This Bates Motel Review contains spoilers.
Bates Motel Season 4 Episode 8
“There’s room in the human heart for more than one person.”
Well I must say I’m pretty disappointed. We didn’t see the newly reunited Bates family watching any of The Third Man this week!
Right off the top of things, tonight’s episode is impressively penned by the crew’s own Freddie Highmore (after the show’s very own Sheriff Romero, Nestor Carbonell, directed last week’s installment), a feat that’s quite elusive for a TV series, let alone a drama. It’s an accomplishment that seldom takes places within the television world, especially during the penultimate episode of the season. My brain can only conjure up a few examples of when this has happened during the history of the medium. There are even fewer where the end product happens to be one of the strongest episodes that the series has ever produced, which is exactly the case here.
With “Unfaithful” not only being such a Norman centerpiece, but also a tremendous Norman and Norma episode, it’s fascinating to see how Highmore writes dialogue for the character, approaching Norman as a storyteller rather than an actor for the first time. Highmore’s performance has been off-the-rails great this season and this episode acts as yet another notch in the actor’s belt for how implicitly he’s understanding Norman. Highmore’s script lands most of the highs that it attempts with this script feeling just as rooted into the show as any other. It’s unbelievable that this is his first screenwriting credit, regardless of how much help the collective writers’ room might have given him.
This is after all an episode that already swiftly places a snuggling Norman within Norma’s bed before the cold open is over. If you had any delusions that Norman leaving Pineview and spending more time with his mother would be healthy for the boy, they’re very quickly laid to rest. In fact, the whole situation is so tense that Romero even chooses to leave Norma’s house during this transition period. It’s devastating to see the happy slice of life that Norma and Romero have somehow chiseled away for themselves begin to go rotten as they’re already jumping through so many hoops for Norman. Norma even has to hide in the bathroom to make phone calls to her husband, scared of what Norman’s reaction might be. And at this point, does it not feel like Norma is right back with her ex-husband and Norman’s father once more? It’s a terribly deep idea to place on top of everything else as the Norman and Norma dynamic finds a new way to pervert itself with each passing week.
For instance, one of the first places that Norman’s mind goes to with this whole Norma and Romero marriage arrangement is that Norma is in some sort of abuse scenario where she’s being forced into sex for Norman’s insurance money. Such a thing couldn’t be further from the truth—in fact Romero is likely the healthiest thing in Norma’s life at the moment—but to see everything come down to power dynamics and sexual politics once more for Norman is very telling. Something as horrid as this is easier for him to imagine than the simple prospect that maybe Norma actually loves Romero and married him because she wanted to. It’s not that long ago that Norman’s therapy sessions had him digging up the idea of his father and clearly that figure is still bouncing around in that damaged head to some extent.
At the same time, we should also probably talk about Rebecca and the figure of Bob Parris that still hangs over the series, since the show keeps devoting so much time to it every week. I think we can all agree that Rebecca’s probably going to bite it by the end of the season, right? She’s had a big target on her forehead for the past few episodes now and the fact that she seems inexorably tied to Parris’ blood money isn’t helping her case any. I’m actually a little surprised that that whole “sick mother in Indianapolis” thing was actually the truth because that alibi sounds mad suspicious. All signs would lead to Norman somehow crossing paths with her and taking her out in the finale—perhaps even as a vindictive Norma, no less—but there are still plenty directions this could end up going before the year is through. Also, how strange is it seeing an airport terminal on this show? It usually keeps its bubble so insular in this world. The idea of someone actually getting on a plane to fly away from all of this madness hardly even seems allowed.
It’s all too appropriate that “Unfaithful” has most of its drama coalesce at a twisted, classic family dinner scene, with Dylan and Emma included (I also kind of love that Dylan seems to just want to get the fuck away from Norman at this point). Everything that’s been bubbling up not just over the course of the episode, but the whole season, comes up here and it’s immensely satisfying. I was shocked earlier in the episode when Norman basically marches up to Romero and orders him to divorce his mother, but the breakdown over dinner is considerably more brutal. All year Norma has been in a tug of war between the men and her life and she’s basically pulled into the huge pile of mud here. Finally when she tries to assert herself and choose what would make her happy rather than the men in her life, it cuts through Norman harder than ever. The realization that Norma actually loves Romero is such a shock to Norman’s system it causes him to vomit (in fact, quite pointedly she only says that they like each other, making the moment hit even harder due to both Norma and Norman still deluding themselves to some degree). It’s a strong beat, and one of many small moments in Highmore’s script that he just nails.
I also feel like it would take someone like Highmore to include in his script a bit of a callback to the classical Norman and Emma scenes that the show used to make its bread and butter during its first two years. The two characters have intentionally been separated this season and seeing them finally get to spend some time alone is a nice hit of nostalgia, but an even stronger indicator of how much things have changed. Norman comments upon all of the differences when he returns home, but his reunion with Emma feels even more like someone trying to reacquaint themselves with an old house. Just watching them try to interact now has such a gloomy filter over it all, almost highlighting Norman’s inevitable down spiral.
And speaking of that down spiral, this episode also features the single most formative moment in the “Bates Motel Norman becomes Psycho Norman” evolution, excluding all the murder that’s taken place so far. Here we get Norman not only constructing his trademark makeshift peephole behind a painting, but that he uses it to watch his mother have sex with Romero. If Norman’s psyche ever stood the hope of redemption, it seems pretty safe to say that that opportunity is now lost, with sexuality, Norman’s mother, and pain being forever linked. What other signature touches of the character will we see before the season is over?
“Unfaithful” is all about the impending implosion of Norman and Norma, with nearly every scene in the episode contributing to this strong mission statement in someway. Perhaps the toughest example of this falls towards the end of the episode where a broken Norman desperately attacks his mother for “creating” him. As she tries to tell him that the two of them and Romero can all live happily ever after, Norman just falls back on the fact that he was never allowed girlfriends or intimacy growing up. He chastises his mother for building a tomb around him that forced them to be co-dependent, and now suddenly she wants to change the dynamic and that’s allowed? The series’ greatest asset here is that it manages to make both Norman and Norma completely sympathizable here. We feel for them both, seeing just how messed up all of this is, which works much better than Norman simply being in crazy mode.
Norman might tell us “all fixed now,” upon his daily ritual of taking his meds, but I have a certain feeling that the season’s final two episodes aren’t going to feature a nice, well-adjusted boy. Don’t turn your back on him when he’s chopping wood…