Airtime: Mondays at 9pm on A&E
Episode: Season 4, Episode 1 (S04E01)
Tweetable Takeaway: S4 of #BatesMotel begins with Norma realizing she can no longer contain the monster she helped create
As we begin season four of BATES MOTEL’s five season plan, the overarching narrative of the series is starting to come into focus. In the fourth season premiere, titled “A Danger to Himself and Others,” Norma is finally forced into realizing the severity of Norman’s psychological issues and the role she’s played in allowing their exacerbation.
The episode begins with Norman missing after disappearing with (and subsequently murdering and dumping the body of) his friend Bradley Martin in last season’s finale. Norma soon finds out that Norman has been checked into the psychiatric unit of the county hospital after he was found lost in a field, yelling at a hallucination of his mother before he attacked a bystander who happened upon him. When Norma arrives at the decrepit psych ward, she learns that Norman’s being kept under observation for 48 hours and that she won’t be able to see him until it’s over.
Norma pleads with a doctor for Norman’s release, believing she’ll be able to talk her way out of this situation and hide Norman’s issues as she has so many times in the past. The doctor refuses and instead chastises Norma for not getting Norman help sooner despite his recurrent blackouts. Norma offers a limp defense for herself, saying that she did stop Norman from getting his driver’s license, but this is a clear crossing the rubicon moment for her. After three seasons of Norma either deliberately ignoring signs of Norman’s worsening psychosis or actively enabling it by manipulating him and cultivating his obsession with her, the state has finally interceded and forced her to acknowledge the gravity of the situation.
While Norma is looking for any recourse to help secure Norman’s release, Dylan joins Emma’s father Will in Portland as they anxiously await word from the doctors following Emma’s lung transplant surgery. They’re both surprised by the appearance of Emma’s mother Audrey, who had left the family years earlier, unable to deal with Emma’s illness. Will immediately sends her away, telling her that he doesn’t want Emma to have to deal with the undue stress of seeing her mother after waking up.
There’s nice symmetry in the episode’s storylines, with Norman and Emma both hospitalized and receiving treatment for the diseases that have been ailing them, and their two mothers trying in vain to reach their sick children. In Norma and Audrey, we see two mothers who took different, but not entirely dissimilar paths upon learning of their children’s illnesses. While Audrey left her family, unable to deal with the difficulties of raising a sick child, Norma did the opposite, squeezing Norman closer to her and shutting out the rest of the world, wanting to believe that if no one could see what was wrong with Norman, then maybe there wasn’t anything wrong with him after all. Norma is finally realizing that this approach to Norman’s illness has only allowed it to get worse, and that he’s now, as the episode title indicates, a danger to himself and others.
The most promising development in the episode is Norma’s introduction to Dr. Edwards, a psychiatrist at the expensive Pineview Institute she visited last season when she was first considering treatment for Norman. Though Dr. Edwards is receptive to the idea of treating Norman, Norma doesn’t have the money to pay for his care, nor the insurance to help cover it. She visits Sheriff Romero and asks him to marry her, being quite frank that it’d just be for the insurance he could provide, although she does almost make a convincing case. She tells Romero she knows he’s attracted to her and that they could sleep together if they got married, but he doesn’t go for it. Still, I suspect the idea will come back around this season.
Norman is finally released after 48 hours, with the doctor noting that she saw no sign of violent behavior while observing him. Norma is told that social services will be checking in on Norman in a few days, and that she needs to find a doctor for him and come up with a plan of treatment by then or else Norman will be sent back to county. After he returns home, Norman stresses to his mother that he never wants to be sent away again, an imperative that Norma will have to negotiate with if she wants Norman to receive treatment at the Pineview Institute.
While Norma is away asking Romero for help, Norman wakes up and realizes his mother locked him in her bedroom. He busts down the door and, seized with anger, starts to believe that he’s Norma again. He puts on her bathrobe and goes downstairs, where he meets Audrey, who is hoping that Norman will deliver a letter to Emma for her, not realizing that Norman is in the middle of a psychotic episode. When he hears Audrey talk about about leaving her child, Norman snaps and strangles her to death.
This is his second murder Norman has committed while in his Norma persona in as many episodes. While he may be safe with Bradley’s murder for the time being, as long her car remains at the bottom of the bay, cleaning up Audrey’s murder will be a little tricker, especially with social services coming to check up on him in the near future. After three seasons of Norma trying to ignore the severity of Norma’s illness and finding ways to sweep his misdeeds under the rug, it’s clear to the audience, and finally to her, that she’s no longer able to contain the monster she helped create.
Elsewhere in White Pine Bay:
- Part of the reason Sheriff Romero doesn’t have the time or inclination to marry Norma is that he’s busy covering up his murder of Bob Paris from last season’s finale. Romero dispatches Bob’s corpse by tying it up on a boat and sinking it, then he hides Bob’s getaway money under a brick in his house. With the DEA using Romero’s evidence to circle in on Bob and his associates last season, I’ll be curious to see if White Pine Bay’s illegal marijuana industry, consistently the least interesting aspect of Bates Motel, returns this season.
- After he’s granted release from the psych ward, Norman tells his mother that while he was in there, he dreamed of bashing Bradley Martin’s head on a rock. Norma, who in last season’s finale finally learned that Bradley had faked her suicide, meaning that Norman’s talk of seeing her wasn’t another hallucination, hides her suspicion that what Norman thinks was a dream might have really happened. Despite Norma finally being cognizant of the severity of Norman’s issues, she’s still practicing her usual technique of hiding the harsh truth of Norman’s blackouts from him.
- I’ll be looking forward to more scenes with Max Thierot and Olivia Cooke together this season now that Dylan and Emma are officially a couple. They have a nice chemistry together and I’ll be interested to see where their characters, the only people who have been permitted to enter the Bates family bubble, will go as Norman’s condition worsens and the collateral damage increases.
- Considering the frequency with which Norma uses her sexuality to help cover for Norman, I appreciated Dr. Edwards’ quick and definitive shut down of her seduction when he informs her that he’s gay. I’m glad that one character will enter the show without immediately wanting to sleep with a Bates family member, and that also helps clear the lane for Norma and Romero to become more serious this season.
Eric enjoys watching and making movies.
Eric Colasante | Contributor