DEADtime TV: Bates Motel ‘Norma Louise’

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There has always been a symbiosis between Norma and Norman in Bates Motel – while living together and sharing mutual secrets, they’ve established a bond that’s difficult to sever even during the most turbulent times. Except, of course, when Norma’s sons ask her to speak with the brother that raped her when they were younger. Norman and Dylan are only looking to put the past behind, of course, but to Norma this request feels like a slap in the face, especially coming from Norman. They’ve turned on her, she thinks, and that’s reason enough for her to pack her things and leave in a flurry.

Even though it’s only for a night, it causes a frenzy of emotions from both Norma and Norman, and “Norma Louise” follows both sides of the story as they go through similar breakdowns. While Bates Motel has shown how much the two need each other (Norman more than Norma), nothing shows that relationship more than when they’re not together to comfort each other. In short, they both fall apart, and it’s paced in such a skillful way – alternating between the two, allowing the similarities to shine through – that it almost makes one forget the other crazy stuff that happens.

Norma goes on a shopping binge in Portland at first, taking time to buy some hip, youngish clothes at a boutique and then trading in her car on a whim – the dealer helpfully points out that it’s got “some damage” – to buy a sleek Ford Mustang GT. It’s all a way for Norma to disguise herself, to be someone else for just a short while; at a local bar, she meets a guy, pretends she’s Norma Louise Calhoun who just ran out on a wedding, and jokes about killing a previous husband. It’s all for naught, though, because she can’t run away from who she is or what she’s experienced. It’s only made more apparent after the guy she picks up at the bar tries to force himself on her, another moment in her life where men have taken advantage of her.

It eventually leads her to seek solace in James, therapist/love interest and all-around good guy. He’s also, probably, not ready for the bombshell that Norma drops on him – admitting that Norman killed her husband, she drunkenly babbles on, has another breakdown and attempts to run out, and finally ends up sleeping with him. James’ involvement in her life has now gone from a small speck of romance to a full-blown relationship, not because they’ve now had sex but because James knows about Norman in a way few people do. With his psychological background, he’s most likely going to be an important factor if he’s given the option to “diagnose” Norman.

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At the same time, Dylan’s forced to take care of a rapidly deteriorating Norman. Dylan is the most normal person in the Bates family, and that’s shown quite nicely in “Norma Louise”: despite being the product of incest, despite lacking a father and a proper mother figure most of his life, he can take care of Norman in his blackout state, even accepting the oddness of it because he has to.

Norman runs the gamut of emotions – anger first, then a state of hallucinations, and finally a blackout period where he sits in his own silent world. Emma even comes over to help out, but there’s nothing to be done but let Norman run through this stage. However, Bates Motel capitalizes on last week’s dress-stealing moment; waking up in the middle of the night, Dylan finds Norman rummaging around the cabinets in Norma’s nightgown, making eggs for breakfast in a total disassociative state. It’s a great moment, played up in a comical way that also feels downright creepy. Season three has been pushing Norman closer to the Norman Bates of the Psycho films, and that’s omnipresent in “Norma Louise”. That title works on both levels, too. It’s an episode about Norma, especially with a couple of flashbacks, but it’s also about Norman-as-Norma.

Away from that family drama is Sheriff Romero, in a tough predicament because of his feud with the Arcanum Club. They’re trying to get him out of office in support of a new sheriff, and a drive-by shooting leaves him in the hospital with a bullet wound to the chest. Marcus Young, that cop they want for sheriff, drops by to threaten Romero, and in a crazy thrilling moment, Romero assaults him and shoots him in the head in the parking garage. While I’m not sure how this all factors into the Bates’ storyline, it’s a kick-ass part of “Norma Louise,” and I can’t wait to see more of Rambo Romero in later episodes.

Caleb is also confronted by his neighbor Chick, offering him an illicit driving job yet again. Since there’s nothing for Caleb to do around Dylan because of Norma, he accepts. Again, Chick and the drug trade don’t have much connection with the other stuff, but it does give Caleb a choice to make at the end of the episode – Norma decides to meet with them, and they have a very affecting emotional reunion.

“Norma Louise” is one of the strongest episodes of Bates Motel thus far, mostly because it’s able to show the relationship between Norma and Norman without them together. At the same time, it continues the plot about the Arcanum Club, and even manages to sneak in some quality time with a Dylan/Emma flirtation. Things are escalating quite fast, and that can only mean one thing – we’re even closer to seeing Norman become our favorite madman.

pros

  • Alternates between Norma and Norman’s breakdown to show their symbiosis
  • Thrilling scene with Sheriff Romero getting bid’ness done
  • Dylan and Emma get a couple of flirty scenes
  • Emotional meet-up with Caleb and Norma
  • Norman begins to disassociate to become Norma

cons

  • Caleb’s storyline with Chick still feels on the fringe
  • Arcanum Club is another subplot that still feels disconnected

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