This review contains spoilers.
3.7 The Last Supper
A title like The Last Supper is pretty damn ominous. Knowing it going in to the episode creates certain expectations, and in the build-up to the final dinner scene the tension just kept mounting. But as the makeshift family at the heart of the show sit and eat together it became clear that the title was a promise; but not for this episode. Because even without any explicit set-up for the chaos to come, the feeling that this may be the last moment of peace for these characters weighed heavily over the final minutes. And as Norman enters his mother’s room and caressed her as she slept, I started to think that maybe this was a chance for us to breathe before whatever comes next.
All that probably makes it sound like I’m excusing the episode for being slow; quite the contrary. The Last Supper is probably the best episode of Bates Motel this season. This is a series that is at its best when it wears its heart on its sleeve, drawing pathos from the inevitable tragedy by allowing the characters to care for each other. Family has always been an important theme here; predominantly the series fixates on the ways family can destroy us but sometimes the dysfunction falls away for moments that are genuinely affecting.
Just as I was saying last week I didn’t want Caleb joining the Bates family for dinner, he did exactly that this week. His and Norma’s relationship is compelling but I wonder if they’ve gotten a little too cosy too quickly considering the history; that said, their past is a double-edged sword, comprising both pain and the connection they had as mutual support in a nightmare situation. Less understandable is Emma smiling and nodding as she watches Norma and the man she only knows as a rapist connect, but anyway the actors sell it and these characters are so tortured all the time that even a slightly contrived peace is kind of nice.
It also didn’t hurt that the episode was full of great character moments that varied from touching to laugh-out-loud funny. The batty back-and-forth between Norman and Norma as she bought a new phone while Norman tried and failed to pull off being passive aggressive was highly entertaining and full of great lines. Drunk Romero telling Norma she was beautiful was oddly sweet from a man who just killed someone and used the body to send a message. Even the return of Emma’s presumed forgotten father worked. For once, these characters are not at odds and it’s actually something of a relief. Bates Motel can get tedious when everyone just runs around and yells at each other, and seeing the world’s most dysfunctional family run smoothly for a while made for a refreshing change of pace.
Of course, that relief is sharply undercut by the fact that Norman Bates is a bomb waiting to go off, and even if everybody else is getting on, Norman’s issues are only being exacerbated by his mother’s newfound/rebuilt connections. This was made crystal clear by the terrific scene between Norman and James in the basement, as the cocky shrink attempted a bit of clumsy therapy. Naturally it ended about as well as anyone could have guessed and Highmore (brilliantly channelling Anthony Perkins) sold the hell out of the danger Norman poses. The question of whether Norman is sexually attracted to his mother has lingered in subtext for a while now, and as shocking as it was to hear it asked outright, even worse was how thoroughly Norman’s reaction answered it, an answer underlined by his nocturnal visit at the end.
Humour and heart are weapons that can increase the impact of impending tragedy, and in a masterful instalment Bates Motel utilised them both while never letting us forget who Norman Bates is and what he would become. We even got the brilliantly funny foreshadowing from Norma when questioned about her son’s taxidermy; ‘It’s Norman; there’s always something dead in the basement’. Oh how true that will prove in years to come. Psycho is now within the sights of the series, and Bates Motel is all the better for it.
Read Gabriel’s review of the previous episode, Norma Louise, here.
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