This review contains spoilers.
2.10 The Immutable Truth
It would be convenient for the purposes of justice if polygraph tests actually worked with 100% accuracy. It would be rather less handy for writers and dramatists, for whom certainty can rob the audience of mystery, but there’s still some mileage in including them, as Bates Motel did this week, simply because they make such good theatre.
The trouble with lie detectors is that the truth is frequently subjective. Did Norman kill Blair Watson? Yes, in the strict sense that it was his hands that performed the murderous act. But was it Norman? Had Romero been able to subject the boy to the examination prior to his enforced remembering in the steel box, he may well have passed through ignorance of commission. This week, having finally been wired up, Norman did indeed pass. There was a slim window of opportunity during which it was perhaps possible for Norman’s awareness of, and guilt for, the act to cohere and let the Sheriff get his man. That chance has passed and the truth of Norman’s actions have proven to be fatally mutable.
Part of the reason for that plasticity of veracity is Norma. Her, entirely understandable, desire to keep her youngest son under her control has created in him a type of ‘denial-by-proxy’. Absent of any better ideas, Norma’s approach is to repeatedly, and at times shrilly, insist that no, he didn’t do those things and no, he’s not a bad boy. With painful irony, it only works because Norman is ordinarily, and by intention, such a good boy. His capacity to absorb Norma’s suggestion is a function of his obedience. He remains free precisely because he is such a dutiful and biddable son and it is because he is both of those things that he continues to be at liberty to eventually kill Norma. That unavoidable destiny is the real immutable truth about Norman and about Bates Motel as a whole; that for all the twists along the way, the destination remains the same and all these characters can do is swim about, ignorant of the tide.
That immutability kicked in again when Norman attempted to violently disrupt it. His preparations for his suicide, the dispassionate to-do list, the stuffed sparrow, were as much hallmarks of his destiny as they were reminders that the next person he kills almost certainly won’t be called Norman. Again, we were treated to the spectacle of Norma’s agonised flight to save the man who will kill her and once more we witnessed the oppressive closeness of their relationship; their slow dance, their strange kiss. Their repeated reunions, in the hospital and again in the woods served as reminder that theirs is a shared destiny and that Norma’s fate is interwoven with that of her son, a fact made all the more powerful by the notion that Norma, even more so than Norman, is the engine of that outcome.
A further layer of poignancy was added by Norma’s reconciliation with Dylan, perhaps the most welcome of all of this week’s events. The Caleb storyline has been an odd one; he seemed to have been introduced as a new antagonist but instead took on a secondary role as setter of the cat amongst the pigeons before retreating to let his intervention do its own damage. Dylan’s emotional exile was as understandable as the reason for his return. It’s significant that Norman provided the motive for this, he’s the central binding force in the family (to which we may now add Emma, who is party to the family secret), unwittingly drawing them in to join that dread fate.
At least Zane won’t be joining them. The closure of that particular storyline was handled relatively (and mercifully) swiftly and shifted out of the way for more important matters. The dexterity with which Bates Motel handles its central family and the care and attention it provides to the examination of Norman’s condition only made Zane appear worse. At times, it felt as though he’d wandered in from some other show, one that is prepared to ignore the contradiction of having a professionally-run narcobusiness employ such a flagrant wild card in an influential role. More can be done with the drug storyline, especially now that Dylan has been promoted, and with further evidence of Romero’s direct involvement, but it would be better handled with rather more smartness than the latter stages of this season have offered.
This season finale suggested that more will be done, and that the show will rightly be focusing on Norman and his situation from now on. It’s Bates Motel’s strongest hand and something that has benefitted from patient writing and excellent performances, particularly from the two leads. Vera Farmiga has given Norma the hint of an emotional territory beyond her son, with or without George, which makes her deep connection all the more affecting. Yet more depth has been added by Freddie Highmore, who has suffused his character with the sense of desperate confusion that, even now, binds our sympathies to him. They end the season as they began it, victims together, partners on a path to destruction.
Read Mike’s review of the previous episode, The Box, here.
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