The fractured reality of Norman Bates gets even more fascinating in this week’s installment of Bates Motel. For some time, we’ve known about his tendency to black out and become “Norma” (Vera Farmiga), his dead mother. This episode clarified the three realities in which Norman (Freddie Highmore) lives. In one, he’s as normal as can be, offering kind advice to a new friend or managing the motel. When he’s alone, his mind fractures in a way that allows him to speak to his dead mother, almost as if he’s talking to an imaginary friend, which we see in greater detail this week through the eyes of Chick (Ryan Hurst). Finally, in moments of great stress, he “becomes” Norma. And that’s when he’s truly dangerous.
“Norma” is the one who shackled Caleb (Kenny Johnson) to the floor in his basement. Caleb wakes up, groggily seeing a female shape and hearing a female voice, but the vision of Norma as his captor comes into focus and reveals Norman in a wig. Caleb immediately tries to appeal to the emotional tug of the family tree, telling “Norma” about her new “granddaughter.” It doesn’t work. As “Norma” says, “You know I’m not dead. So we need to figure out what to do with you.”
“We” includes Chick, who’s still upstairs, listening at the door. He has a conversation with “Norma” about how nice he’s been to Norman, and asks if he can keep their secret. (The secret isn’t that Norman is dangerously mentally ill, but that “Norma” isn’t dead.) Chick plays along, smartly calling him “Norma” and offering to stay and help look after “you guys” while Caleb is still in the basement. What is Chick’s endgame? Not only does he need a place to stay, but he finds the Norman/Norma dynamic fascinating, realizing that it would make a great book.
Meanwhile, Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) is getting transferred to a more secure prison after his status as an incarcerated officer is revealed. This subplot is winds throughout the episode, so we’ll race through it here for clarity’s sake: As we all suspected, as soon as Alex gets word of his transfer, it’s time for a prison break! At a gas station, Alex overcomes his guard, stealing his gun and handcuffing him to the sink. He convinces a stranger to give him a ride at gunpoint, but the car gets a flat after Alex dumps his driver, leaving him on foot. He finds his way to a farmhouse, where he’s about to steal a car when the owner’s child confronts him with a shotgun — which accidentally goes off, hitting Alex in the gut and knocking him to the ground. It’s a brutal shot, but I don’t believe this is the last we’ve seen of Alex.
Most of the action this week goes down in the Bates house, specifically in the basement. The morning after trapping his uncle, Norman wakes up to his mother’s voice telling him to stay out of the basement. (This is the persona in Norman’s head who hides the emotionally damaging truth for him, and has done so for years.) It’s important to realize that Norman’s psyche is more fractured than ever, but these are dynamics that have been in place since season one. “Norma” has been defending Norman for a long time. We’re just seeing more of it in action now.
Speaking of protection, Norma and Caleb used to protect each other when they were children — the only ones who would be there for one another when their abusive parents were not. Caleb is remembering those better times when he encounters Chick. Caleb tries to appeal to his WTF sensibilities, urging him to be rational and get help. Norman is sick, but Chick is playing along with that sickness. It’s worth noting that Chick feels zero allegiance to Caleb, a man who tried to kill him. He may not have been playing along if there wasn’t that vengeance involved as well. Chick wants some background on how to talk to “Norma” about Caleb. Johnson is very good here, fearful and reminiscent at the same time.
It’s time for dinner for three — well, two and a half! In the episode’s best scene, Chick has dinner with Norman and “Norma,” which is kind of like having dinner with someone and their imaginary friend. Chick offers his services to both of them, in return for a place to live and “knowledge that I’m among friends.” Chick even looks to Norma’s seat to placate Norman even further, although it makes it a bit difficult. Norman has to repeat what “Norma says,” giving consent to Chick’s new status by saying, “She’d love it if you could fix the window.”
Madeleine Loomis (Isabelle McNally) gets one scene this week when she comes to visit Norman. She reveals that her relationship with Sam is falling apart, foreshadowing Norman’s eventual interference with their union. Norman even reveals that Madeleine reminds him of his mother. I don’t often give relationship advice, but when a new beau says that you remind him of his recently deceased mother, run!
While Madeleine and Norman go for a walk in the woods, Caleb has a dream about hugging Norma one final time. He wakes up angry. He starts pounding on the ceiling as Norman comes in, “learning” that his uncle is in the basement. He starts calling for Norma, wondering why she wouldn’t tell him. This is a part of Norman’s defense system: His “mother” persona does things that Norman doesn’t remember. That persona goes downstairs to talk to Caleb in a surprisingly touching scene. “Norma” can’t kill Caleb. She’ll have to get Norman to do it. Consider what’s happening here psychologically: Norman knows that his mother would never kill Caleb, so even his mental iteration of her can’t do it. In a sense, Caleb gets a final moment with his sister.
A few scenes later, “Norma” tells Norman the bad news: You have to kill your uncle. She hands him a loaded gun and Norman goes downstairs. But there’s a reason that “Norma” has always been the killer: She’s much better at it. Norman cracks, letting Caleb go, but “Norma” intervenes on the porch, grabbing the gun and shooting after a running Caleb. At the same time, Chick returns from town, checks a text from Norman to get milk, and takes his eyes off the road. Bam! He plows into Caleb in a way that makes it hard to believe he’ll live. We’ll find out for sure next week.
• It took a few seasons to see how Chick would play into the Psycho mythology, but it now seems clear that he’s a variation on Robert Bloch, the true-crime writer of the source material on which Alfred Hitchcock’s film was based.
• I loved Chick buying a typewriter to tell the story of Norman Bates instead of a laptop, continuing the beautiful anachronisms of the show.
• Final Chick note in a Chick-heavy episode: Ryan Hurst is barely recognizable from his time on Sons of Anarchy, on which he gave a heartbreaking, fantastic performance. If you like him here, check that show out too.
• There’s no way Alex Romero is dead, but that was a shotgun blast to the gut. How will he survive for his eventual showdown with Norman?