This Bates Motel review contains spoilers.
Bates Motel Season 5 Episode 8
Bates Motel threw many viewers for a loop last week when its episode concluded with Norman turning himself over to the police, confessing to his crime. Norman being incarcerated is a vastly fascinating playground to explore for the show’s final three episodes, one that wields even more potential than when Norman was staying in the psychiatric hospital last season.
As much as Norman has changed throughout this series’ five-year run, something that’s remained constant through it all is his freedom to be himself while at home. Behind closed doors Norman is allowed to be as crazy as he wants, but putting Norman in police custody suddenly strips him of that freedom. If Norma now suddenly decides that she wants to “help” Norman out, he could wind up getting himself in a lot of trouble. This angle ends up fueling this episode with an extreme amount of tension and anxiety. Throughout the entire episode it feels like something is going to go wrong, with the pit in viewers’ stomachs probably resembling something similar to what Norman is experiencing in the moment.
It’s telling to see that Norman is so desperate that he specifically asks for his freedom to be removed. He needs to get out of his house and wants medication as quickly as possible. It’s a routine that’s entirely antithetical to how Norman’s been throughout the rest of the series, it’s only now an issue of determining whether it’s too late for him. With Norman now fully receptive to treatment, the final episodes of the series seem fully invested in whether he’s too far gone for rehabilitation at this point. The tension is no longer coming from if Norman is going to snap, it’s in determining if there’s still time to save him.
Freddie Highmore returns to the director’s chair this episode (after writing last week’s episode), and it’s encouraging for the show’s production to let him tackle such a weighty offering this time around. Not only is “The Body” an especially Norman-centric installment, but it’s also exploring an entirely new environment, playing a lot with tone, while also needing to set up the show’s final two episodes. It’d be a lot to take on for any director, let alone someone who is also acting in the bulk of the scenes. Highmore once again sticks the landing (both behind and in front of the camera) and I’m quite curious to see if he chooses to continue with directing after Bates Motel’s conclusion. It looks like he could turn out some satisfying horror films or psychological thrillers if he’s so inclined. He also mines some great physical comedy from Chick and that raccoon bag.
Sheriff Greene’s (who does a much better job at establishing herself this episode) initial talk with Norman regarding his testimony is painfully frustrating. It’s so, so tragic to see Norman getting shut down here after making so much progress towards “recovery.” The idea that the show can reach the pivotal moment of Norman confessing to murder and have Greene telling him that she doesn’t believe him is so sad that it actually borders on being comical. Greene’s assessment that Norman is merely a stunted child in an adult’s body is dead on, but it’s pushing her in the wrong direction. It’d just be too crushing to see Norman released and murder Dylan and/or Emma because Greene thought he was just a lonely boy who was wanting attention.
It should come as no surprise that Norma ends up making an appearance at the police station. She’s completely appalled at how far Norman has allowed all of this to go, determined to take control of the situation and make things right. There’s some rather brutal Fight Club-esque solo violence that occurs as “Norma” kicks Norman’s ass in order to gain control. Highmore has always done a great job at differentiating between playing Norman, Norma, and Norma as Norman, but his performance here feels particularly electric. Maybe it’s the fact that he knows he needs to put a real show on for Greene, but Highmore really kills it with the subtle touches. It’s an unnerving performance. Unfortunately, it’s also one that just gets Norman in infinitely more trouble. If Greene wasn’t suspicious of Norman before, she certainly is now.
“The Body” also spends lots of time with the only family that Norman has left, his brother. Dylan really goes to bat for Norman here and tries to keep him as safe as possible through all of this. It feels like a big part of Norman reaching the other end of the tunnel here has to do with Dylan’s ability to protect him. He goes as far as hiring a cutthroat lawyer, Julia, to help with his brother’s situation as he continues to feel helpless about Norman’s condition. I understand why Dylan is going through all of this alone, but I kind of feel bad for Emma getting the shaft through the bulk of this season. She could easily be along with Dylan in some capacity (although it’s appreciated we get her checking in via phone) through his investigations. At this point I wouldn’t even be surprised if she was absent from the finale entirely.
The Julia material doesn’t connect as well as it hopes to and just feels inorganic to the voice the show has been building over five years. The episode gets fairly clunky whenever Julia and Norman are communicating, especially with his whole, “You work for me!” mentality. This legal direction could very much bog down these last two episodes and I don’t think anyone wants to see a courtroom filling the end of this show.
In spite of any awkwardness, Julia and Norma end up being a formidable team, with Norman’s revised testimony appropriately deflecting blame from himself. What’s so perfect about Norman’s testimony regarding what happened with Sam Loomis is that it’s all so believable. It’s easy to see the motivations that he provides Greene with as the truth—even if it is on some level—but we know that it’s not. Highmore confidently lets Norman’s testimony scene run long, not interrupting it with smaller cuts. He lets the camera focus on Norman and the yarn that he’s spinning with the actor’s face doing all the work that’s necessary.
All the Romero fans can properly rejoice this week as well, as the guy finally starts putting a plan into action and readying his takedown of Norman. Romero has certainly been sidelined a lot this season (unless you consider bleeding out, whining, and running away engaging material), but it’s encouraging that these final episodes seem interested in putting him front and center and a big part of wrapping all of this up. His action is mostly relegated to the episode’s final moments, but I’d be genuinely surprised if he didn’t take up a large part of next week’s installment.
“The Body” is a bit of a frustrating episode of Bates Motel. It does many things right while continuing to set up what should hopefully be a satisfying series finale, but it also spreads itself too thin with simply too much going on. The final episodes of a season should be when a show consolidates its storytelling, not when it makes it more obtuse. Granted, Bates Motel’s missteps are now magnified with how little of the show remains. Strong performances still anchor this program, but hopefully it won’t forget what it is at its core as it barrels ahead to its conclusion.
And so much for that theory that Chick was actually Robert Bloch and writing Psycho…Come on, wouldn’t that have been a whole lot more satisfying than a random, unwarranted execution?