In this week’s episode of Bates Motel, Norma’s back home after her psychotic sojourn last week. Unsurprisingly, she’s pretending everything is copacetic. Again, it’s what she does. After buying a new cell phone (to replace the one she shot), she’s surprised at the volume of voicemails and text messages left by her worried sons. Later, she belittles Sheriff Romero’s (who spends the first part of the episode investigating the contents of the flash drive) near-fatal shooting with a “Looks like (the bullet) went right through you.” This is what Norma does – she buries the truth. She smothers it. And she does it very well.
After last week’s psychological powerhouse outing, it’s a bit of a letdown to see something of an ordinary offering this week. It’s a standard series television trope – all drama must ebb and flow. The episode had some strong highlights, but I’ve often thought Bates Motel suffered from a lack of content that met the requirements of its 10-episode outing. There’s great material here and there (and, again, great performances from Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore), but the material feels stretched very thin over the season. Still, there’s definitely the feeling that we’re building toward a powerhouse conclusion to wrap up this dramatically improved and dramatically potent Season Three.
The episode actually opens with Emma being dragged away from the motel by her father who worries about her over-extending her delicate lungs. Dylan is also concerned and perhaps a bit smitten with her. He visits her father and learns that it will take around $20k to bump Emma up on a Portland-area hospital lung transplant list. Given the illegal activities in White Pine Bay, I’m surprised there’s no illegal organ harvesting trade. Just when you need an extra pair of lungs… Ironically, Dylan tries to engage in a gun-running scheme to earn the extra cash, but Uncle Father objects to the scheme, suddenly drawing a line between illegal activities to protect his son. The conversation around Emma’s condition is becoming more of “a thing” lately. So much so, in fact, that I’m betting she’s not long for the Bates Motel world.
On a side note, it’s weird that Olivia Cooke (Emma) seems to have cornered the market on playing fragile, dying girls. She’s about to star in the Sundance hit Me and Earl and the Dying Girl as, you guessed it, the Dying Girl.
Dylan’s also worried about his brother after last week’s full-fledged “Mother” appearance. He finally confronts Norma with the truth: that Norman is not well and needs a great deal of psychiatric help. He relays all of the evidence, and Norma starts pulling out the objections/rationalizations at each stop. When he gets to the part where Norman was cooking breakfast pretending to BE Norma… Yeah, even Norma can’t ignore that one. She claims to be protecting him by keeping him at home, even insinuating that she’ll lock him away when she has to leave the house. It doesn’t settle well with Dylan.
After Romero views the contents of the flash drive, he discovers that the ledger, which documents avenues of money laundering, contains his dead mother’s name. Enraged, Romero visits his father in prison and demands he and his partners remove her from the list. It’s a nice touch, really, not wanting to mix your mother up with a massively illegal money laundering scheme. The scene’s primary benefit, though, is to give Romero a good opportunity to round out his character, to give him another side rather than the stoic man of the law. Later, he drowns his sorrow in some booze, and drunk dials Norma for help. She brings him to the hotel, and they nearly share the tender moment you’ve been anticipating all season.
Later in the episode, James, the psychologist attracted to Norma, pays a visit to the Bates house. Norma initially tells him everything’s fine. She talked to her brother, and that’s all good…. yeah. Her tune quickly changes, and she allows James to meet with Norman. They have a bizarre conversation about taxidermy, and the “buzzing” noise Norman constantly hears in the world. Norman equates the noise of the world (people, their opinions, etc) as “buzzing.” He then flips the script on James and asks him what it was like to sleep with Norma. Norman quickly becomes more aggressive when James asks him if he wants to sleep with his own mother. Suddenly, Norman’s bony hands are wrapped around James’s throat, nearly strangling the psychologist to death. James escapes, but not before angrily advising Norma to “Get him some help!”
Is that your professional opinion, Dr. James?
Naturally, Norma comforts and soothes Norman after confronting him. Norman, by this point, knows how to play his mother’s heart strings. She smoothes everything over, as Norman knew she would, by saying she didn’t mean to abandon him, and she just went a little mad. “We all go a little mad sometimes,” she quickly tosses aside. For those of you uninitiated in the great Psycho-lore, that’s a huge touchstone quote for the series – a direct quote from the original film.
The episode closes with Norma preparing a special dinner for her battered, extended family, bringing out the white tablecloth to cover the battered dining room table. Of course, she pushes all problems aside (“Why don’t we talk about that tomorrow?” when Dylan mentions Norman’s condition), even softening when Uncle Father stops by with flowers and gratitude for their recent semi-reconnection. The weird Bates family dinner closes the episode with Norma playing the piano and engaging in a perverse duet with her brother/father of her son. When Norman sneaks up behind them all, shocked and horrified, you slightly can’t blame him. It’s as creepy and unsettling a scene as anything Norman himself has done. By the time Sheriff Romero shows up for dinner, Norma makes an incredibly deluded speech about how she dreamed of a home where everyone could come and go and “everything would be lovely.”
As Uncle Father says, “God bless you, Norma.” With Norman caressing your body as you sleep as he does in the end of the episode, it’s clear that you’re going to need all the help you can get. And, given the episode’s title, we’re definitely left wondering just whose “last supper” this really is.