Since the middle of last season, Bates Motel has been hurtling toward the direct action of the Alfred Hitchcock film that inspired it. This week, we arrive at a key point in that journey: the arrival of Marion Crane, played brilliantly by Rihanna. Series co-creators Kerry Ehrin and Carlton Cuse instantly tweak audience expectations with her arrival, giving us more details about what she does for a living and her relationship with Sam Loomis than Psycho did. Don’t count on the these iterations of Marion Crane and Norman Bates interacting exactly like their progenitors. Wouldn’t you be a little disappointed if they did?
Before Marion’s arrival, Norman (Freddie Highmore) learns some harsh truths about the depths of his psychoses. He wakes up alone, and it seems like “Norma” (Vera Farmiga) is still gone, but something’s not quite right. Norman pukes, and notices some bruises when he takes off his shirt. What the hell happened last night? How drunk was he? And where was he? He runs downstairs to look for Norma, who’s usually cooking something, even if she is imaginary. She’s not there. He looks out the window, and she’s not down at the motel either. He’s alone. Narratively, it’s the perfect time to bring Marion into Norman’s life. He finds a matchbook from a place called the White House Bar just before getting a call from Sheriff Greene (Brooke Smith) to come down to the station. When he gets there, Greene suggests that Romero (Nestor Carbonell) must have some unfinished business in White Pine Bay, and she basically accuses Norman of knowing what that business is. She also calls him out for not revealing that he went to visit Romero a mere 24 hours before he broke out. The escaped prisoner might be coming for him. “The thought has occurred to me,” Norman says.
While Norman’s life is coming apart, Emma (Olivia Cooke) and Dylan (Max Thieriot) learn about what’s been happening in a series of revelations. Essentially, Emma learns that her mother is likely dead after finding an earring, which she first assumes belonged to Norma, but then realizing from Dylan that it likely belongs to Emma’s mother, who never checked out. She understandably freaks out, then orders Dylan to go for a walk. While he’s gone, she learns that her mother-in-law is dead too, finding the story about her suicide online. That’s a rough day.
It’s finally time to meet the legendary Marion Crane (Rihanna), introduced in Seattle with her boyfriend Sam Loomis (Austin Nichols) in a scene that echoes the opening of Hitchcock’s film, although with a modern twist. This Sam isn’t divorced, but Marion doesn’t know that. He’s been making promises to her. “We’re gonna have a big life,” he tells her. “You just got to give me time to make it happen.” At work later that day, she serves as a notary public for a transaction that involves $400,000 in cash, and then her boss asks her to take it to the bank. Remember how Psycho opens with Marion stealing a briefcase of cash? Boom. Marion grabs the money and heads to White Pine Bay to find Sam.
After revealing the horrible truth about Sam to Madeleine (Isabelle McNally) — that he brought a woman to Bates Motel for an afternoon quickie — Norman runs into an old friend, Dr. Edwards (Damon Gupton). They chat over coffee in a great scene, one that allows Norman to express how much he’s come to learn about his own insanity. He even tells the doctor, “Sometimes I become her.” He then lies and says it doesn’t happen anymore, basically fleeing when the doc suggests he comes back for more therapy. I have a feeling this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Dr. Edwards.
While Marion is fleeing the big city for a life with Sam Loomis, she’s pulled over by a cop, played in a cameo by Carlton Cuse himself. The scene calls directly back to a similar moment in the movie — tension rises for Marion, who has a trunkful of stolen cash — although this one plays out a little differently. It turns out this cop pulled her over for the jacket that’s sticking out of her trunk, blocking her license plate. She pops the hood, nervous he’ll see the money. Nope. He taps the hood and she goes on. She calls Sam as she gets into town and tells him to come to the motel where they had a tryst the last time she was in town.
The episode’s most crucial scenes come when Norman visits the White House Bar, where “he” is apparently a regular as “Norma.” He goes to the bar and basically learns that Norma has a social life that he doesn’t remember. The people at the bar know “him,” but are surprised by his appearance. The bartender tells him, “Take it easy tonight. Last night got a little crazy.” Norman is understandably dizzy, having flashes of some sort of sexual encounter in the car from last night, when he was dressed as Norma. A former hook-up tries to kiss him in the bathroom, and he essentially has a panic attack. He starts to shake and hyperventilate, almost as if he’s fending off the return of “Norma.” In the past, he would just “transform” under a moment of such pressure. But he fights it this time, fleeing the bar in a panic. He runs to the car and gets in, driving off in the pouring rain.
Norman gets home, runs upstairs, and catches his breath. He closes his eyes, and opens them, refreshed. He can only be “normal” in his home, his safe place. At the same time, Marion is driving in the rain, and the score directly recalls Bernard Herrmann’s compositions for Psycho, adding to the heightened tension. She sees the sign for the Bates Motel through the downpour, and she turns off.
• Bates Motel has a wonderful habit of turning over directorial duties to cast members. Thieriot directed last week and Highmore did a crucial episode last season. This week didn’t have an on-screen appearance by Nestor Carbonell as Alex Romero, but he was in the director’s seat.
• How great was it to see Cuse in a cameo? It’s almost a callback to Hitchcock in the way that he always appeared in his films, although Alfred didn’t usually have so many lines.
• In the film, Marion Crane stole $40,000. Apparently, 57 years multiplies that exactly by ten.
• Marion Crane is finally at the Bates Motel, so the next episode is teed up to directly mimic Psycho. In other words, now would be a good time to catch up on the film if you haven’t seen it in a while.