This review contains spoilers.
‘You should talk to your son’. Nick Ford has a neat way with dishing out advice. His approach, which he demonstrated with Norma and both of her sons, is to make it sound like a threat. It’s easier, I suppose, if you’re used to making pretty much everything sound like a threat and it’s hard to escape that supposition with the rich and strange Mr Ford.
His rather singular manner was useful this week, helping to bring together the disparate storylines, or should that be knocking them together through quietly insistent force. His confident, demanding stride into Norma’s office at the beginning of the episode signalled his intention to be regarded as a man who cannot be ignored. Every trace of sweetness in his approach was now drained. There are no more tours of his boat, no gentle suggestions that Norma might want to consider running for council. No. All that was left was a catalogue of the things he has done, unbidden, for Norma and a reminder that this left her with certain obligations.
The fall of Norma, a blonde woman, into a malevolent web of criminality and violence is just one of several direct Hitchcock references that appear in this episode. There’s Norman’s taxidermy, notably of birds, a scene that features a broken shower curtain and, in the case of Dylan, an ordinary person being set up to commit murder for the benefit of someone else. There have been such references before (such as in the title and themes of this season’s second episode) but the collection of them all in this week’s outing reflects the drawing together of several strands to create the most narratively cohesive episode yet. The sense of tightening is right for this stage of the season and was handled very well, bringing the characters together while maintaining their individual concerns.
For Norma and Dylan, this meant a strained reconnection. The gap that emerged between them hasn’t gone away completely, neither of them could bring themselves to refer directly to Caleb, but there were hints, not least in Norma’s attempt to lie for Dylan, that they are not beyond repair. The same could be said for Dylan’s storyline as a whole. The emergence of Caleb and his malign influence on the family plot seemed to have been abandoned. If the intention was to foster estrangement and to drive Dylan further into the marijuana situation, then there were simpler ways that this could have been achieved. As it stands, we’re still owed a dramatic payoff to the explosive revelations from a few episodes back, a payoff that we still have time to see and which is all the more likely now that mother and son have been forced back into one another’s lives.
The same argument can be made for the Blair Watson case, in which Norman is directly involved. So too are Nick Ford and Sheriff Romero, again tying together several strands of story. Romero is a curious character and it’s great to see him more involved in things. It’s interesting that he takes such a violent attitude to those, such as Dylan, who draw too much attention to the drug scene, but is prepared to keep things so low key in the Watson case. Dangerously prepared, in fact. His quiet blackmail of Deputy Lin shows just how much he intends to keep this off the books, but he is not going to let it slide, either. He had two attempts at getting the truth out of Norman (or better still, getting him to say ‘I confess’). The first, in the scene with the torn curtain, was gentle. The second, in which he revealed that the wrong man may have been convicted for it was harsher. It raises the question, why is Romero so interested, enough to pursue it reasonably doggedly, but without making it official.
The general upshot of it all is that pressure is increasing on Norman, who is becoming a rather pitiable figure at this stage. Norma’s cruel denial of information about his blackouts is threatening to sabotage their relationship as it enables him to transfer his blame onto her. Their arguments once again take on the quality of intense lovers’ quarrels, in which the ephemeral status of ‘us’ is debated in a frenzy of emotions, that lead Norma to seek comfort in the arms of George, much as Norman once did with Bradley and Cody. These moments feel like cheating, not simply because of the oppressive closeness of the mother-son relationship but because of how clandestinely they are carried out. We can perhaps understand the young and innocent Norman sneaking about to enjoy liaisons with girls but Norma is a grown woman. Aside from her (necessary) lies about her background, her relationship with George has progressed naturally. Until now. There was a strange, stilted quality to their interactions this week. George’s request that they ‘take things further’ was performed like a negotiation or a business arrangement. Later on, Norma’s sudden arrival at his house and her aggressive availability makes it odder still. From the viewer’s point of view, it’s attributable to Norma’s fragile state and while George offered no complaint, he’d be advised to tread very carefully, especially as the final moments of the episode suggest that things are about to get a hell of a lot worse.
Much as they are for Dylan. The elder of Norma’s sons is smart enough to avoid any clandestine meeting with Ford, his suspicion of the man’s intentions leading him to play secret agent and meet him in a securely public place, but not smart enough to get out of the game completely. His ascent has been rapid, a fact that came to Norma’s surprise when she had to visit him at work. Any parent would be proud of a son who had been given his own office so quickly. Any reasonable parent would also be somewhat concerned at the nature of the business that gave it to him. As she arrived at the operation, picked out by the closed circuit camera Norma looked lonely and afraid. As well she might.
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