This review contains spoilers.
At one particular point in Unbreak-Able, I realised something. The show can tease us with the pantomime antics of the Arcanum Club all it likes, but as some point between last season and this one Bates Motel crossed a major threshold: Norman is no longer a protagonist. He is now a danger to everyone else on the show, and they are starting to realise it.
The moment that struck me was when Dylan, hurrying out of the house, turns to be faced with his brother, a jump scare that actually jolted me out of my seat. Norman has become legitimately terrifying, rather than just mildly creepy, and Freddie Highmore is selling the hell out of it. I had no idea what he was going to do upon seeing Caleb (considering the last time the two characters met almost ended in homicide) and even Dylan seemed scared of his brother at the end. It has become apparent that Norma has no idea just what she is trying to keep safe in her house and, as other reviewers have suggested, the time may soon come where she finds herself wishing she had let Norman kill himself back at the end of season two.
Their relationship has never been healthy, but now it has become all out toxic. It was hard not to shudder watching Norman attempt to make his mother jealous by taking Emma on a date, and that creepiness extended to Norma’s reaction as well. Was she really concerned about Emma’s wellbeing (both illness and Norman related) or was her anger legitimate jealousy? Bates Motel has become quite good at dealing with ambiguity in the relationships between its characters, and I’m finding myself more and more impressed in how a series that used to be quite clumsy and obvious has me questioning motivations of characters just about every week.
By far the most successful storyline in this regard is that of Caleb. I have always found the character fascinating and his confession this week managed to both clear up and deepen the intrigue. I always suspected there was more to his and Norma’s relationship than either were letting on, and as it turns out that’s true – but only just. A sexual relationship that began as consensual spiralled into the nightmare described by Norma, and it seems Caleb has been struggling with his actions ever since. Was Caleb genuine is his regret? I think so. Are his motivations in the present completely decent? I’m less sure. There is a welcome complexity to the character made all the more challenging by his relationship with Dylan, who is now being torn in two directions by his extremely dysfunctional parents. I often find the character a bit dreary, but the fear and pain in his voice as he cried to Norman that he did not know what to do at the end was heartbreaking. The poor guy is a good person at his core, but the old adage that your mum and dad fuck you up has never held more true than in his case. If there is one character who is a true victim in this series full of damaged, broken people, it’s Dylan. His situation is impossible, and it is just bad luck that his brother was looking for this exact kind of ammunition to serve his own pathological jealousy. Once again Norman is becoming the villain in just about everyone’s story.
We’re nearing the halfway point of the season and while everything is pretty much in working order, the Arcanum Club plot just isn’t doing anything for me. I only have the vaguest interest in Annika’s flash drive, and Kevin Rahm’s character (whose name I haven’t bothered to learn) is so over-the-top villainous he’s hard to take seriously. I rolled my eyes at the evil goons breaking into the motel and honestly, I’m starting to get frustrated with the writers for even spending time on what we all know will just be another distraction like all the drug/people trafficking stuff of the first two seasons. Sherriff Romero is a good character and I like spending time with him, but surely there is a better way to give him something to do than this?
Read Gabriel’s review of the previous episode, Persuasion, here.
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