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'Bates Motel' recap: 'Persuasion'

Posted on

James Dittiger

Bates Motel

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

Every so often while watching Bates Motel, my mind comes back to Norman Bates’ classic Psycho line: “We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?” Norma has. Norman has. There’s no denying that season 3 of A&E’s thriller drama is steadily building the foundation that will make this downfall (when it comes) terrifying and perhaps even a little poetic. But the great thing about Bates is the fact that we’re allowed glimpses into this madness before it fully emerges: Like tonight’s hour, which, after two previous episodes of unhinging Norma and Norman in different ways, showed us the subsequent breakdown of both characters. And that’s not even close to what we’ll probably see by the time we hit the final stretch of episodes.

Last week ended with a shot of a body floating face down in the lake, following an episode centered on Norma’s search for her missing motel tenant. Was it Annika? Nope—a quick trip to the morgue confirms as much, but between this and all the stress of the previous two episodes (not to mention the fact that she’s supposed to start back at school for the first time in years), Norma has reached the end of her sanity rope. She snaps at Norman, who is waiting to hear about Annika with the same amount of trepidation, bemoaning, “I just want to feel normal right now.” Well, Norma… hate to break it to you, but the crystal ball says you might not feel normal for a long time.

At any rate, this conversation segues rather perfectly into Norma-Who-Just-Wants-To-Feel-Normal’s first day of school, otherwise known as Vera Farmiga looks totally awkward-adorable in her chic business suit. Her arrival has all the makings of a classic “new student” scenario—she takes a seat that’s meant for her professor (Togetherness‘ Joshua Leonard) while giving him attitude, and then realizes she’s in the wrong class entirely. Psych 101 is not Business 101, which causes her to make a quiet exit amidst Professor Finnigan’s slightly playful suggestion: “Are you sure you don’t think psychology might be a good idea?” (I know he was talking about psychology in terms of learning, but I think any therapist who sits down with Norma should get an advance, because that’s going to be one intense session.)

Back to slightly happier things: with a soundtrack of Tame Impala’s “Elephants,” a young girl is making herself up as if she’s planning for a night out. Is it Annika, back from the dead and faking her own death? Is it a flashback to sometime in the first episode before she left for the club? Nope. It’s Emma, who apparently just gets bored of wearing her usual clothes from time to time and wants to dress up (a.k.a., let’s see if my new boyfriend notices a change and if it turns him on. Spoiler alert: He does, and it does.) Meanwhile, Romero pays a return visit to The Arcanum Club, where he meets with a man named Bob Paris (Desperate Housewives’ Kevin Rahm). He wants to grill him about the dead girl who is not Annika but could be someone from the club, and Bob wants to rip into him about the DEA situation, a confrontation that ends with an essential threat that Romero’s sheriff position is in trouble. Romero really gets the crap end of the stick in this episode—he’s later approached by a charming newcomer named Marcus (Adetomiwa Edun) who seems to want to talk pleasantries, but is really (as Romero rightly guesses) trying to run for sheriff, with every intention of pushing Romero to the curb.

As for Gunner, Caleb, and Dylan? The three men are continuing their work on their weed barn. Problem: They need something tough to frame the roof, because the cheap stuff won’t work. Solution: Caleb wants to use the money from his mom’s death and buy new wood for Dylan as a gift. Conflict: Dylan refuses, because he still doesn’t want his biological father’s help in any way. Enter: Emma, who arrives at the weed farm with a ton of plants taking up space in her car, because the girl who made the delivery won’t bring them anywhere but the motel. She sees Gunner for the first time since the unfortunate swimming incident of last season, and the awkwardness of the situation only escalates when Caleb introduces himself. Remember how I said Emma is basically going to the secret keeper of season 3? Let’s add this to her vault of intel: She knows Norma’s brother is here, and is not supposed to tell anyone. I feel like I can see the possible relationship deterioration already. (Now, where did I put that crystal ball…)

Tensions continue to rise on the Farm ‘O Feelings when Dylan comes home and finds that Caleb has spent money on the lumber, despite his son’s insistence not to. At this point, Caleb is just trying really, really hard to forge that father-son bond and we’re almost starting to feel bad for him. If Dylan keeps being so stubborn, however, it’s pretty safe to say that soon beers and lumber won’t do much.

