Airtime: Mondays at 9pm on A&E
Episode: Season 4, Episode 2 (S04E02)
Tweetable Takeaway: Norma struggles to maintain control over an increasingly unhinged Norman in this satisfying episode of #BatesMotel
If the first two episodes of BATES MOTEL’s fourth season are indicative of the quality to come, then this will likely end up being the best season of the show to date. In this week’s episode, “Goodnight, Mother,” Norma struggles to regain control over Norman after his release from the psychiatric unit, only to witness him turn the tables and assert control over her instead.
The fluid power dynamic between Mr. and Mrs. Bates has always been the facet of Bates Motel I’m most intrigued by. All the way back in the pilot, we saw the first cracks in Norma’s iron fist appear, when Norman snuck out of the house with Bradley Martin against his mother’s wishes. This subversive act ended disastrously, with the motel’s previous owner breaking into their house and raping Norma, which led to her killing him and forcing Norman to help her dispose of his body. Sensing an opportunity to use Norman’s guilt and shame over the incident to her benefit, Norma was able to redouble her control over him, developing an uneasy status quo that has largely held in place despite occasional challenges. But since then, Norman has become like a bucking bronco, increasingly difficult for Norma to control, with that conflict finally coming to a head this episode.
The line of demarcation between parent and child has always been fuzzy at best for Norma and Norman. We’ve seen her act as strict authoritarian, best friend, spurned lover, and at times even as the child in their relationship with Norman acting as the de facto parent. That’s the dynamic at play this week, as Norma tries to find a way to convince Norman to sign voluntary consent forms for evaluation and treatment at Pineview Institute, despite his clear insistence last week that he never wanted to be sent away from her again.
Norma is in a difficult spot in that regard. She knows that if she doesn’t find a doctor and plan of treatment for Norman within days, social services will take him away from her and send him back to the county psychiatric unit. But she also knows that there’s no way to speak rationally to Norman and explain to him that he’s ill and needs treatment, and that Pineview would be the lesser evil of solutions for him. This matter is made even more difficult when she does attempt to broach the subject, because Norman, in his psychosis, is convinced that it’s not him but in fact Norma who is the dangerous one in their relationship. Norman, unable to acknowledge his complicity in the murders of Blaire Watson and Bradley Martin, believes it was Norma who killed them and it’s she who needs the help. He acts as the rational one between them, telling his mother, “You need to let me handle things from now on. You need to let me help you.”
We see this in effect when new guests come to stay at the Bates Motel. When Norman disobeys his mother’s orders to stay in the house, coming to see why she is investigating their muddy pit outside, she tells him to go back inside and wait until she’s done checking in the guests. Norman, increasingly perturbed by what he sees as his mother’s irrational behavior, such as her mucking around in the waterlogged pit, forcefully grabs Norma and insists that she go to the house and wait for him to check in the guests. Despite her reticence, Norma does what she’s told and it’s clear that for the time being, she’s lost all control in the relationship.
One person over whom Norma’s control continues to be strong is Sheriff Romero. Last week Norma asked him to marry her in order to use his insurance to get Norman treatment at Pineview. Romero rebuffed her, but it appears he’s had a change of heart. He visits the Institute and offers them the getaway money he stole from the deceased Bob Paris in last season’s finale, telling them that after two months his insurance will cover Norman’s care, because he plans on marrying Norman’s mother. This is a great development for the show and these characters. The Norma/Romero relationship has been slow cooked from the outset and is finally getting heated at the right time. With the time remaining for the show dwindling, it makes sense to pursue this course of events and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the last major relationship Norma has on the show. Of course, despite Romero’s nice gestures Norma still withholds information from him, insisting that Norman isn’t dangerous when he asks for the truth about his condition.
It doesn’t take long for Norma to realize the mistake she made in asserting that Norman isn’t dangerous. Norman soon sees a hallucination of his father, who tells him that it was Norma who committed the murders she’s accused Norman of, including his own death, and says, “You need to control her, Norman. Before she destroys you.” This is a new shade to Norman’s psychosis. Whereas before, Norman’s hallucinations spoke out against anyone who was threatening to come between him and his mother, his hallucinations are now turning antagonistic towards Norma for the first time, perhaps out of some unconscious self-defense mechanism as he realizes Norma is no longer in the position to enable his bad behavior.
Norma confronts Norman about the consent form that was faxed to the motel; he responds by telling her that he both loves her and is afraid of her, and that those truths make for a bad combination, a realization Norma should have come to several seasons ago. Finally realizing that Norman is a threat to her, Norma runs for her gun, only to discover that Norman already took it. Norma is saved at the last minute by the appearance of Sheriff Romero and his deputies, who come to take Norman into custody for Norma’s safety. As Norman is being taken away, Norma pleads with him to sign the consent form so he doesn’t have to go back to county psychiatric unit, but he refuses, feeling betrayed by her.
Elsewhere in White Pine Bay:
- Emma’s lung transplant surgery proves to be a success and, after some tense moments, she’s able to breathe on her own again. Afterward, Will impresses upon Dylan that Emma can start planning for her future now instead of preparing for her death. He tells Dylan that he needs to think about doing something other than selling marijuana if he wants a future with Emma, telling Dylan he’s too good for it. This is a nice moment between them, and it’s clear from the look on Dylan’s face that he’s been lacking in any kind of positive reinforcement his entire life.
- Dylan tells Emma that he has to go check on the barn and make sure that Gunner didn’t burn it down while he was away, but he asks if she wants him to come back, and she tells him that of course she does. These two are the heartbeat of Bates Motel and it’s nice to see them together. Be sure to enjoy this moment of relative peace and happiness while it lasts, because it’ll no doubt disappear as soon as they learn about the chaos occurring between Norma and Norman back home.
- I’m appreciating the more narrow focus of this season’s plotlines. I’ve thought that past seasons of Bates Motel featured too many meandering subplots, like the illicit marijuana trade and the half-baked city council election, so I’m glad this season seems to be more clearly centered around Norma and Norman and the characters who inhabit their immediate periphery.
Eric enjoys watching and making movies.
Eric Colasante | Contributor