This Bates Motel review contains spoilers.
Bates Motel: Season 4 Episode 2.
“You need to destroy her Norman, before she destroys you”
Norman and Norma have always been the lynchpin of this series. Bates Motel has never tried to hide that fact. If you happen to have even any knowledge about the movie, Psycho, you’re bound to understand why this relationship is a crucial piece of this show. However, while a lot of Bates Motel’s story beats regarding Norman and Norma have been things that you could reasonably infer from the blanks that Psycho left unanswered, this episode does much to complicate their relationship in a wholly new way.
After the tumultuous events of last week’s premiere, the friction in Norman and Norma’s relationship is already being felt. Norma seems more frightened of Norman than anything else, with her pleasant behavior towards him not coming from a genuine place, but rather the necessary steps being taken to keep her son pacified. The last thing that she wants is for him to have another freak out.
On the other side of this, Norman is beginning to remember his recent murders, however he’s remembering them as Norma. Him believing that Norma’s responsible for his crimes is a great new dynamic for the show to explore, as well as a nice way for him to be just as suspicious of her as she is of him. It’s a brilliant shift in their power dynamic. Norman is constantly needling Norma after everything she says, determined to catch her in her bullshitting, while she is simultaneously trying to catch him in his own culpability.
This even culminates in Norman showing her the corpse and his crime, but blaming her for it, as the ultimate testament to his crazy. The intervention scene where Norman accuses his mother of all of these murders is twisted stuff thats a different dimension than anything offered up in the movies, and it’s a smart extra layer to heap ontop of everything. It’s heartbreaking to see Norman tell Norma, “I’m afraid of you, and I love you. And that’s a bad combination.” Farmiga does inspired work here, not only in terms of Norma’s realization of what’s finally going on with her son, but also her pained reaction to it all.
Accordingly, seeing Norman beginning to call the shots is kind of great, and I like where this material seems to be heading with Norma getting Stockholmed into passivity. This power shift allows Norman more time for independence and seeing him flourish and talk to people is consistently eerie. Anxiety mounts as you worry over what might end up getting said or be done. Just the presence of a child on screen now is upsetting due to the inevitable thoughts that something might happen to it. I’m never not nervous by Norman now, and that’s kind of amazing. Highmore is destroying it.
With Norma and Norman going back and forth, the episode ends up hinging on Norman needing to sign his admittance papers, but of course he doesn’t want to leave Norma alone, lest she might murder everyone (in his opinion). It’s an inspired setup and one that keeps things endlessly intricate. We even get a glimpse of Norman communicating with his father in his head now too, as he acts as the prime figure in this war against Norma. It’s not something that fully worked for me, but I can appreciate the extra dimension that it adds and how Norman’s sense of history continues to get warped more and more.
The real highlight of this episode, though, is watching it slowly turn into a beautiful home invasion homage as Norman antagonizes his mother. Seeing the lengths that Norma needs to go to in order to calm Norman down and get a gun away from him are truly devastating, as is the phone call that she makes where she more or less leaves what she believes might be her last words. Norman’s decision to turn this conflict into some Romeo and Juliet style suicide pact, claiming that he and his mother are not made for this world, is just as brutal as everything else here.
As all of this is going on it raises an interesting point regarding Norma’s mortality in the series. While it would be an incredibly bold move for the show to make, I could easily see this season ending with Norman killing his mother, with Farmiga still being in the final season, but purely through the version of her that Norman has in his head. This episode begins creating the feeling that Norma could go at any moment now, which is terrifying, and makes the show more dangerous than it has ever been before as it plays this awful game of cat and mouse. There are moments in this episode where I was straight up scared, which is maybe something I’ve never said before about a Bates Motel episode. We’re entering some really exciting stuff here. Tim Southam is the man behind the camera for this one, and for a first time director of the series, Southam brings a lot to the table. There are constant shots of Norman being framed in isolation, in doorways, and off in the distance, all being put to great effect while emphasizing his mental state.
The only amiss element in this installment is the fact that Sheriff Romero is actually on board with marrying Norma. He has more than an idea of how messed up Norman is and it seems like he wouldn’t be that determined to help out Norma. That being said, there’s always one off storyline on this show (hello, opium dens and sex slaves), and if this is the one this year, I’ll gladly accept it. Elsewhere in tangential land, Emma is also recovering from her lung transplant and breathing for the first time without support. We see once more that Dylan’s presence here not only seems to be helping her, but might even be saving her life. There’s a lot of raw emotion going on in these scenes and they’re hard to watch in a whole different way than Norman’s murders are.
Much like its premiere, “Goodnight, Mother” is another strong entry in what looks like could be Bates Motel’s strongest season yet, by far. With the conclusion of this episode it almost feels like the first arc is wrapping up and I can’t wait to see where this is heading. The next step is Norman being analyzed and needing to confront all of this, which is surely going to bring out more of Norman at his worst and most confused. Bring it on.