Airtime: Mondays at 9pm on A&E
Episode: Season 4, Episode 3 (S04E03)
Tweetable Takeaway: Norman & Norma experience their first taste of life without each other in this satisfying episode of #BatesMotel
Three episodes into this season of BATES MOTEL, it’s already clear that irrevocable change has come to the residents of White Pine Bay. In this week’s very satisfying episode, “’Til Death Do You Part,” several characters allow themselves to imagine new beginnings they might have never otherwise dreamed of.
“From this day forward, you will belong entirely to each other…”
We see the first and most glaring of these changes at the start of the episode, with Norma looking down wistfully at Norman’s empty bed. While Norman’s physical absence from their home may prove to only be temporary, lasting as long as it takes for him to receive treatment at the Pineview Institute, the emotional fracture that emerged between Norman and his mother last week will almost certainly be a permanent fixture at the Bates Motel.
Norma’s difficulty adjusting to this new development is quickly exacerbated by her unceremonious marriage to Sheriff Romero, a necessary prerequisite for Norman’s treatment at Pineview. Even after the wedding, she’s startled when Romero tells her he’s going to move in with her. When she’s initially hesitant about the idea, no doubt thinking about Norman’s reaction, he explains that the marriage has to look legitimate because there are people in town gunning to take his job away who will jump at the first sign of impropriety on his behalf.
After the wedding, Norma returns to a home that no longer feels familiar to her, with her son gone and a new husband moving in. Romero insists on taking her out for a celebratory dinner and, after copious amounts of wine, she ends up accidentally enjoying herself, which would have been unimaginable to her just hours earlier when she was stressing about being apart from Norman.
When Norma wakes up the next morning, she discovers Romero’s wedding gift for her: he hired workers to fill in the pit outside the motel. It’s not hard to see the metaphor here, that if Norman’s absence caused a hole in Norma’s heart, Romero is there to fill it. And after Norma returns from a terrible conversation with Norman later in the episode, Romero is there for her. He consoles her and the two embrace like husband and wife for the first time before they rush upstairs to consummate the marriage.
“I’d like to do something different with my life… something better.”
After a successful lung transplant in Portland, Emma starts to navigate the new lease on life she’s received after years of preparing for her impending death. Despite her good fortune, Emma is having as tough a time adjusting to the changes in her life as anyone else on the show. Walking outside the hospital with Dylan she jokes, “I feel like I’ve been through Hell and back but here I am, dragging a hunk of metal down the street like nothing’s changed.” But only three episodes into the season, the truth is that everything’s changed for her. And as Emma starts to plan for an unexpected future, it’s changed the course of Dylan’s life too.
Inspired by her surgery and Will’s words to him last week, Dylan tells Emma that he’s planning on leaving the marijuana business and finding something better to do with his life. When he later returns home, worried about having to fire Gunner, he learns that Gunner has plans for a new beginning of his own, with his bags already packed for California.
“There are no secrets here at Pineview.”
As he reluctantly begins therapy sessions with Dr. Edwards, Norman is quick to point out that he only “voluntarily” committed himself to the facility because of how much it meant to his mother. But despite his willingness to commit himself for Norma, he’s still dead set in his assertion that it’s not himself, but Norma, who is the crazy one in the family. While Norma is terrified about being unable to contact Norman in his first 72 hours of admittance, unsure which of their myriad family secrets he might spill to the doctor, Norman is initially unwilling to admit to any of their misdeeds despite his profound sense of betrayal.
Norman’s vow of silence doesn’t even last through the episode however, as Norma later convinces Dr. Edwards to allow her to speak with Norman, and their reunion ends up going terribly wrong. Norma approaches her son with kindness, trying to rationally explain to him why she thought he needed to be sent to Pineview, but Norman refuses to listen to reason. He again accuses her of being the murderer, still unable to acknowledge his own complicity, and says that he can’t understand why she would put him in this horrible situation. When she says that she only wants him to get better, he challenges that by reminding her that in order for him to get better, he’d have to tell Dr. Edwards the truth, something she has worked very hard to suppress over the past three seasons. For as crazy as Norman is, he’s completely right about this. Norma has put Norman in an impossible situation, where he’s forced to choose between his own wellbeing and his mother’s. After years of allowing Norman’s psychosis to worsen out of a protective instinct for both Norman and herself, Norma is only now beginning to realize the grave consequences of her mistake.
Last week we saw Norma cross a point of no return when she became aware of the danger Norman posed to her and had to call the police on him for her safety. This week Norman crosses a similar point of no return when he tells Dr. Edwards that he has reason to believe his mother is insane and may be killing people, knowing that the doctor will have to report the claim to the police. Norman may be right in believing that Norma deserves some justice for all that she’s done, but it’s tragic to see him basing it off of a psychosis-induced misconception. But at this point, Norman is far beyond the point of rationality and from his perspective, Norma fired the first shot in what will likely be a bloody battle between them.
Elsewhere in White Pine Bay:
- It must be said that Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga have delivered fantastic performances this season, showing entirely new dimensions to their characters. Norman is experiencing an especially strange cocktail of emotions this season, so I’ve been impressed with how well Highmore has communicated the character’s deepening psychosis, making him feel more psychotic than ever before, while also retaining some degree of empathy. The stellar writing of Norma’s character this season calls for an equally complex performance from Farmiga and she has consistently delivered. Just look at the range she’s demonstrated in the past two weeks: the pure fear she portrayed running away from Norman in last week’s climax, followed by the onslaught of guilt she experienced after sending Norman away, to the well-earned happiness that she experienced with Romero. Farmiga has been great since the series began but may be doing her best work this season.
- After Gunner’s summary departure, Dylan is visited by Chick, who’s still recovering from the beating he received at Caleb’s hands last season after their gun running venture went bad. Chick tells Dylan he’s looking for his father, but Dylan says he hasn’t heard from or seen him. Dylan is ready to put this part of his past behind him, but we’ll see if Chick slinks away peacefully, or if he’ll force Dylan to pay for the sins of his father in the episodes to come.
- Considering how upset Norman already is with his mother, it’s going to be delightful to see his reaction when he finds out about her marrying Sheriff Romero, especially when he learns it was done for the express purpose of sending him to Pineview. I’m guessing we’ll see a meltdown for the ages from Norman.
- A nice scene of Norma needling Romero about his past girlfriends pays off later in the episode when we’re introduced to Rebecca Hamilton, a woman he had been sleeping with who also laundered the town’s illicit drug money at the bank. She asks him whether she should be worried about the DEA crack down on Bob Paris and his associates, since Bob’s assets were subsequently frozen, but he reassures her that unless she didn’t know what she was doing when laundering the money, she’ll be fine. Romero also realizes he can’t risk keeping Bob Paris’s getaway money in his house, so he hides it in Norma’s basement.
Eric Colasante | Contributor