“I’m sorry. I just want to feel normal right now.”
Everyone just wants to feel normal. Is that so much to ask? Even though living in White Pines Bay should have guaranteed such a request to be impossible at this point. But everyone just wants normalcy, whether it’s Norma at school, Emma in her sexy clothing, Norman in a healthy relationship, and even Sheriff Romero just wants a regular election and to run the town without duplicitousness. This urge and need to blend is in rampant throughout this episode, so it should be no surprise that it’s the episode that stands out the most so far.
But let’s talk about what everyone really wants to: Big Norma on campus! Just like last year treated us to the extremely bizarre scenes of Norman and Norma attempting a musical, this season’s depiction of Norma in college seems like they might fill that void. Right down to the person that she needlessly bullies turning out to be the professor, and his insistence that maybe psychology might be the right class for her after all. Isn’t that powder keg of a child at home going to be in a lot better care under someone who understands the human mind rather than a business plan?
Norma’s scenes here also hint at the prospect of her heading into therapy, which is an even more tantalizing concept. Seeing Norma let loose (or a family session with Norman included) in the confines of a therapy room has endless potential and it’s a direction I wouldn’t mind seeing the season go down.
Taking care of some of the housekeeping here first, Bob Paris (Kevin Rahm, otherwise known as Teddy Chaough from Mad Men) pops up as the perfect adversary to Romero, as Paris’ bubbly tone works opposite to Romero’s near monotone. It looks like these two are primed to face off in election, which would normally be the sort of storyline that I wouldn’t be too excited over, but when Chaough is the competition, and he’s running the town’s resident One Eyed Jack’s, it could make for a very interesting campaign indeed. The introduction of Marcus as well, makes for another worthy foil to Romero, and to see many people encroaching on his position of power is an angle that could be effective if done right. Building Romero’s passion and honor behind White Pines as he tries to keep these predators off would help.
Also along the edges of the episode, Emma’s brief detour in the drug trade while handling a package for Dylan is pretty superfluous, albeit delightful. Certainly didn’t need to have Caleb creeping on her, and I hope the show has better judgment than getting Emma involved with all of this. She’s nicely excised herself from Dylan and all of his business, and with her seeing Norman now, it’s exactly the sort of hackneyed contrivance that could mix everything up. Emma has more sense than that, and as much as the episode may want to lean in that direction, I hope the series resists.
In the real meat of the episode, an interesting development is reached when the body that washed up on shore at the end of the last episode wasn’t Annika but rather some wholly new fresh corpse that may or may not have come out of the Arcanum Club. Regardless as to whether this victim spent any time at the Bates Motel, Romero is still interested in talking to Norman over her. Highmore delivers some excellent work as Norma tries to linger on Norman and mother the situation (such as interviewing all the “weirdos” in town) as he pushes her away, baring teeth and wanting to go it alone.
It’s no surprise that this season has been about Norman’s independence from Norma and growth into who he truly is, but I still get excited every episode when we get tension between them and glimpses of Norman slowly transforming. There’s already been so much that by the end of the season we’re going to be reeling. We’re getting meals out of tiny lines like Norman saying, “I like women” that are working much better than they should be. All of this is getting solid wonderfully well.
There’s a lot of exceptional work in this episode, but a real highlight is after Romero leaves and Norman is dressing down Norma. He stands high above her on the stairs, leering above her and maintaining all of the power in the situation as he makes her feel like a little girl. Not only that though, but the cinematography is right out of Psycho. I love that the series is using more and more iconic imagery from Hitchcock’s classic as Norman hits formative moments of change. It continues to be a strong device.
The other side of this scene—almost acting as Norman’s own private therapy session—is equally heartbreaking as he tries to open up to Emma over what he’s going through with his mother. He’s absolutely right in what he says about Norma not trusting him anymore, but his ensuing blow-up is more than a little worrisome. He’s torn up over the question of whether he’s “good” or not. You almost see Norman break in half here as he pains his way through talking to her. These fracture lines in Norman are growing deeper and deeper. He freaks out here guys, and watching him tear the room apart as Norma watches in fear is the “craziest” the show has gotten yet.
What’s amazing about this episode is how it doesn’t slow down at all. Any of these scenes on their own would be enough to sustain the episode, but this one just keeps going. Norma’s suggestion that Norman submerge himself underwater to help him reclaim his memories is tinged in ickiness. We get Norma pulling off Norman’s belt here as the entire scene is an adventure in subtext. What I love most about this scene though is how it smartly plays with the idea that this might be the start of the Norma in Norman’s head. Her tone and diction is very different here and there’s of course that shot of her just absent from the bathroom. It’s smart to keep the interpretation open, but it can certainly be seen both ways (although Norma’s behavior afterwards seems to more than imply she was just a figment), and it’s another great touch in an already strong episode.
This episode begins with Norma coming into focus, a lone figure of light in a seemingly endless, swallowing hallway, acting as a safety beacon. As the cliffhanger of the episode dawns on us, the same setup is turned to. Norma is ensconced in light, the lone beacon to save a life here, but this time Annika rather than Norman. As everyone wants more and more to just feel normal, it feels less and less of a possibility, even if you can’t spell “Normal” without “Norma.”