in this series has never been more severe, and the camera work has no intention of hiding it (and as a parallel, the shots of Norman “not with mother” at the end of the episode are just as chilling). At one point in the episode she shouts out to Romero’s police team that she “can’t control the universe.” It’s played as another moment of kooky, manic Norma, but the camera’s propensity to desert her and leave her behind adds a deep layer of truth to her yells.
The scenes in which Norman and Norma are together are a heated mess, but watching Norman push her buttons works a lot better than it should. We’ve been getting a ton of this for almost half the season now, but Norman managing to get under Norma’s skin and maybe make her think that she was responsible for her husband’s death is pretty drastic. It’s a huge shift to everything that’s been established before, and Norma is shaken up enough from it to imply that there could be truth to it. The thing is, we know it’s not true just due to that big, honking thing called Psycho that we all know about. Legitimately being able to tow this line would give a lot more power to what’s going on, but instead Norma’s disarray just feels like place setting.
If her son wasn’t giving her enough problems, her final encounters with Romero and Caleb aren’t any healthier. Her confrontation with Romero is a vicious, upsetting scene that just knocks her character down, which naturally is the moment that Caleb hammers the nail in the “Norman is broken” coffin. Watching Norma just mindlessly babble how there’s nothing wrong with Norman when she knows all the better, is just brutal.
The very messy episode ends on a promising note, and hopefully next week’s finale will be a more focused piece. This season has hit some of the highest points that the show ever has, but there’s also a lot of unnecessary garbage that’s still polluting White Pine Bay. Bradley might even pop up again. Who knows?
Sometimes bomb craters are masquerading as pools, after all.