“You don’t know her like I do.”
After the fallout of last week’s events, Norma continues to hit the road to Portland, Oregon (and for the first time ever I wish Bates Motel was on IFC so we could have gotten a delightful Portlandia crossover where we see Norma putting a bird on all of Norman’s taxidermy…), fleeing White Pine Bay where her brother/rapist now resides.
I have absolutely no problem seeing an unhinged Norma try to start over and terrify retail salespeople (and buying clothes that absolutely convey that she’s a prostitute) while Dylan tries to babysit an increasingly detached Norman back home, but all of this has a stilted joy to it as we know that Norma is going to return. Weirdly, there’s a timestamp present throughout the episode as if to indicate some sort of ticking clock, but there isn’t one. Maybe Romero’s stay in the hospital could be considered one, but it’s not treated with that degree of urgency. This just feels like treading water in the meantime while we hope that something considerable at least happens while she’s gone to justify her absence. But boy, does it ever.
There’s some pretty astute work done by Norman who declares that Norma fleeing is just symptomatic of her behavior and nothing new. She fled White Pine Bay just like she fled Arizona just like she fled her home before that. In spite of how convinced Norman is that she won’t be returning, we can’t help but feel otherwise and that ultimately zaps this episode some.
Freddy Highmore has done exceptional work all season but seeing him just broken over Norma’s absence is the best stuff he’s done yet. He talks about basically feeling dead now that he thinks he’s lost his mother and seeing him this empty is just as frightening as when he’s exploded this year.
To only add fuel to this fire, as Emma jumps in to lend support in the matter, she seems to be siding more with Dylan, reinforcing more of the glimmer of a relationship that’s been forming over the past episodes. Who’d have thought that cystic fibrosis sufferers have a natural in with that lung clearing routine? This going on around an already fragile Norman is the last thing that he needs. There’s already enough going on that this feels like a little overkill for the moment, as sweet as it may be.
Also, this season hasn’t been sparse in the Norma Freak Out-O-Meter moments by any means, and this week we get a pretty delightful scene where she tries to ditch her phone. While most people would simply remove the battery or snap it in half, Norma decides to empty a round of her gun on the smart device. As ridiculous as this is, it at least juxtaposes well to some gunplay that’s actually threatening, like the surprise ambush on Sheriff Romero that leaves him bloody in a parking lot. This is a pretty huge development considering all of the Bob Paris, Teddy Chaou—Marcus Young stuff has merely been bubbling for a few episodes now. This hits it early and hard and does have an immediate weight to it where the other material doesn’t in a certain sense.
You know what else hits hard? Romero’s ass-kicking takedown of his perpetrator. Seriously, this might be the most shocking scene of the season so far, and it actually made me exclaim “Woah!” out loud as Romero straight up murders the guy and makes a break for it. This Sheriff position tug-of-war is only getting more interesting, and if someone like Romero is willing to kill over the matter, imagine what the others will do.
Outside of White Pine Bay, Norma has a breakdown in tandem with Norman, albeit in a different way. Here, Norma Bates moonlights as Norma Louise Calhoun as her only ambition seems to be getting doted over and bedded by the end of the night (but then not). It’s a pretty empty, trashy life to embrace while leaving a family back home (especially when Dylan even tells Caleb to leave, in spite of having bonded with him lately), but it’s an easy one, and one without stress. Which certainly isn’t true of the life she’s had at home with Norman. She even manages to screw this up though and end up alone. She may want to escape this stressful life, but she finds that she may need it just as much as she resents it.
Seeing Norma confess what Norman did to her husband and then instantly regretting it and freaking out over what she did is just as heartbreaking as it is frightening. We really see Norman and Norma at their worst and weakest in this episode, and the fact that they’re separated through it all makes it even harder for them both.
And Norma better sort out her demons and get back home soon, because elsewhere Norman’s killing birds and quickly completing the Burgeoning Serial Killer’s Checklist. It’s such a miniscule act, and one that Norman even does innocently, that it’s surprising to see how much it cuts through him and knocks him to his core. It becomes clear that this primary act of murder is a significant step that’s only going to push Norman further off the deep end. It practically renders him catatonic as he just keeps mumbling, “I want my mother…”
This is hardly the peak of it though. We really hit the apex of the insanity this week as Dylan tries to get a peppy Norman’s attention in the morning as he prepares breakfast, only for Norman to correct him with, “Norman’s not here, honey.” The damage is tremendous and this absence between the boy and his mother—this separation that Norman believes is permanent—has given us the first glimpse of Norman as Norma, and Jesus if it isn’t wonderful. It instantly bumped this episode up half a grade for me.
As Norma returns and all of this craziness subsides, there’s still an emotionally packed reunion at the end of it all. This new dynamic is sure to upset the more than delicate balance that’s been in place with the Bates family. Here’s hoping the change will get Norman back in that apron again.
Now go read The Giving Tree again. Y’know Norma is.