This Bates Motel review contains spoilers.
Bates Motel: Season 5, Episode 3
“I enjoy helping people.”
Bates Motel’s “Bad Blood” is a bit of a frustrating episode. On one hand, it’s perfectly serviceable and feels exactly what a third episode of this season should feel like. It does some required bookkeeping and ties off some threads while also effectively planting the seeds for new ones. At the same time though, this also manages to feel like a very dour episode of the season that finds itself ricocheting against the walls of the motel with the same select characters. The entire episode is also lampshaded on a relationship that I don’t think any fans were invested in or needed closure on.
That’s not to say that there still isn’t plenty to enjoy here. Norman as Norma smiling and musing over his “granddaughter” is some wickedly twisted stuff. It’s likewise enjoyable to see how eager Caleb is to just initially get the hell away from his deranged offspring and get some healthy distance between him and the subject. Caleb being stuck as some prisoner of Norman’s is an angle that I’m surprisingly into. It’d have been easy to turn him into a corpse at the beginning of this entry, but letting this plotline bleed out ends up holding merit to it. Plus, it gets bonus points for the sheer fact that this hostage of Norman’s is also his father. One episode is just long enough for this material to fester without feeling overdone.
On that note, I don’t know if I exactly needed flashback scenes between a young Caleb and Norma where he talks about being her protector and that they’ll always be safe together, but I suppose it’s useful to get a bit of a read on just how messed up things are for Caleb right now. In spite of all the wrong that he’s done, he is in a uniquely depressing situation here.
Weirdly enough, Caleb’s history and unusual bond with his sister is used as the backbone to the episode this week. Chick acts as therapist for Caleb in some other very perplexing scenes, but it’s admirable to see Bates Motel playing with the characters they have at this point rather than throwing new people into the mix (although say hello to Marion Crane in episode six…). In a bizarre, sad way Caleb is able to atone for his sins and come to term with his past using this Norma Surrogate to heal.
Another new welcome dimension that we get to the series this week is the novelty of Norman operating in full Norma regalia while talking to other individuals. After Chick “caught” Norman last week, that seems to mean that he qualifies as his confidant. Meaning he becomes Norma(n)’s new foil to bounce off of and field questions like whether Caleb should be flayed or not. Highmore continues to come into his own when it comes to his Norma performance and while in the past the character has been accompanied with a certain rage or urgency, he attempts to smolder and ooze sexuality in his scenes with Chick.
This relationship Chick’s found himself in is definitely problematic, but watching Norman edge infinitesimally close to Chick’s face, perpetually on the cusp of kissing him, makes their material deeply creepier. It’s noble to watch Chick push himself deeper in this situation with the intention of fixing everything. I have no idea how successful Chick is going to be in his plan, but at this point he’s the closest one capable of taking Norman down.
There’s a certain tenderness present in their scenes together that feels reminiscent of Norman’s moments with Dr. Edwards last season. Maybe, somehow, this guy will get through to him. The complicated conversations that Chick tries to negotiate between the “three” of them also acts as a nice reminder of the voices that Norman is constantly hearing in his head, even when we’re not privy to them. Also, when Chick was introduced into this series, who thought that he’d be the one going into the final endgame and the possible savior of White Pine Bay.
On the topic of possible people to take Norman down, I was pretty off the mark when I stated in last week’s review that it didn’t look like Romero would be getting out of prison anytime soon. Almost as if to spite me, the former Sheriff pulls off a chaotic jailbreak (when is an unscheduled restroom stop ever a good idea?) that very much opens him as a wild card for the rest of the season (although that wound of his is going to slow him down).
Romero has been through so much at this point that I really don’t even think that he’d care if he died, as long as it meant he was also taking Norman down in the process. That kind of passion for vengeance makes the character interesting in a way that he hasn’t been in some time.
Norman is also in heavy compartmentalization mode after his antics in the previous episode. His Norma delusion hammers in the fact to stay out of the basement and Norman’s uneasiness towards her request can’t help but feel a little familiar. The series does a good job at painting the old Band-Aids that would keep Norman safe as no longer being enough. Norman’s psyche might be in overdrive this season, but the innocent, honest boy at the bottom of all of this is still out there trying to find the truth. I’m also delighted to report that Chick’s codification of all of this behavior does continue to align with him being Bloch and his novel being Psycho.
While discussing Norman and his compartmentalization, it seems like a suitable time to dig into what’s going on in the Madeleine Loomis front this week. Having the character as a presence in this world is still a good decision, but she really just gets to cry and appear helpless this episode. It’s not the most flattering or empowering material for the character, but she surely has more heavy lifting to come. The season simply wants you to remember her and Sam’s troubled marriage at this point.
The final moments of the episode do manage to genuinely conjure surprise. Norman choosing to let Caleb go rather than adding another body to his running total is a moment that works well, especially when paired with Norman’s pained “I don’t want to live like this anymore!” In this moment, he’s truly trying to rise above of his fate. Of course the episode can’t let Caleb get away in the end, and the way in which he’s disposed of might be a little eye-rolling. It’s still a necessary conclusion though and better than the idea of Caleb just floating around in the background, forever capable of returning.
After all, like Chick says, trust is the bedrock and foundation of any healthy relationship.