Season 2, Episode 9: The Box
Bates Motel finally hit a season high last night, bringing Norman’s budding sexuality and barely repressed aggression into the foreground and giving us an eagerly anticipated look into what happened the night English teacher Blaire Watson was murdered. The hour was a fascinating deep-dive into the mythos of Norman Bates that echoes the original Psycho.
Also good news: the central and supporting characters finally worked together in the service of the same story rather than constantly fighting against each other for screen time and our interest. It also helped that we saw one supporting character’s end.
The star of the episode was undoubtedly Freddie Highmore who somehow managed to plausibly pull off a line like “You’ve got the wrong person! I go to high school!” He effectively conveyed Norman’s (final?) descent into madness while confined to a partially buried metal box. We discovered that, as suspected, Norman was kidnapped by Nick Ford to use as leverage against Dylan. Clearly, Ford had been playing Norma Bates all along with an end goal in mind. Turns out, he wanted Dylan to kill his drug lord boss, Zane. I kind of want Dylan to do that too.
Norman, confined to the metal box, quickly begins to lose his already tentative grasp on reality by first randomly quoting lines from the 1941 Frank Capra film Meet John Doe and then flashing back to Watson murder. Norma appeared to comfort him in visions, reassuring him that “everybody’s mother lives inside them.”
Norma also appeared in the Watson murder scene but adopted the more familiar persona of Mother, dressed in all black and pulled back into the repressive, schoolmarm bun we remember from Psycho. She’s the devil on Norman’s shoulder, convincing him that Miss Watson must be punished when, in reality, Miss Watson existed as a variation on the plight of the original film’s Marion Crane.
Miss Watson was clearly a troubled woman who made a bad choice, bedding a 17-year old student, and was punished for it by death. She successfully seduces him, and he responds by cutting her throat either before or after he climaxes. It’s a chicken or the egg situation here, really. Norman clearly felt shame/guilt for having sex with his teacher and responded through violence. It’s exactly what Norman Bates would do.
The real Norma Bates, however, was largely rendered impotent through the episode. After discovering Norman’s kidnapping after a one-night-stand walk of shame, Norma was contacted by Ford who demands she convince Dylan to kill his boss, Zane. In the midst of all this, she is also informed of Norman’s tryst with Miss Watson from Sheriff Romero who revealed the semen evidence he has. Norma reacts by hyperventilating and, later, lashing out at poor Emma who just wants to be a part of the Bates family. Clearly, Emma needs a life coach.
Finally, after failing to kill Zane, Dylan confronted Ford and recommended a full-scale assault to accomplish the act. Disappointed, Ford pulled out a gun and seemingly intended to kill Dylan. Dylan fought back, killing Ford with a fire poker and fleeing the scene in search of Norman. I couldn’t have been happier at this development. Ford was a lifeless character whose sole purpose was plot machinations, and I’m glad he’s dead.
But I’m most excited at the prospect of unpredictability during next week’s season finale. Norman appears permanently damaged by the full reveal of his blackout, and I don’t really know where the show will take it next. He’ll be rescued from the box, but when will we see the anticipated Norma/Norman scene? Bates Motel has been renewed the show for Season 3, but who will return?
Since I love Vera Farmiga’s performance as Norma Bates, it’s a question that I’m not sure I’m ready to have answered and a scene I’m not sure I’m ready to watch.