“Life is so hard, isn’t it?”
That was a messy one, wasn’t it?
I mean, granted, we were headed in that direction. Last episode treated us to the surprise of Norman fully shifting into Norma mode, as he donned her apron and dipped into a fugue state. After that, all bets are off accordingly and it feels like the gas pedal is only going to get pushed down harder and harder as this season rides out. But God, they could have had a little more focus with it, couldn’t they? It feels like basically Bates Motel takes its hand and pushes all of its chess pieces forward this episode, in what makes for a scattered, exhilarating, confusing episode.
The gloom and doom of last week is countered early on with some cute bell flirting between Dylan and Emma (oooooh!). I guess I’m growing on the idea of them as a pairing, even if it is the most forced of obstacles to eventually rise up between Emma and Norman. Regardless of the hackneyed nature in which it’s grown, I’m enjoying where it’s going (even if this drug run he’s going on is clearly going to be a disaster).
Things are getting so crazy around the margins of everything that it’s nice to see these two latch onto each other as beacons of sanity. However, everything with Emma’s father just has to go. He’s spouting the most stereotypical statements about his daughter, and we don’t need to be continually reminded of Emma’s fragility. He just feels like a honking warning that something’s about to happen to her health, and how he causes Dylan to turn into a PSA for cystic fibrosis with Caleb is pretty cringe worthy.
It still feels like Bates Motel doesn’t know what to do with Dylan, and while this season has positioned him in some strong places, it still seems set on arbitrarily sending him around town on various missions. Every episode he seems to be partnered with someone else and there’s a whiplash occurring over his fluid nature this season. Simply keeping him as someone that Norma can bond with through her doubts and make Norman jealous over is ample direction.
While Norma would like to be focusing her efforts on Norman, the mess that Sheriff Romero got himself into last episode keeps distracting her. Norma’s reaction to learning that Romero has been shot is kind of perfect, as she just bemuses at the information that he’s been shot (“What the hell? Alex’s been shot”). Her and Norman go back and forth on the news before she finally presses forward.
At this point it’s safe to say that the mayoral power struggle this year has been the season’s “secret Chinese opium den.” It’s really kind of just washing over me in a way that clearly the show doesn’t want it to. And this is even after Romero has gotten shot and murdered someone over the matter. It’s more engaging than the filler we’ve gotten in the past, but it’s still just that, filler. I’m just hoping the balance here evens off a little in the final episodes. Or at least the body count getting blown up to make this as ridiculous as everything else.
And speaking of ridiculous, this is one of the silliest episodes of Bates Motel in a long time. Besides the absolutely ludicrous “Emma’s dad sends Dylan to a mystery hospital to buy shifty organs” plot that starts kicking into gear, we’re treated to an onslaught of crazy dialogue like, “Stop it Norman, you’re acting like a twit,” and “There’s always something dead in the basement.” Norma and Romero share an exchange that’s delivered with staunch seriousness: “What kind of name is Gunner anyway?” “A stupid one.” But the best one of them all must be Norman’s sarcastic, “Yes mother, here I come! Following you in a very masculine and normal sort of way!”
Oh yeah, and Norma and Caleb sing a duet of the love song from The Jerk… When Bates Motel is spinning off its wheels like this, it’s often at its most fun, and fortunately, the heavier stuff going on here manages to justify some of the absurd things that are being tossed around here.
For instance, Dylan and Norma having an earnest discussion about Norman’s behavior and how they have to act quickly is the perfect counterbalance to all of the above. The scene resonates not just as a family worrying about a sick member of their ilk, but also as people who are genuinely scared over a burgeoning serial killer. It’s almost more tragic knowing where Norman ends up when you consider that Dylan and Norma might have been close to intervening in time and preventing any of what happens to him in his adulthood.
While we’re on heavy scenes, I really don’t know what to think yet of Norman’s pseudo therapy session with James. He dissects and decodes every word that Norman says to him, almost as if he wants to tell Norma that her son is messed up. It’s not exactly difficult though when Norman really lays it on pretty thick with him. Norman waxes on about how people are the worst and a number of things that raise several red flags (beyond him asking James what it’s like to have sex with his mother—and really pushing the matter). I guess it’s not surprising for such a broad episode to get just as big here, but some subtlety really would have helped. There is such a thin line with this sort of scene.
Look, seeing Norman get asked if he wants to have sex with his mother, and then mentally snap and nearly kill someone over it is huge stuff for this show. I understand that this series is building to an endpoint, but it’s a little jarring to suddenly get so much of this kind of material after the show took its time spacing it all out. It’s great, and I’m loving it, and this is essentially the show that we were all promised and hoping to get to, but it still can’t help but feel a little off as it rushes through all of this; almost like some cancelation order had taken place and the show had a list of moments they now need to burn through. Then again, we are in the middle of watching Norman slowly unspool. It’s moments like these are often are the messiest.
With all of this going on, by the time Caleb shows up at Norma’s doorstep with flowers, professing his gratitude to her, it just feels like too much. As touching as Norma’s gesture of including Caleb at their family dinner, this is an episode that already feels busy and crowded. To throw this fuel on top of everything else just seems needless. Splitting some of this up would have done all of these storylines favors, and I can’t see these remaining three episodes being so full that some of this stuff couldn’t have waited.
After Norman’s episode with James, Norma tries to calm her son down by telling him that nothing is ever going to change between them, and that all will be fine. The thought genuinely calms Norman down as he rubs his tears into her face, but as we all know, things are about to change drastically very soon for both of these people. Even by the end of the episode, their inner circle of family has surprisingly expanded in a way that neither of them expected by the start of this.
So sleep tight, Norma. You’ve never had more love watching over you…