Bates Motel Recap: The Caretaker

Bates Motel

The Convergence of the Twain
Season 5 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating *****
Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates. Photo: Cate Cameron/A&E Networks LLC

Last week’s incredible premiere meant a bit of a letdown was coming to Bates Motel, although it’s only marginal as it appears that this season will be paced like a runaway train. Knowing this is the final arc creates a tremendous amount of suspense because, in the end, every character except Norman is expendable. Will he kill Caleb? Chick? Romero? Sam? All of the above?

“The Convergence of the Twain” opens with Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) driving to prison to confront Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) after the revelation that he sent Jim Blackwell to kill him. Let’s just say it’s not a pleasant conversation. Romero wants Norman dead. Norman wants Romero dead. A five-year stint for perjury is the only thing that’s stopping one of them from killing the other one. Romero threatens him directly, saying, “I’m coming for you when you least expect it. So don’t get too cozy up in that house all by yourself.” I kind of love Angry Romero, a man willing to do anything to avenge the death of his soul mate, who’s getting even harder in prison while he plans his revenge.

We get a very brief moment with Dylan (Max Thieriot) and Emma (Olivia Cooke) this week, enough just to remind us that Caleb (Kenny Johnson) is on his way to White Pine Bay, looking for Norma (Vera Farmiga). It will be interesting to see how Dylan and Emma work back into the narrative, but that will have to wait for another episode. This one is about Caleb finding out his sister is dead, then discovering the shocking truth about her remains. His first hint, after breaking into the house, is finding a book called The Lost Art of Mummification. Not your average coffee-table book.

While Caleb’s world is on the verge of falling apart, Norman is having a cup of coffee and stalking his new object of affection, Madeleine Loomis (Isabelle McNally). Director Sarah Boyd and company do a wonderful job of the across-the-street shot here, allowing us to further realize how much Madeleine looks like Norma from a distance. She comes over to get some java and runs into Norman. Unexpectedly, she asks if she can set him up with a friend. “You’re really cute and nice,” she says. If she only knew his secrets.

We learn here that Madeleine’s husband is “David Davidson,” the gentleman from last week’s episode who was looking for a room at the Bates Motel to use by the hour. And we learn that his real name is Sam Loomis (Austin Nichols), a.k.a. the classic character from Psycho, a.k.a. the boyfriend to Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane. In Bates Motel, he’s reimagined as a philandering new resident who might as well have a tattoo that says “Marked for Death” on his forehead. It’s interesting to consider that Sam, being who he is in this world, makes Madeleine more attractive to Norman. He’s always had a savior complex, and so he’ll want to rescue Madeleine from her cheating husband.

In our first sighting of Norma, she’s studying French. Does this mean Norman will learn French subconsciously? It’s fascinating to consider what’s actually happening in every scene in which Norman and Norma “talk.” She questions where he was all morning, which means Norman himself is having doubts about his aggro conversation with Romero. Perhaps more crucially, he’s wondering about his own feelings for Romero and those of his dead mother, interrogating her about them.

They’re interrupted by Chick (Ryan Hurst), who can hear Norman talking to himself through the front door. (Farmiga gets a great line in response: “Pretending to be dead isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be!”) Meanwhile, Chick looks unhinged wearing something that resembles fur shoulder pads and a homemade hat. He’d be fired from a renaissance fair for being too eccentric. Fashion choices aside, he has a business proposition for Norman: He’ll bring him animal corpses to mummify and they’ll split the profits from selling them. What could possibly go wrong?

While Caleb learns about his sister’s death from a hotel clerk, Sam arrives to have a man-to-man conversation with Norman before their double date. He needs to “see what kind of a man you are.” We learn exactly what kind of a man Sam is, as he threatens to kick Norman’s ass if he drops a dime on him. What a charmer. He has no idea he’s talking to a serial killer — and his chances of surviving the season just dropped to zero.

Before the big date, Norman has a few great moments with Norma, who’s taken up smoking and answering her son’s protestations with her best line of the week: “I’m dead. I’m bored. It’s not like it’s going to kill me.” He lies to Norma, telling her that he’s going to a meeting that night, and heads on his big date.

The date itself goes surprisingly well. One of the brilliant aspects of Highmore’s performance is how he can play the charming side of Norman as well, not turning him into the caricature of a serial killer that he could have easily become. Madeleine clearly likes Norman, smiling at him enough that he soon “encounters” his mother in the bathroom. They fight, and, again, it’s important to consider the mental aspects of what’s happening here. Norman is attracted to Madeleine, so Norman manifests Norma to protect himself from the emotions and sexual attraction flooding in. But he can’t. Norma berates him further: “She’s like me, but ten years younger. Are you gonna be one of those guys?” He essentially breaks himself, switching over to the Norma side of his personality.

That’s who walks into a bar at the end of the episode — “Norma.” Sure, it looks to everyone else like Norman, but Highmore’s slightly feminine body language is the first hint that he’s “switched.” Then we see Norma in the mirror and she tells the bartender, “I’m a caretaker for a mentally-ill person.”

While “Norma” has a drink, Chick runs into Caleb in a bar. They fight and Chick realizes that Caleb just found out about his sister, and that Caleb knows Norma wouldn’t kill herself. He knows that Norman was responsible. (It makes me wonder: If those close to Norma/Norman know the truth immediately, will Dylan/Emma will suspect it when they get the news as well?) Caleb rushes to Norma’s house, breaking in and screaming Norman’s name. He eventually makes it downstairs, where he stumbles upon a horrible sight: Norma’s mummified corpse propped up in a chair. Norman comes up behind him and knocks him out. Chick comes around the corner to see it all, including Norman in a wig. “Well, now you know, Chick. “I’m still alive.”

Other Notes

• It’s great that the writers are really developing the psychology of the Norma scenes. She seems to appear whenever Norman is concerned about something — going to see Romero, his attraction to Madeleine, etc. And Farmiga is doing great work playing what is essentially a figment of another character’s imagination.

• I’m impressed by the pace of the first two episodes and hope this keeps up. Bates Motel has had a few seasons marred by sags in the middle. I’m hopeful that won’t happen with the finish line in sight.

• Seriously, is Chick making his own clothes from roadkill he finds around town?

• Who do you think will die first? Caleb is a safe bet, but he would be a major character to kill this quickly into the final season. We shall see.

Bates Motel Recap: The Caretaker