The philosophy of Norma Bates is best encapsulated during a scene near the end of the Bates Motel premiere when she and Norman dump Keith Summers’ corpse into White Pine Bay in a spot that seems “deep enough” – a moment of (heavy? hammy?) foreshadowing that was practically begging for an ironic payoff to arrive sooner rather than later.
At this point, Norma has spent so much of her life burying problems by any means necessary, even if it involves abandoning her other son, Dylan, or murdering the latest in a string of abusive husband and boyfriends. She no longer appears capable of discerning when a situation is under control and when secrets are coming back to haunt her, as when she flippantly dismisses Norman’s history of suffering from delusions (since, apparently, there’s nothing so troubling about her young son hallucinating that he found a sex slave in her new boyfriend’s basement, according to the Tao of Mother Bates).
Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) isn’t so great at deduction as he fancies himself to be – assuming he’s not in cahoots with his deputy, which is a real possibility – but he’s been living in the show’s corrupt little town setting long enough to tell when someone isn’t a good liar (see: Norma). Hence, when part of the truth about what happened to Mr. Summers (literally) rises to the surface, it doesn’t take long for Romero to figure out the next step in his investigation. “I get them, on the inside” Romero says, about people with something to hide (hint, hint).
Tonight’s episode, “Trust Me,” is about more than the proverbial chickens coming home to roost for Norma. Co-showrunner Kerry Ehrin’s script includes Hitchcockian elements of dark psychosexual tension (see: Norma is aroused by Shelby touching scarred regions on her legs), but it also examines the issue of when affection and love between two people begins devolving into something dangerous like obsession and the desire to control another person to suit your own selfish purposes.
It’s a theme that Hitch explored prior to making Psycho (famously, with Vertigo), but one that lies at the heart of Norman Bates’ eventual descent into madness. For example, young Norman has begun to feed on emotional love provided by Emma (sadly absent this episode), the physical love offered by Bradley, and the brotherly nurturing from Dylan, which makes it easier for him to tell his mother off – and, thus, giving Norma more reason to emotionally blackmail and manipulate Norman in the future when the walls really begin to collapse around her.
Meanwhile, it seems only a matter of time before these things will be taken away from Mr. Bates, leaving him with just his destructive connection to Norma for comfort – and giving him more reason to take his claim that “It’s the hardest thing in the world, to let go of someone you love” to heart (by making sure that the one sustaining relationship in his life never falls apart, even if only in his mind). In other words, Norma will reap what she’s sown with her son, in tragic and horrifying ways.
Unfortunately, the fourth episode of Bates Motel feels a bit underwhelming coming after last week’s installment “What’s Wrong with Norman,” simply because (for me, anyway) the scenes between Norman and Norma are more emotionally-charged and engaging to watch than exchanges between either character and supporting players like Deputy Shelby, Dylan and Bradley “I wear shades because I’m grieving” Martin. It’s partly because Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga’s performances are consistently the strongest within the cast for any episode (save for Olivia Cooke as Emma), but many of the supporting characters and their own conflicts still feel like padding, which exists solely to flesh-out Norman Bates’ “origin” story.
However, that central narrative thread, focusing on the “birth” of Norman the psychopathic killer, is strong and should hold the series together over the course of its first ten-episode season – even if a few supporting character storylines never fully bloom. If they remain underwhelming, however, we might be in trouble during the second season (which has been confirmed), as this problem is one that could grow in magnitude – and harm what has so far been a solid cable drama series.
- We briefly saw Emma’s father, who you may recall is the fellow with a penchant for taxidermy (and a casual attitude about death, thanks to his daughter’s condition). Needless to say, we’ll be seeing more of him.
- Norma used (gasp!) modern technology, including a laptop and cellphone. But is this a good or bad thing, as far as the future goes?
- That Norman/Bradley sex scene was tasteful, emotionally and visually flat. Maybe that’s appropriate, given the (so far underwhelming) nature of those characters’ relationship…
Bates Motel continues next Monday with “Ocean View” at 10pm on A&E. Check out a preview of the episode below: