Bates Motel season 2 episode 5 review: The Escape Artist

Parental relationships are key to Bates Motel but there's still time for romance. Here's Michael's review...

This review contains spoilers.

2.5 The Escape Artist

Given that the central thread of Bates Motel is the odd relationship between a boy and his mother, it’s hardly surprising that parent-child relationships form part of the wider thematic structure. Or should that be the absence of such relationships? The characters that we follow home (as opposed to the ones like, say, Remo who we only see ‘at work’) are, more often than not, bereft of at least one parent. Norman’s father is, for reasons outlined in the first season, no longer around, ditto Emma’s mum. The same can be said for poor old Bradley’s dad and even newcomer Cody showed us this week that her old man is the deadest of deadbeats. Dylan, alone among the younger contingent of the show’s main cast, has both parents in his life but in the most appalling circumstances imaginable, so much so in fact that it’s not hard to imagine that he’d just as soon be an orphan.

Dylan’s hideous conception is one of this season’s larger dramatic arcs but the absence of parents informed some of the smaller, lighter moments of this episode too. Take, for example, the sweet scene between Norma and the motherless Emma who acknowledged that there are some topics about which she’d rather not ask her dad.

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The excellence of the scene was, by my reckoning, one part writing to three parts performance. The subtext implicit in Emma’s question ‘what is sex like when you first do it?’ is pretty bald when you write it down, especially given the dramatic motor of the past couple of episodes. However, Vera Farmiga’s gentle reaction shot: a flicker of horror before relaxing into the innocence of Emma’s query, gave it a subtle honesty that can’t be replicated in stark typescript. Farmiga is generally good at Norma’s louder notes, but it’s these quieter interludes that really see her earn her money.

She’s also rather handy at the lighter stuff, even when they cross thematically similar territory. Take the strangely funny exchange between Norma and Alex Romero. The Sherriff, who we might describe as being in locum a puero, first complains that Norma has been in his room and tidied the clothing that he has left, teenager-like, strewn across the floor. She’s concerned that he’s been fighting and then insists on cleaning him up as he’s been out ‘getting all dirty’. It’s a deliberate, and relatively innocent, maternal gesture that is funny in isolation but laden with meaning when viewed in context.

That context is one in which Norman is making ever more successful forays away from his mother’s suffocating affection. Ironically, given the over rebelliousness of smoking, tattooed Cody (of whom, Norma, in Mom Mode, disapproves), it was she who offered the reassuring arm away from Norman’s familial horrors. This episode gave us more of the binary pairs that I described last week, though none of them were as clear or as significant as Emma and Norman’s synchronous but separate romancing. 

Both pairings were necessarily gentle and connected with the beauty of quiet nature. Norman and Cody up the tree was not merely something for the playground chorus, it was a moment of earned privacy. They both had something from which to flee, and seeing the effort that they made in climbing (Norman was out of breath and sweating before he’d even removed his shirt), made it seem as though the struggle was worth it.

Emma’s lakeside stroll with Gunner was more leisurely but also more lovely. The wide shot that presented rendered them tiny participants in the larger scheme of nature. On the face of it, both couples seemed to meet Mrs Bates’ criteria for making it right and their sweetly clandestine liaisons stood in stark counterpoint to the distressing tales told by Norma last week. They offered a sense of relief which, after Norman’s fugue re-enactment of his mother’s own youth, was a necessary psychic reminder that the act of love can, and should, be pleasant, consensual and joyful.

Of course, the Teen Romances of White Pine Bay also offered us some respite from the more violent happenings elsewhere in the episode, such as Romero’s kinetic beatdown of the increasingly irritating Zane and the later (unfortunately unsuccessful) attempt on his life.

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I have commented before that the criminal-economic goings-on in White Pine Bay add a certain narrative texture to the show, but they only work when they connect to the central character-based story. For a time, it seemed as though that plot was merely something to give Dylan somewhere to spend his days and offer the occasional dramatic burst, such as last week’s torching of Romero’s house. However, with the just-the-right-side-of-implausible connection between Norma and the financially seductive Mr Ford, the thread now promises to wind itself around our First Family. The emergence of the real ‘boss’ and her tenderly sinister care for Dylan threatens to tighten the strings even further. Dylan may now be estranged from Norma but it seems that he may have found a new mom.

Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, Check Out, here.

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