Norman has a breakthrough in “Persuasion,” where he is able to tell Norma off in a very dramatic way after she nearly accuses him of murdering Annika. It all comes after the police find the body of another murdered girl nearby, floating in the water: it’s not Annika, to Norma’s surprise and relief, but it doesn’t mean that Norman wasn’t involved in Annika’s disappearance. When she brings up the fact that Norman seems to get into trouble, he breaks down – he yells at her in much the same way we’ve seen from her before, and he throws out the fact that she seems to have a problem believing him, jumping to so many conclusions that it makes him question what she thinks about him.
This powerful moment comes about because of Sheriff Romero’s questioning about Annika’s disappearance. Norman knows that it was Norma who told him her suspicions, but he doesn’t play dumb with Romero. Instead he admits to driving her to the club, to taking her car home without her. He realizes that he’s been in the same situation before, although now he’s got a cooler head and he doesn’t need to pretend like he’s lying. But the way Norman flips on Norma shows that their relationship is in danger of crumbling, not because Norman is sort of crazy – he is, but that’s a different part of the story – but because Norma is so manipulative to the people around her that she can often get completely under their skin.
This comes up again later in the episode when Norma starts college. She heads to her first class and unknowingly takes her professor’s seat; in a series of passive-aggressive jabs, she eventually wins the seat but realizes she’s made a complete ass of herself. He’s the teacher, but she’s also in the wrong class. It shows Norma’s character by putting her in a sparring match with someone who can match her passive aggression, and when he expresses interest in counseling her based on an aura around her, it creates an intriguing moment where Norma can potentially be diagnosed and clinically analyzed.
At the same time, “Persuasion” looks at the relationships between a few of the other characters as well. Dylan and Caleb get closer together even though Dylan keeps pushing him away; when Caleb offers to buy lumber, Dylan refuses until Caleb does it all on his own. The drug part of this season still hasn’t caught fire yet, and it’s difficult to see where this is going; even the hippies haven’t really turned back up. Still, it’s early on in the season, and it seems the show could tie the drugs into the Arcanum Club that again comes up in “Persuasion.”
Sheriff Romero is in on this Arcanum Club stuff, although to what extent Bates Motel hasn’t shown yet. He meets with one of the members in this episode, and they have a heated discussion about how Romero could bring them down for murder if they were involved in the young girl’s death; but they retaliate, threatening to put a new sheriff into office if he doesn’t cooperate. Interesting political strife, for sure, but again, “Persuasion” has yet to tie these things together.
But it does help Norman see things about himself, especially thanks to a vision he has of his mother – in his head – telling him to take a bath, to nearly drown himself in the water, to see what happened. Did he really kill Annika? We’re still not sure. But fleeting images of prior events run through his head, and it seems like an important moment for Norman. He knows there are things he blocks from himself, and realizing that he can induce these memories might be a step towards recognizing the monster in himself; or it could be a way for him to hide everything away.
“Persuasion” is a step down from the last episode “The Arcanum Club,” but anything would be that doesn’t have Vera Farmiga ramming a sign with her car. This episode is doing some integral characterization and furthering the plot along, but there are still moments that seem to hang without connection to the Bates’. They may be setting up the arc for season 3, but hopefully the reason behind these elements comes to light soon.