BATES MOTEL Review: “Refraction”


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Airtime: Mondays at 9PM on A&E
Episode: Season 4, Episode 5 (S04E05)


Tweetable Takeaway: #BatesMotel characters are forced to decide whether to embrace or run away from the past  

On this week’s episode of , characters find themselves confronting issues from their past that they had hoped to put behind them. The episode’s title, “Refraction,” could refer to the metallurgical term, which quantifies a metal’s ability to withstand heat, as several of our characters find the “heat” being put on them, forcing them to decide whether to run away from or confront the past.

Bates Motel Season 4


As we meet up with Norman this week, we discover that his therapy sessions with Dr. Edwards are going surprisingly well and that he seems to be making genuine progress in his treatment. He acknowledges his blackouts, realizes he should probably be on medication, and admits he made a mistake in accusing his mother of murder.

Though he is making progress, Norman is still not willing to open up entirely to Dr. Edwards, which becomes clear as he grows agitated at questions about his father. This brings up some interesting questions about the current nature of Norman’s psychosis and his ability to admit culpability in the murders he’s committed during his past blackouts. Does Norman still believe his mother killed his father, which would mean he’s only pretending to have learned that his allegations had no merit while still believing them to be true? Is he finally cognizant of his own actions, committed while in this Norma persona? (Almost certainly not.) Or is Norman back to blissful naivety, believing that his father’s death was a mere accident? This isn’t yet clear, but I’m guessing that Norman still harbors some suspicions about his mother’s complicity, which is why he tells his hallucinatory vision of Norma that he’s still unwilling to betray her confidence. I don’t think Norman regrets having spilled what he genuinely believes are the family’s secrets- that Norma is a murderer- because he’s realized she’s not at fault, so much as he regrets having violated his mother’s trust by sharing this information with an outsider.

The “heat” that Norman feels this week is the intense scrutiny he receives from Dr. Edwards. When the doctor informs Norman that he knows Norma did not actually visit him incarnate, despite Norman’s insistence, Norman’s inability to reconcile these incompatible truths sends him into another blackout as he again takes on his Norma persona. This is the first time we’ve seen someone outside of the Bates family witness Norman’s psychosis in action, besides Emma’s mother in the season premiere, who wasn’t aware that she was talking to Norman-as-Norma before he murdered her.

Dr. Edwards is a sharp, exciting character who feels like he’ll be a formidable narrative adversary to Norman. After years of seeing Norman skate by scot-free, it’s nice to see someone savvy enough to eventually make Norman answer for his crimes.

As an empathetic viewer wishing for Norman to get better and find some semblance of a normal life, Dr. Edwards presents the best opportunity for this path. When Norman begins screaming and beating down Dr. Edwards’ door, trying to get out, the doctor speaks soothly and calms him down. And when he then reverts to the Norma persona, Dr. Edwards understands what’s happening and starts to begin a dialogue with that aspect of Norman’s psyche. He’s a good doctor and can help Norman, if Norman is willing to get better. The only way Norman can get better, however, is to face the past and admit to his past horrors.

But from another perspective, I’m hoping that Dr. Edwards can see the forest through the trees when it comes to Norman. While Norman is at once a troubled boy, he is also a very dangerous killer. Dr. Edwards receives a call from a local police officer who tells him there’s no merit to Norman’s claims that Norma killed Ms. Watson, Bradley Martin, or Audrey Decody, for various reasons. While this thankfully exonerates Norma, the fear is that it exonerates Norman in Dr. Edwards’ eyes as well, which could prevent him from learning the whole truth. From a macro perspective, knowing where the story is going, Dr. Edwards also serves as the best opportunity yet to stop Norman from turning into the monster that we know he will become (if he isn’t already there).


Norma & Romero

In White Pine Bay, Norma and Romero deal with the break-in at her house that they discovered last episode. After their night out at the Lights of Winter festival, their first official appearance together in their new life as husband and wife, they returned home to see a part of their past making a violent reappearance. The morning after, Norma heads into town to see about getting her stained-glass window fixed, which leads the revenge-seeking Chick right to her doorstep. Elsewhere, Romero tells his ex-girlfriend Rebecca that he doesn’t have the key to Bob Paris’s security deposit box that she was looking for when she broke in, and to leave him and Norma alone.

Both Norma and Romero are more than ready to put their past difficulties behind them in order to forge a better life together, but it’s clear that the past is not yet done with them. Chick gets close to Norma under the pretense of fixing her window before revealing his true intention, to find and kill Caleb, at the end of the episode. He tells Norma that he knows the truth about Dylan’s parentage- that he’s a child of incest between Norma and Caleb- and asks whether she wants revenge on Caleb herself for his having raped her. When Norma tells him that she has no idea where Caleb is, which as far as I’m aware is the truth, he tells her that he’ll be back.

Elsewhere, Romero tries to tie up the final loose end connecting him to the illegal activities of Bob Paris and his associates in White Pine Bay. Though he may have hoped drowning Bob at the beginning of the season was the end of his worries, Rebecca may have other ideas. Romero tells Rebecca that the DEA had called him, asking about her and any involvement she may have had with illegal money laundering. After she broke into Norma’s house looking for Romero’s key, I do wonder why he believes simply telling Rebecca to go away will accomplish anything. His attempts to ignore the problem in the hopes of it going away aren’t likely to work, since I fear that if Rebecca goes down, she won’t go down alone.


Dylan & Emma

Emma finally returns to town after spending the past several episodes in the hospital, recuperating from her lung transplant surgery. Although Emma and Dylan as a couple represent the most forward-thinking storyline on the show, with both of them already planning to move to Seattle, the past is not yet done with them either. As they’re about to get intimate, Emma becomes self-conscious about the massive surgery scar on her chest and tells Dylan the doctor told her she can’t have sex for 4-6 weeks. When Dylan learns how self-conscious she is about the scar, he shows her the various scars he’s collected over the years himself, and the two share a sweet moment together embracing their flaws.

While Dylan has committed to moving to Seattle, he first has to deal with the fact that he’ll need to find a there and his only real professional experience is in the illegal marijuana trade. Emma’s father, who is surprisingly supportive of Dylan’s decision to move to Seattle, tells him to lie on the resume and say that Dylan worked for him for several years.

Like the other Bates family members, Dylan is forced to confront this unfortunate aspect of his past that he’d rather leave behind. But unlike Norman and Norma, whose first instinct has always been to lie in order to protect themselves, Dylan decides to be forthright in his interview and embrace the past for what it was. He tells his prospective employer about the responsibilities he had in the marijuana business, the large number of employees he had working under him, and how that prepared him for the work he’d liked to do in Seattle. We don’t know yet whether Dylan will be getting that , but this act of truthfulness alone sets him apart from his family members and speaks to a brighter possible future for him that I hope he lives to see.

Elsewhere in White Pine Bay:

  • I was elated to see Bates Motel shed itself of the marijuana industry plot line this season, which had consistently been the weakest aspect of the show since it began. Under most circumstances, I would thus be disappointed to see Chick, the last vestige of that storyline, return and play a prominent role, but Ryan Hurst gives such a fun, committed performance that I’m happy to have him back.
  • Norman encounters his friend Julian for the first time since their fight at the strip club last episode. He sees a very different Julian however, one who appears to be on his medication at last, looking much more docile than before.



Eric enjoys watching and making movies.
Twitter: @Colasante

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