Review: Bates Motel ‘Norma Louise’

Freddie Highmore must have had a fantastic time filming the opening of this week’s Bates Motel episode. That is, until Max Thieriot punches him in the face, knocking him out.

At the end of last week’s episode, Dylan (Thieriot) and Norman (Highmore) confronted Norma (Vera Farmiga) about a potential reconnection with the brother who raped her and fathered Dylan. Reacting poorly to the request, Norma fled the house, packing clothes and heat equally. Without Norma, Norman goes on a literal tear, destroying their kitchen by slinging anything not nailed down at Dylan. The brothers made several attempts to contact the fleeing Norma, but after seeing their texts and phone messages, she shoots her iPhone. There is no Apple Care for that.

But, according to Norman, this is what Norma does. She leaves. And he’s absolutely right. When faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, Norma pulls up anchor and leaves town. It seemed through the first two seasons of Bates Motel that she was making an honest effort, despite all odds, to make a fresh start in White Pine Bay. But like her very battered Mercedes, Norma really seems to be coming apart.

Norma ends up in Portland where she buys some new clothes and, in an amusing nod to the original Psycho, stops at a used car dealership where she trades in the beaten Mercedes for another model. She even checks into a seedy motel run by a dark-headed, lanky boy. This is what Norma does. She runs. Probably for the best as Sheriff Romero was shot after shopping for groceries. He’s not dead, but he frantically tries to contact Norma to warn her. That plan is literally shot to hell. Plus, she’s being followed by a man in the shadows with eerie music playing.

After becoming overcome with childhood memories, Norma heads for a nearby bar where she meets a man and introduces herself as Norma Louise. A few drinks and dances down, she’s making out with him in his truck, but just as soon as the belt buckle comes off, she attacks him – the threat of sex too much to withstand after the memories of her brother.

Back at the motel, Norman begins have nightmares / halucinations about his missing mother. He is not alone, though, as Emma (Olivia Cooke) watches over him. During his fantasies, he dreams about performing taxidermy on a live bird that he quickly kills. In the real world, though, he’s in a near-catatonic state, constantly repeating “I want my mother.” Unsure of what to do (because calling the looney bin just feels too rational), Dylan and Emma put Norman in his mother’s bed while they “meet cute” over her decreasing lung capacity.

Looking for a safe place, Norma calls her one-time psychology professor James Finnigan (Joshua Leonard, The Blair Witch Project) for a late-night booty call. Well, less of a booty call than active intervention designed to stem the breakdown she seems to be having. That’s a better option than Sheriff Romero was handed – his new rival for sheriff of White Pine Bay pays him a visit in the hospital and threatens him. Somehow, Romero follows the guy to the garage, nearly knocks him out, and shoots him in his car. I really wanted Romero to say “Visiting hours are over, m***** f*****!” Alas.

Back at Finnigan’s house, Norma gradually reveals the source of her stress is Norman and his “blackouts.” In a fantastic moment of clarity for her, Norma finally discloses the truth about Norman and his father – that Norman killed him trying to protect his mother. She freaks out at finally telling the truth, releasing some of the pent-up anxiety, and nearly escapes the therapist’s house. As he pulls her back in the house, Norma uses her sexuality to effectively shut him up. She finds it a preferrable option, I suspect, to his potential role as her therapist.

Finally, the episode rolls to a conclusion as Norman makes his first, fully formed appearance as “Mother,” making breakfast for Dylan in the kitchen while wearing Norma’s bathrobe. It’s an incredibly creepy and unsettling moment carried by HIghmore who doesn’t really try to impersonate Farmiga as much as he absorbs her trademark Norma Bates perkiness. Oh, and he swishes a knife around quite a bit. The dark humor inherent within the scene is played to perfection. Granted, he will not remember it the next morning, but it’s another step toward whatever endgame the series has in play.

I continue to be impressed and awed by Vera Farmiga’s fantastic work this season. This should come as a surprise to no one, clearly, but Farmiga has unraveled so many complicated and revealing layers of Norma Bates. She’s a woman at war with the world as much as she is at war with herself. The strong-willed, bury-it-all persona battling against the inner child who needs healing. Who longs for closure on the break with her brother. As the episode closes, it seems, at least for now, that their bond starts to mend itself while Dylan looks on with shocked joy written on his face.

It’s Norman’s dark countenance that throws the bucket of ice on this emotional reunion.

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