Tweetable Takeaway: Norman & Norma must face uncomfortable family truths on #BatesMotel
Since BATES MOTEL began, it has only been a matter of when, not if, the Bates’ trove of family secrets would come to light. Each season since, we’ve seen Norma and Norman try to insulate themselves from the world in the hopes of protecting one another, believing that to let any insiders into their tight-knit life would be to risk everything they had built together. Both characters have long avoided uncomfortable truths about their codependence or the deadly consequences that have arisen from their attempts to conceal their secrets at all cost. This season has been about separating Norman and Norma from one another in order to test how strong their bond truly is, and whether their secrets could always remain as much. This week’s episode, titled “The Vault,” was about the first of the Bates family’s many secrets finally coming to light and Norman’s struggle to prevent Dr. Edwards from accessing more of them in his subconscious.
Norman had a major breakthrough in his therapy last week when Dr. Edwards became aware of his dissociative identity disorder, and the fact that when he blacks out, Norman adopts a Norma persona. That was the first time that someone outside the family became cognizant of this fact about Norman. This week Dr. Edwards informed Norman of that fact as well, telling him that the version of his mother that he created was most likely a reaction to some childhood trauma he had experienced and long suppressed. When he tries to dig deeper into Norman’s subconscious to learn about what occurred in his past, he faces surprising resistance when Norman again blacks out and adopts the Norma persona. “Norma” explains to Dr. Edwards that she doesn’t want Norman speaking to the doctor for himself because those suppressed memories are too painful and “she” has worked too long to help keep them buried, and she doesn’t think he’ll be able to handle them.
We do learn a little about the events from Norman’s childhood that may have precipitated his psychosis, although Norman himself remains ignorant about the truth, with all of the flashbacks being provided by “Norma” instead. We learn that at one point, as a child, Norman saw his mother try to take him and flee from his abusive father, only for both of them to be dragged back home at gunpoint, which then led to Norman having to watch his father rape his mother to reassert his dominance.
While this secret from Norman’s past remains too difficult for him to grapple with, Norma realizes in this episode that she’ll no longer be able to keep another traumatic rape from her past a secret from someone that she loves. She meets up with Chick at the beginning of the episode, as she tries to grapple with his threat to expose Dylan as being the product of incest between her and her brother Caleb. Chick makes it clear that if Norma does not provide Caleb’s whereabouts to him so he can seek revenge for Caleb’s vicious attack, that Chick will inform Sheriff Romero about Dylan, ruining the idyllic marriage that had surprisingly emerged between them.
Norma does make contact with Caleb, who has escaped to Costa Rica to spare his family another blowback from his encounter with Chick, ignorant of the fact that his absence has ended up putting his family in harm’s way. But when it comes time to deliver his location to Chick, she can’t do it. She does still remain angry at Caleb for what he did to her, she doesn’t hate him enough to send him to his death. And when she pulls a gun out on Chick, she realizes she doesn’t have it in her to kill him either. After years of doing whatever she could to insulate her family from having their secrets exposed, Norma doesn’t have what it takes to kill any longer. As she tells Romero, Norma had never before loved someone enough to feel obligated to be honest with them. Until now. After she yells at Chick to do whatever he’s going to do, only to be surprised by his refusing to follow through on his threat to tell Romero the truth, Norma decides to tell the truth herself. She tells Romero that Dylan is Caleb’s child, and that she did truly once love Caleb. But when she tells Romero to pack his bags, he asks her, “Where we going?” For Norma, the idea that “the truth will set you free” has never been a part of her consideration. But now, experiencing real love without the messy complications that came with the love she felt for Caleb or her late husband, she realizes that the truth truly does have some redemptive power.
Before Romero can accept Norma’s declaration of truth however, he has be honest with Rebecca himself. He hands over Bob Paris’s security deposit box to her after spending several episodes refusing to acknowledge his possession of it. When she asks him how much of Bob’s laundered money he wants for himself, he tells her that he doesn’t want any of it. Much like Norma, Romero had never before loved someone enough to be a honest. Last week, he told her the truth about what happened to Bob Paris and this week he tried to sever his last tie to his dishonest path, hoping it would allow him and Norma to finally live in peace together.
Before he leaves for Seattle, Dylan realizes that it’s his time to tell the truth as well, as he finally lets Norman know that he and Emma are together. I’ve been expecting this fact to cause a major divide between Norman and Dylan, believing it could set back whatever progress Norman made in therapy, but he actually took it remarkably well. When he learns that they’re together, Norman says that he’s glad, and that it makes sense for them to be together. I’ve been wondering what it would be that eventually set Norman off again, and it’s starting to look like it could be him learning the uncomfortable truth of Norma and Romero’s love affair, which has occurred entirely while he was locked away at Pineview.
While Norma and Dylan are finally admitting truths to the people who need to hear them, Norman remains in the precarious position of having the truth hidden within him without having the capability to realize. Dr. Edwards has already done some miraculous work with Norman, and the fact that he got Norman to acknowledge his blackouts and that he’d imagined past conversations with Norma that didn’t actually occur was a testament to Dr. Edwards’ skill as a therapist. But for as well as he’s helped Norman progress in therapy, the next step of acknowledgment on Norman’s part is going to be an enormously difficult task. While blacked out, Norma makes clear to Dr. Edwards that “she” doesn’t want the doctor dredging up Norman’s old memories, or she’ll “have to do something about it.” As Dr. Edwards drills deeper within Norman’s psychosis, accomplishing his ultimate goal would be to hit upon some very dark and buried subconscious material about the numerous people Norman murder while believing he was his mother. Considering how many people have died to protect Norman from becoming conscious of the monster he is, I do fear that Dr. Edwards producing that therapeutic breakthrough for Norman could be the very last thing he does.
Eric Colasante | Contributor