This week, the team behind A&E’s Bates Motel focuses its efforts almost entirely on Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga). Sure, we also catch up with Dylan (Max Thieriot) and Emma (Olivia Cooke) after her lung transplant, but “Goodnight, Mother” is basically a two-hander. Or maybe a three-hander, if you count Norman’s alter-ego.
We open with Norma calling Pineview Institute, begging for Norman to be admitted. She came home to find him blacked out, the lock broken off their bedroom door. But what happened to Audrey (Karina Logue), Emma’s mother, whom he killed at the end of last week’s episode? Did Norman hide the body? We learn that he doesn’t remember anything after he realized he was locked in — the stress of which set off his “episode.” Both mother and son start to fall apart as Norma realizes she can’t control or protect Norman anymore. She hopes he’ll just stay with her — play cards, watch movies, bake a cake. She kisses him on the lips. It’s brief, but still awkward.
Norman stares at himself in the mirror. He remembers dragging Audrey’s body downstairs and shoving it in the freezer. Her eyes popped open. She was still alive! She struggled. And then, Norman sees a vision of “Norma” sitting on the freezer. “Breakfast is ready!” mom shouts.
Dylan is still at the hospital watching Emma recover. She’s going to try and breathe on her own. They take out the ventilator and suction. She coughs a lot. She struggles to gasp for air. Maybe it didn’t work? Dylan panics. She finally breathes. She’s going to be fine.
Meanwhile, back in the displaced universe that is the Bates house, Norman suggests that they watch Key Largo, a 1948 noir thriller directed by John Huston, but mom suggests His Girl Friday or a Carole Lombard movie. (Seriously, what year is this?) Norma wants to go down to the motel, and Norman tries to follow. He’s asking questions. She’s defensive. Norman looks different in this episode, carrying himself more like Anthony Perkins did in Psycho. He’s more defiant and smirking. Are the two halves of Norman merging?
After Norma leaves, Norman opens the freezer. Audrey isn’t there! Who cleaned up? Norma comes home to find her son looking in the freezer. He accuses her of killing Audrey. He can’t tell the difference between his visions of “Norma” and his real memories. The break is now complete. As in the Hitchcock movie, he believes “Norma” is his mother. He’s convinced that she is a killer. Alex (Nestor Carbonell) comes to check on them. Norma is shaken; she needs to get Norman into Pineview now. She tells Alex that her son isn’t dangerous yet, and she’s not scared. She’ll soon regret that.
Alex goes to Pineview to convince them to admit Norman. He offers them a wad of cash, including a bribe, and says Norman will be on his insurance. He’s accepting Norma’s casual marriage proposal from last week’s episode. Turns out Alex has a past with mental illness: He wants to save Norma not only because he loves her, but because he couldn’t save his own mother.
Norman is reading Great Expectations aloud, like so many kids do these days, when mother suggests he gets some rest. She walks down to the waterlogged pit, thinking perhaps that Norman buried Audrey in it. As she wades through the water, trying to feel a body, she stumbles on something. When she reaches down, she unearths a glove. There’s no Audrey. She hears a car pull up and climbs out of the pit, only to be caught by Norman. Some people are checking in; Norman says he will handle it. A family of three shows up, admiring the retro look of the Bates Motel, and Norman is charming them. They have no idea that he and his mother misplaced a dead body.
Alex calls Norma to give her the Pineview news and say that he’ll marry her. It’s a very interesting development. Norman will have a father once again. But first, Norman needs to sign papers, which he won’t do. Oh, by the way, the papers are being faxed over to the motel, which Norman is now manning. As he finishes checking in the day’s only guests, the papers print out behind him. He picks them up. Will this be enough to trigger another break?
After a bit of parental advice from her dad, Will (Andrew Howard), Dylan meets with Emma. She seems okay — a bit raspy, but fine. He’s going back to the barn, a.k.a. his weed-dealing organization, and says something about her now being unleashed on the world. Thieriot plays it like Dylan might think he’s not good enough for Emma: He mentions his lack of college education in the scene with Will, and points out her new potential in this one. Something to keep an eye on.
Back at the Bates residence, Norman is looking at the papers, hearing voices. He flashes back to hitting his father over the head, which happened just before the pilot episode of Bates Motel. He sees a vision of his father, who tells him that he didn’t kill him. Norma did. “You need to control her, Norman, before she destroys you.”
In their kitchen, Norman glares at Norma while she slices carrots for a turkey pot pie, as if that’s something people casually make on a stressful night in 2016. She says he should take a bath, but he doesn’t trust her. He accuses her of not being sane, then says that she killed Bradley Martin, Blair Watson, Audrey, and his father. Norman thinks she’s trying to pin it all on him. He goes wild, screaming, “I’m not going to let you do that!” She runs up the stairs. Does this show actually have the guts to kill off Farmiga’s character right now? How amazing would that be? She could still co-star as Norman’s alter-ego. And, as we all know, she’s got to die eventually.
Norman has a gun. Norma tries to be gentle, and kisses him on the cheek. She rubs his head and cries. She reaches down for the gun. He pushes her away. She runs and locks another door, then tries to call Alex. No luck. Voicemail. Norma thanks Alex for what he’s done, and Farmiga plays it like she’s unsure she’ll get another chance to do so.
Norma creeps out into the dark house, grabbing a pair of scissors from a drawer as a Bob Hope/Bing Crosby movie plays in the background. She goes into the basement, where Norman flips on a light. He’s not going to let her lock him up. He doesn’t trust her, so he points the gun at her and suggests murder-suicide: “Whatever there is after this, we will have peace, and we will be together.” Alex comes barging in, stopping Norman before he pulls the trigger. He’ll have to go back to County. Norma begs him to sign the papers so he’ll go to Pineview instead. He signs. She weeps.
- I half-expected Norma to look down at the papers and see that her son had signed “Norma Bates” without the “n”.
- I love when a show gets this tight in its focus. It would have been even better if the whole episode took place in the iconic Bates house.
- Chris Bacon’s score is underrated. It adds much-needed tension to this episode.
- Realizing how close we are to Norma’s likely death, I’m really hoping the producers of Bates Motel get a defined finale. I think we’ll all be angry if this chapter of Norman Bates’s life doesn’t get a little closure. A&E has already renewed it for season five, and co-creator Carlton Cuse has said the show would last five seasons. The writing certainly seems more confident this year, so perhaps they’re already working toward a finish line.