Bates Motel season 2 episode 9 review: The Box

Norman spends most of this week forcibly separated from his mother in the latest Bates Motel. Here's Michael's review...

This review contains spoilers

2.9 The Box

‘I’m not asking you’. There’s something about a repeated phrase, even if it is, like these four words here, apparently innocuous. Last week, when Nick Ford put Dylan up to kill Zane, he insisted that it wasn’t a mere request. Likewise this week, when the increasingly anxious Sheriff Romero pressed Norma for access to Norman, he insisted that he had no time for politeness and that he too was ‘not asking’. Innocuous? Only at the surface. The truth of the matter is that all three members of Norma’s family are in far too deep for requests. They are all at the mercy of their surroundings.

This is especially true of Norman, who spends most of this episode literally trapped in a small, damp box in the middle of the forest. His captors, agents of the nefarious Mr Ford have him there as collateral to ensure that his brother complies with the not-a-question, but the emergence of new information about his involvement with Blair makes it more personal still.

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The image of the box is a smart one, symbolising the claustrophobic dramatic atmosphere that is emerging as the varied plot strands weave ever tighter. Note how Ford’s plan involves all three of the central family, using Norma’s love for Norman as a lever by which to press Dylan. This naturally brings her closer to her eldest, despite their differences, and finds strain in the history that currently sees them estranged. It spills over into other relationships, leading to Norma’s aggressive dismissal of the affections of the romantically confused George, who was pretty much the only person she had left to kick against.

It’s curious that Emma handed in her notice because she felt that she wasn’t being treated enough like a member of the family, but of course that too is the result of the odd, dysfunctional relationships that surround the motel. Emma’s trouble (other than having too little to do this season) is that she is neither fish nor fowl, of the central family but not in it. Her resignation underlined that confusion; it was made for personal, familial reasons but she’ll nevertheless serve her full notice period. True enough, there she was later on, running the reception desk. It was a lighter moment in a very dark episode.

That darkness, naturally, emerged from the central device of Norman’s entrapment and its other emergent device, that of locking the boy in with himself. And his other self. I admire the restraint in not having too much dialogue with his ‘inner mother’, just enough to explore his distress and remind us that the greater villain may be an internal one. It set things up nicely for the Blair Watson reveal, an appropriate flashback that settled one particular question for the viewer, just as Romero gets closer to the truth of things.

The confirmation that Norman was indeed Miss Watson’s killer is an important one. Bates Motel has demonstrated considerable smartness in teasing Norman’s involvement for this long. We know his destiny, so it would be reductive to simply portray him as an apprentice serial killer with a victim of the week (or even the season). The approach of allowing the audience to be as confused as him is a good one, but it was right to end it. The expanding circle of people who know about Norman’s ‘blackouts’, allied with Romero’s pursuit of the truth and Norman’s own self-doubt means that there’s sufficient dramatic mileage to be followed even without the ‘did he/didn’t he’ question clouding things.

The reveal itself was nicely handled, appearing as a recovered memory might, in a fluid, impressionistic manner. The motive, or what passed for it, was sufficiently slippery and the act itself sudden and horrific, like a nightmare that bleeds into the memory part way through the waking day. Having Norman develop an awareness of what happened changes the dramatic direction of the show. It’s no longer about Norman’s quest to find out who he his, but his task of dealing with that terrible knowledge.

The scales also dropped from Ford’s eyes and he at least had the satisfaction of knowing what happened to his daughter before he too died at the hands of one of Norma’s sons. His death, while possibly deserved, was accidental, the result of the tightening of plots around one another. The real target, Zane, dodged the bullet once again, literally and figuratively. Dylan’s assassination attempt was as half-baked as its target’s storyline, the villainy-by-numbers that I hope doesn’t make it beyond next week’s finale. If there can be any justification for the well-established Ford’s selection of a reputationless amateur as his assassin, it’s that Zane really isn’t worth the effort, the one mis-step in a season that has been getting tighter and tighter with every passing week.

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

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