DEADtime TV: Bates Motel ‘Unbreak-Able’

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I’m pretty certain that Bates Motel would benefit from adding a special introduction to each episode: an announcer would state, “Tonight on awkward relationship situations with Norman:” and then proceed to highlight the events of the episode, showing Norman stammering, stuttering, or yelling his way into a conversation. Basically, “Unbreak-Able” finds Norman entering into a series of increasingly weirder dialogues with the people around him, first attempting to escalate a fight with his mother, then trying to butt into a conversation between Norma and Dylan, and then confronting Dylan and Caleb about their secret relationship. By that summary, you can expect some wild times in the Bates family, especially since the Arcanum Club subplot seems to be heating up as we work our way toward the middle of season 3.

Of specific importance this episode is the death of Annika Johnson and the flash drive she pushed into Norma’s hand. As Sheriff Romero points out in this episode, crazy just seems to swirl around the Bates family, and getting caught up in yet another mysterious death in town doesn’t help matters – Norma, too, sort of implicates Norman by immediately claiming that he was nowhere near Annika when she died.

I like the way Bates Motel is getting Romero more involved now that they drug plot has gone bust, because I like Nestor Carbonell and the show has been doing a great job of putting him in shady positions and hinting at a dark backstory the audience doesn’t know. “Unbreak-Able” follows Romero as he tries to piece together the two murders, both linked to the Arcanum Club, but it’s still not exactly the Romero Detective Hour. Romero feels like he’s a part of this story just enough to further the Arcanum Club plot; interrogating Bob Paris, the head of the club, he realizes that they definitely have something to do with it when Paris asks if Annika had anything on her. I’d like to see Romero get more involved, not just because Bates Motel has hinted at a flirtation between him and Norma but because he feels like an integral aspect of the show.

However, Bates Motel will always be about Norma and Norman’s interactions, and “Unbreak-Able” has quite a bit of that. It starts when Norman begins a full-on makeout session with Emma after Norma walks in the door; he’s using Emma to make Norma jealous, and it’s super creepy. It happens multiple times in “Unbreak-Able”, and the show is really jumping into Norman’s obsession with his mother this season. But it’s almost to the point where Norman is more of an annoyance than anything else, his whiny nature less scary than it should be. Right now he feels like a slighted kid wanting to make his mom mad, not a potentially dangerous murderer. Still, it’s important for the show to work his character up to that point, so in a way it’s a good thing that Bates Motel is taking it slow with him.

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They are putting him in many cringe-worthy situations though, chief among them a sexual encounter with Emma where he brings up a thought that his mother had about having sex with her. “You could kill her,” Norma tells him, and during the heat of the moment he expresses this to Emma. Clearly it’s a mood-killer, and she walks out on him in a strong moment for Emma: they’ve never made her feel weak because of her cystic fibrosis, and here again she stands up for herself in the face of a terribly inconsiderate thing to say. She’s lived with the disease for years, and she knows her limits.

Norma doesn’t get anywhere with the flash drive because it’s encrypted, but it does put everyone around her in danger. Bob Paris and his Arcanum Club goons need to get it back, and Dylan finds them snooping through the motel office. They’re up to no good, and “Unbreak-Able” seems to be setting up the new arc for this season – whatever is on that flash drive, it’s probably illegal and not safe for the Bates’. In a way, though, the flash drive brings Dylan and Norma closer, especially after Caleb admits that everything Norma has said about the rape is true.

It’s hard to buy the quick reversal between Norma and Dylan, but this episode does a good job of mitigating that disbelief because of their need to trust each other. Then, “Unbreak-Able” puts that new relationship in danger when Norman follows Dylan back to the farm. Seeing Caleb, he threatens to go to Norma; actually, it’s not really a threat but a promise, because Norman’s allegiance to Norma is unwavering, even if she’s metaphorically blocking his cock.

“Unbreak-Able” has begun to put the pieces of the puzzle together, initiating a new arc for this season that definitively involves the Arcanum Club. What that all means is still a mystery, but it looks like it will directly affect the Bates family. Maybe it’ll even force Norman to kill again to protect his mother. The episode also gives us a bit more characterization of Caleb and his relationship with Norma, as well as a quick glimpse at the start of something with the psychology professor James Finnigan. Bates Motel is slowly but surely working its towards Norman’s breakdown, and so far it’s been a fun ride thus far.

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