This review contains spoilers.
1.7 The Man In Number 9
Last week, I described the poor Chinese girl’s situation as having gone from the frying pan and into the fire. The very same sentiment may apply to the Bates family now as the removal of Deputy Shelby has brought Sheriff Romero crashing into their cosy little freakshow. He’s been there all along of course, but he’s been selling them, and the audience, a real duck. I admit to having been fully convinced of his innocence, but here he is, Mr Instant Alibi. If only he was as swift at responding to 911 calls as he is at concocting cover stories.
Then, of course, is the fellow who gives this episode its name, The Man in Number 9. Played with a sinister flair by Jere Burns, the man, whose name probably isn’t Jake Abernathy, clearly has some plans for the place, and they don’t look healthy. Booking an entire block for which he will pay cash upfront? If that doesn’t set alarm bells ringing I don’t know what would. Abernathy’s readies are enough to persuade Norma to refrain from asking too many searching questions but Dylan picked up on his strangeness immediately. This is good news, as it means that Dylan still hasn’t become totally corrupted by his surroundings and can still recognise weirdness when he sees it.
Unlike, say, his brother. The return of Bradley, now back at school for the first time since her father’s death, brings Norman’s emotions back to the forefront of the storyline. His problems (or should that be symptoms?) ramped up considerably this week, and set the tone for an episode that again focused largely on personal and family matters. We have an answer, of sorts, as to why Norman’s first night with Bradley seemed so improbably perfect – it took place entirely inside Norman’s head.
This time, his amorous reverie was interrupted by every teenage boy’s nightmare of having his mum walk in while he’s enjoying some rather energetically adolescent thoughts. There is a sense of escalation, not merely of the incidences themselves, but of our awareness of them. This particular absent moment was interrupted, so we can see it for what it is, but how many of previous scenes took place entirely inside Norman’s head? Were it not for the independent interaction with other characters, I’d start suspecting that Dylan was actually some kind of Tyler Durden-style projection.
The case for the defence is aided by the fact that we finally have an episode in which both Emma and Bradley appear, albeit in separate scenes. I was starting to suspect that they were Norman’s two interpretations of the same person, if not outright imaginary friends, but it appears that they are probably real, even if some of their scenes have been hallucinatory.
I wouldn’t be surprised to find that much of the season so far has been a delusion. It has the potential to be a cheap get-out clause for the writers, enabling them to tie up any logical inconsistencies and removing inconvenient plot holes ready for the second season, but done well, it could be very unsettling indeed. Recruiting Norman as an unreliable narrator would allow for the creeping dread of uncertainty to leave the audience wrong-footed and doubtful of what they are seeing. For a horror piece, it’s a real gift.
Similar sentiments may be expressed about Vera Farmiga’s performance. I loved Norma’s angry, maternal chastisement of Dylan, still foolish enough to think that they should report violent deaths to the authorities. The delivery of that single word was funny and sharp, reminding us who’s boss in the household and that Norma, whatever her faults, is still the boys’ mother. I almost wish that I hadn’t been reminded of that as she gave Norman the most hideous ‘mother-son talk’ since the fall of Rome. “Chemicals are released in a woman’s body. It’s a powerful force”. Really, Norma? Shudder. Any more of that and I’ll be reviewing the remainder of the series from a monastery.
It was a horrible moment, but Farmiga carried it off excellently. It may have seemed odd to us, but she really did seem as though she was doing it to protect her son from himself. Of course, it’s far too late as we all realised when he repeated his mother’s words while walking away from Bradley. This was the strongest moment yet of ‘Norman-as-Norma’, which will doubtless become more prominent as the episodes go by, no matter how hard he tries to resist it.
For now, they both still have a desire to be normal, a fact made explicit when Norman urged his mum to let him have a pet dog, reasoning that it’s what ‘normal families do’. The unlikeliness of this normality actually being realised was made even plainer when the same dog was brutally and, I admit, hilariously run over before Norman’s very eyes. My apologies to any animal lovers reading this, but the scene was very obviously performed by a stuffed toy and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. Norman had a rather different take on the matter, wailing in despair at his loss. Sure, he’ll probably miss the dog, but it’s far worse than that. He could do nothing more than stand helpless and watch as his last chance for living in a normal family was smeared across a radiator grille.
Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, The Truth, here.
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