This episode of Bates Motel is frustrating, but it ends with such a fantastic scene for Vera Farmiga that all is easily forgiven. Seeing another chance at happiness slip away, Norma (Farmiga) lashes out at both her aggressor and her protector, opening herself up emotionally in ways she never has before. Farmiga is amazing in this scene, and hardcore fans had to get a little misty-eyed at the raw emotion of the moment. It's something Norma has built towards for three-and-a-half years.
"The Vault" begins with Norma at home after her meeting with Chick (Ryan Hurst). Last week's episode ended with his suggestion that they both wanted Caleb (Kenny Johnson) dead — so why not work together? Caleb beat Chick nearly to death, stole his family and belongings; Caleb raped Norma when they were young, resulting in the birth of Dylan (Max Thieriot). Why not kill him? Norma is clearly thinking about it while Sheriff Alex (Nestor Carbonell) gets ready for work. It's a nice open, complete with a piano score that evokes domestic bliss, while still hinting that the hammer has to drop soon. Whose secret will be uncovered first: The murder Norma might be planning or the one Alex already committed?
At Pineview Institute, the therapy of Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) is unearthing some traumatic, repressed memories about his father. (It all happens a bit too easily, in my opinion, but representing therapy in the time crunch of weekly TV is admittedly difficult.) Norman is also learning more about the existence of "Norma," after Dr. Edwards (Damon Gupton) informs him that she appeared at the end of their last session. "I think there might be other people living with you," he says, giving him the details about dissociative identity disorder. "Norma" tries to protect Norman, and likely has for a long time. Why? Could it relate to the fact that Norman doesn't remember much about growing up? What is "Norma" hiding from him?
Meanwhile, the real Norma goes to meet with Chick at a café, and he presses her for information about Caleb's whereabouts. Make no mistake, Chick is not a nice person. He's not trying to help Norma to find closure. When Norma doesn't seem to be taking the bait, he changes tack, turning to blackmail: "Your husband would find out who he really married."
Dylan is hanging with Norman at Pineview Institute and sees the impact of therapy on his brother. He also admits his love for Emma (Olivia Cooke, disappointingly absent this week). Norman takes it well, asking Dylan if he remembers anything about their father. Dylan remembers "he made a career out of not being home," but offers little else.
As Dylan and Norma are having a moment on the couch, he tells her how well Norman seems to be doing. He seems more open, more at peace; it's a revelation that seems to make Norma truly happy. With this kind of openness — and given what Dylan knows about his real father and Chick — would Norma really not tell her son about the threats made by the man with the cane? It seems particularly odd, since Chick basically implied that he could come after Dylan instead. I'd go as far as to call it a plot hole. Having said that, it's a good scene in terms of performance. It ends with Norma asking if Dylan has spoken to his father, which makes him instantly suspicious: "Leave him alone, okay? Things are good."
Norma tracks Caleb down and Kenny Johnson makes his first appearance of the season. He says he was worried about the fallout over what he did to Chick, so he ran. She claims that she just wants to make sure he's okay, but by not telling him about Chick, she leaves the door open to finally get her vengeance. Later, in a nicely emotional scene for Johnson, Caleb gets in touch with Dylan. He'll come back when it's safe. It's never safe in White Pine Bay.
While Norman is having flashbacks to his passed-out father, Alex meets Rebecca (Jaime Ray Newman) in a diner. She gives him Bob Paris's key, meaning she can now get into his vault, making them both rich. Or maybe not. He says he doesn't want any money. Does he just want happiness with Norma, or is he setting her up?
Norma meets with Chick on a theatrically lit bridge. She has a gun. Guess that answers some of those "Why not tell Dylan?" questions. She's just going to take care of it herself. As she aims at Chick, the camera presents the scene at a nice angle, with the gun in the forefront and odd lighting behind Chick. She can't do it. "I can't get Caleb killed, and I can't kill you! So I'm screwed! I'm screwed! You got me!" (Again: If Norma really wanted Chick dead, I don't think Dylan would hesitate to finish what his dad started.)
Norma comes home angry, and as she always does when she's furious, she starts chopping vegetables. She also throws some serious passive-aggressive shade at Dylan about his move to Seattle: "Have fun leaving me." As she slams pans down on the stove, Dylan finds the letter that Audrey was going to give to Emma in the season premiere, and notes in the system that Audrey didn't check out. He finds her home address and will likely learn soon that she never returned there. Uh-oh.
In the two biggest moments of the episode, Norman and Norma come to terms with their pasts. First, Norman is in therapy. He didn't think his dad was an alcoholic. "Norma" shows up, seated on the couch next to Norman. "Can I talk to her?" Dr. Edwards asks. Norman turns into "Norma" a little too easily this time. I'm not convinced that's how it works for anyone, much less Norman, a guy who usually has to black out to produce "Norma." It doesn't just happen by request. Anyway, we see dark memories of Sam, Norman's father, like when he pointed a gun at Norman and had drunk, violent sex with Norma while Norman hid under the bed. "Norma" says, "I don't want him to know these things. It will kill both of us." Of course, Norman does know these things, deep down. "Norma" ends on a threatening note: "Don't make him remember these things … or I will have to do something about it."
Chick shows up at Norma's house to put in the stained-glass window and Alex is there. Norma is panicking, until that lurking fight-or-flight instinct kicks in. "Do your best, you giant lame asshole!" She pushes him. Go ahead and "break the woman in half." Chick doesn't, of course. Who could? He kisses her on the cheek, then leaves. Norma tells a seriously confused Alex about Caleb. "Do you know how horrible it is to be raped by someone you love?" In one of the season's best lines, Norma says, "I've never loved anyone enough to feel obligated to be honest with them." Until Alex, of course. Norma is finally looking for protection of her own, arguably for the first time. She no longer has to protect Norman, so she can finally be the protected one. She ends with a somber "Go pack your bag," assuming Alex will leave her. He has different plans: "Okay, where are we going?" She cries. They hug. The worst is soon to come.
- As much as I felt a bit manipulated by the plot this week, Farmiga (and Thieriot) were very, very good. Farmiga's big scene with Chick and Alex was one of the best across all four seasons of the show.
- It's nice to see Kenny Johnson back, and I doubt we've seen the last of him. If you're a fan from Bates Motel, go back and check out his work on The Shield. I'll take any opportunity to encourage more people to watch The Shield.
- We're actually past the halfway point of this season, which is a bit surprising. It feels like the stakes aren't quite as high as they've been in the past, and I hope they pick up the pace in the end run. Let's have something truly shocking happen. We're near the end of four seasons. Let's kill a major character or have someone do something from which there is no return. It's time.