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'Bates Motel' recap: 'The Arcanum Club'

Norman and Emma have their first date, while Norma takes her concern over Annika’s disappearance to another level.

Posted on

James Dittiger

Bates Motel

TV Show
Mystery and Thriller
run date:
Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore
Current Status:
In Season

Last week, Bates Motel delivered a premiere episode that set up the season pretty nicely in terms of story lines, characters, and of course, mysteries. More specifically: the mystery of Annika getting into a car with Norman, who offered to take a break from studying with Emma in order to drive her to work. Annika’s car came back… but apparently, Annika did not. (Commenters pointed out that I should’ve talked about this moment more fully than I did in last week’s recap, and I agree. Your recapper has taken responsibility for her mistake!) Norma’s more than a little concerned about Annika’s absence, especially because a peek into her room shows that the bed hasn’t been slept in at all. And Emma hasn’t seen anything, although she’s a bit distracted helping a customer with his Wi-Fi complaints. Which is, quite honestly, the most real life moment on this show so far. (Dear tenant: We’ve all been there. Trust me. Signed, Girl Who Has Stayed In More Motels Across The Country Than I Would Ever Admit To.)

Norma takes her questions about Annika to her son, who is hard at work on a poor dead goat. Let’s welcome taxidermy back to the Bates Motel fold, everyone! At least Norma, for all her parenting faults, is rightfully horrified by the fact that Norman is using her freezer for purposes such as keeping a dead animal’s body fresh. But she also seemingly believes Norman when he tells her that he thinks Annika is fine. Because why wouldn’t she be fine? It’s not like Norman has a history of killing women when he climbs into cars with them. (Then again, Norma doesn’t know that part of the story—yet.)

When Norma comes home from getting some groceries, she notices that Annika’s car is still there, but Annika, still, is not. She questions Emma again, who lets it slip that it was Norman who last saw her. I want to talk about this entire sequence, especially because it’s mirrored in the next scene, when Norman is watching Norma. (We’ll get to that in a sec.) But it was truly a master class in both editing and acting—Vera Farmiga’s intense facial expressions as she let herself realize the possibilities of what Emma’s words meant, mingled with the strains of eerie Psycho-like music. It hit its nerve, in that we felt like we saw Norma’s crushing anger as she zoned out.

Norma essentially flies off the handle, screaming at Norman and asking why he lied. According to Norman, he wasn’t lying: He drove her car back because she asked him to, as she was meeting a friend and was worried she would be too drunk. “That’s all.” Two seasons ago, we might have sided with Norman and considered his words to be valid, but after what happened with Miss Watson, that’s not really an option anymore. Norma’s already suspicious and worried, and she demands that Norman retrace his steps with her. She then lets loose with, “you can’t keep getting into cars with questionable women!” When Norman gets frustrated, she clarifies that questionable = slutty. “I don’t know why, but unhinged women seem drawn to you.” The fact that this statement, meant to reflect on people like Miss Watson and Annika, is said by Norma to her son? Slow clap to Bates for the singular subtle best line delivery of season. (I know, it’s only the second episode. I’m saying it anyway.)

This is basically how Norma finds out that “Annika the nice girl” is also “Annika the call girl,” and you can basically see the sheltering wings come out. A clearly unhinged Norma drives them to the restaurant Norman claims he left Annika at, and that’s when Norma notices that in previous conversation, Norman had said “she was a nice woman and troubled.” Emphasis on the word “was.” Norman insists she’s not dead, but as we watch Freddie Highmore sit angrily in the car, we’re not so sure. As mentioned previously, this is the scene that mirrors Norma’s “zoning out” moment, complete with the unsettling score. It’s incredible to watch these few seconds of silence and realize how much acting Freddie Highmore can do by simply using facial expressions.

NEXT: Breakdowns and Parties and First Dates, Oh My!