Bates Motel: Refraction Review

Bates Motel continues to win when digging into Norman’s condition, while the rest of White Pine Bay flails around.

This Bates Motel review contains spoilers.

Bates Motel: Season 4, Episode 5 

“My mother and I have a very typical, teenage-mother relationship, I think.”

Bates Motel is a show that struggles a bit with establishing new characters. Sure, we all love Norman and Norma, but even though people like Sheriff Romero have broken through into the core ensemble at this point, is anyone really that crazy about him? Rebecca and Emma’s dad have entered the scene this year, but do they feel like characters, or just more obstacles for these people? That’s why it’s so satisfying to see Dr. Edwards connecting as a character so well. A great job is being done here and he’s become someone I look forward to seeing this season just as much as I do Norman and Norma.

We might as well dig into the Norman and Edwards’ material right off the bat, because it’s once again the most fascinating material of the installment. Seeing Norman rationally talk with Dr. Edwards about his blackouts and what he thinks they mean is a huge step forward for his recovery, even if we know it might be a lost cause in the end. His sessions continue to be an enjoyable insight into Norman with there being persisting surface tension to everything that he says. Norman and Edwards are in a constant balancing act with their power dynamic, but it’s nice to see them in this more restrained, productive place at the season’s halfway point. It’s appreciated to see Edwards shining some light on Norman’s father again, bringing him into the forefront once more, too.

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The topic of Norman’s father seems to really put Norman through a wringer of emotions, whether we realize the full impact of it initially or not. At first it pushes Norman into calling and apologizing to his mother, an act that very much feels like Norman going through the motions of rehabilitation, even if it is still a safer version of him. This phone call then leads to Norma paying Norman a “visit”, which seems like a nice reunion between them—even if it does hinge on the fact as to whether it’s real or not.

Their time together also looks at Norman’s father for a while and whether he still deserves to take up any space in Norman’s psyche. Norma says to him, “Show the doctor that you’re feeling better and we can get you out of here.” Initially this plays as tragic, seeing how bad Norma’s delusion has gotten just as Norman seems to be improving. She knows that Norman’s health isn’t as simple as just flipping a switch. That’s why when you see what’s actually going on here; it’s even more powerful.

Above I commented on the validity of this meeting between Norman and his mother—in fact, I’ve speculated that a lot of Norman’s solo escapades, whether they were with Blair or Julian, were fabrications of his mind—so it’s nice to see Dr. Edwards finally get into this, with the show at last crossing that bridge. We’re now officially in the territory of where we can’t trust anything that we’re seeing from Norman’s perspective. Like, did that bruised and bloodied encounter with Julian still end up happening, or just more of his mind playing with him?

And speaking of crossing bridges, with the show officially at the midpoint of the season it’s only natural to be addressing how the year is stacking up. I’m a little surprised, albeit relieved that Norman is still hospitalized at this moment (I’d be elated if he’s there all season, to be honest), but to see Dr. Edwards finally talking to Norman as “Norma” is such goosebumps material. He really is slowly getting to the bottom of Norman, and I’m genuinely curious to see how far he gets in the manner. I hope he doesn’t come to an end before the season’s close, even if that does seem all too likely. We all know the final season is just going to be a Norman and Norma showdown, right?

The other threads that the series is pulling at aren’t nearly as interesting, but hey, we might as well talk about them. Emma coming home, Dylan in tow, as they get their new life together is just as sweet as you’d think it would be. This just barely feels like it’s taking place in the same show anymore. This could be from an episode of Everwood, what with all of the time spent on job interviews, scar sharing, and iCalendar dates for when Emma and Dylan can make love for the first time. That being said, I’m still a sucker for lines like “Don’t get hit by any more cars.” I just want to see Emma get a win here before her boyfriend’s deranged brother kills them all.

It’s also a bit of an off-week for Norma here. She even comments that she’s been “too busy to piss anyone off,” this time. She’s mostly preoccupied with her broken window (which happens to be her favorite window, by the way), which acts as a way to introduce creepy Chick back into the series. Remember Chick? That guy that you hoped would get a spin-off with Caleb that you’d never watch? Well he’s back with reparations on his mind, with it looking like he’ll be responsible for Norma’s next lap or turmoil for the season.

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Things aren’t that much better for Mr. Norma Bates, either. His emotional drama with Rebecca isn’t doing much for me, but it does provide an emotional side to this episode that again reminds us of the roadblock that the Bates’ have wedged into this community. Rebecca pontificates about what Norma could possibly have to be so alluring to Romero, and she has no clue that there isn’t some magic element. It’s a terribly complicated compromise of convenience.

As the episode closes, Romero and Norma are finally able to share some honesty over the death of Bob Parris and look to grow a little stronger. This episode spends some time on the idea that life is full of moments where everything can change in just one second, and Norma is ebbing seriously close to that point. Romero tells Norma that he had no choice in the matter, and it feels like Norma is surely going to be taking those words to heart soon enough.

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3.5 out of 5