Bates Motel‘s latest episode, “The Pit,” begins with Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) leisurely relaxing in bed with the afterglow of last week’s impossibly optimistic dinner. The space next to her is empty, yet it vaguely looks as if someone may have been there. Was it Sheriff Romero? Or is her glow strictly rated to that happy dinner. The quiet is interrupted by Dylan (Max Theiriot) telling Norma he will be out of the house for a few days finishing his pot farm. He also tells her they need to deal with Norman (Freddie Highmore). Norma agrees, but you don’t really believe her.
After the idyllic close of last week’s episode (again, tellingly titled “The Last Supper”), you definitely have the sense that it was the last time that group of Bates family and extended guests would be assembled in happy times. The question is “Who dies next?” This week’s episode moves a little closer toward an answer to that question while giving us some seriously brilliant Psycho imagery.
Later, there is commotion outside, and Norma peers outside with Norman to see construction in her front yard, digging a massive hole in the ground (one that ends up being a suspect 23 feet deep – the “pit” of the title). We later find out it’s the Bob Paris-approved Bates Motel pool. Turns out the little deal Norma made with him over the mysterious flash drive may or may not pan out. It certainly didn’t pan out for psychiatrist James who was kidnapped and tortured for his potential knowledge and connection to Norma and her flash drive. Sheriff Romero instantly suspects something’s afoot when he sees the size of the gargantuan hole and confronts Paris as to its real purpose. Paris defers the question, instead spilling Norma’s romantic alliance with the now nearly dead psychiatrist James. Romero claims not to care, but he clearly does. He’s getting all soft for Norma.
Dylan makes good on his promise to vanish for a few days, but it has nothing to do with finishing the barn. Instead, he embarks on a road trip with Uncle Father on an illegal gun-running operation to earn enough money for Emma’s (Olivia Cooke) lung transplant preferential treatment. He sweetly calls Emma to check up on her and to let her know he’s out of town. Probably a good thing as she’s decided to tell Norman (while he’s comically struggling to erect a temporary fence around the pit) that she’s not really interested in him and that she realizes he needs help based on what she’s seen. During an embrace, Norman nearly pushes her into the pit before retreating into the house to sit by the window in that infamous rocking chair – another allusion to the classic Psycho. Oh yeah, his stuffed dog Juno hops into his lap. So, that’s normal.
That night, Norma has two dramatic experiences. First, Sheriff Romero, reeling from the conversation with Bob Paris, knocks on the front door of the Bates house and asks Norma the truth about Norman’s father’s death. He knows the truth through Paris and the bleeding psychiatrist, but Norma continues to avoid the truth, furthering the lie that a “heavy shovel” hit him on the head and killed him. Romero knows it’s a lie and gives her one more chance, and she fails to relent. Romero turns and says goodbye, ending their brief flirtation.
The second encounter is significantly more dramatic and disturbing. Norman approaches her later in the evening and tells her that James had asked him if he was sexually attracted to Norma. Norma eschews the suggestion, telling Norman it’s “totally normal” to have such confusing feelings. That’s questionable, of course, but she follows the conversation up with a tight hug and a roll in her bed. If it’s totally normal for a son to have confusingly sexual feelings for his mother, then a roll in the sack must be fully acceptable in the Bates house. No wonder the kid is screwed up. I hate to say it, but Norma Bates really is a truly awful mother.
The episode closes in something of a schizo fashion that perfectly illustrates a series at war with itself. Dylan and Uncle Father become trapped in a gun fight with the gun runners, giving us a scene straight out of any standard cop show. The real meat of the close is in yet another epic confrontation between Norma and Norman. After discovering Bob Paris knows everything about her, Norma relays the detail to Norman, particularly the part about Paris knowing how Norman’s father really died. Norman doesn’t react well and goes into one of his states. “Mother” appears in a sundress with one strap sexily draped off the shoulder. She apparently grabs his crotch just before Norman runs away and out of the house.
“Mother” calls to him, telling Norman he will never escape her. He turns back, glancing at the Bates house and seeing that famous silhouette in the upstairs bedroom window. That’s the episode’s money shot. Forget the mid-range crime novel crap. “Mother” is the series’ jackpot. I’m loving the way it’s finally starting to tie itself into the iconic imagery of the original film while trying to stand on its own. That is pure dramatic gold.