NEXT: The Secret Club Of The Damaged


Romero shows up at Norma’s house with the caveat of needing to talk about the dead girl, in case there’s any connection between her and Annika. In a reverse of the season premiere, this sends Norma into protective overdrive as she tries to keep Norman out of Romero’s questioning, remembering what happened the last time the sheriff put him in the hot seat.

Surprisingly, Norman takes the reigns, pushing his mother and her worries away. He’s got no problem talking about Annika because he’s pretty darn sure he didn’t kill her. It’s intriguing because unlike Miss Watson, we’re in the same boat—we don’t know one way or the other what really happened that night. (Then again, when Romero shows him the photo of the girl, there’s a look in Norman’s eyes that seems just a little telling. The fact that Freddie Highmore is able to convey so much with just the simplest facial expressions is one of the highlights of this show for me.)

All hell breaks loose when Romero leaves: Norman yells at his mother for treating him like a coddled child during Romero’s visit, and then for telling Romero that he was the last person to see her. He becomes completely possessive over Norma, wanting to know why she was at last week’s party in the first place and accuses Norma of blaming him just because of his past actions. This is when Norman finally standing up for himself, and, in the process, he chips away a little more at that block that’s keeping him from becoming full-on Psycho.

Professor Finnigan catches up to Norma after class and apologizes for his apparent passive-aggressive behavior. “I guess we’re all dicks sometimes,” isn’t really the most profound way to start an apology, but at least he’s being honest. He suggests therapy again, sussing out the fact that Norma has probably had a crappy upbringing (and oh, has she). You know who also has had a crappy upbringing? Norman, who rants to Emma over a study break about how his mother is smothering him. In Norman’s world, everyone is out to get him, and everyone—especially his own mother—thinks there’s something wrong with him. There’s a breaking point for both mother and son in this episode, and in this moment, we’re hitting Norman’s.

The fight escalates into another argument with Norma, when he comes back to the house. He didn’t kill Annika—can we just be clear about that, because Norman’s not going to stop until we agree? He didn’t kill Annika. The “descent into serial killer” is in full-swing as he goes off on his mother, ranting about how the only reason he stayed in this world was for her, and she’s gone and betrayed him behind his back. As his rage sends him into a downward spiral, Norman locks himself in the bathroom where he has one of his patented “Norma Visions,” where his mother appears in the reflection behind him, asking again if he killed Annika. Norman admits to the vision that he can’t remember if he did or not, because at this point, everything is starting to blur. What’s the solution for remembering things truthfully when you’re not sure what’s real? For Norman, it’s recreating the feeling of when he was trapped in the box last season, which is what opened his mind to remembering Miss Watson. And if Mother tells you that she wants you to run a bath… well, you do what Mother says, right? (Sidenote: I keep wondering if we’re going to get some sort of symbolic shower scene before this season is through, though the bath works in a way… if nothing else to bond Norma and Norman over the vulnerability of being alone in the bathroom).

Simulating drowning does seem to open his mind enough—we see flashes of all the women in his life, including (interestingly) Emma’s sluttiness, along with Annika, Miss Watson, and Norma—but Norman being Norman, he gives in a little too much and actually starts to drown by his own hand. Norma, realizing something is very, very wrong when her son is unresponsive, manages to find him just in time to save him. It’s a scene that’s pulled off beautifully thanks to the incredible acting chops of Highmore and Farmiga, and I’m pretty sure the guilt of driving her son apparent (from her perspective) suicide is a memory that’s going to rattle her forever. (Now, where did we place that therapist call card?)

A distraught Norma tucks her son into bed before leaving to have her own private breakdown, which conveniently puts her in the right place at the right time to notice the arrival of a car… which Annika is driving. And Norma was right! Annika’s alive! Annika’s not dead! Annika is shot, however. She collapses in Norma’s arms and shoves something into her hand, telling her to use it “for healing your son.” As Norma calls the paramedics, we see what Annika has given her: a flash drive. What’s on the flash drive that could help “heal” Norman? And what the heck happened to Annika? I’m pretty sure at this point, Norma thinks she’s hit a certain level of crazy that even Professor Finnigan can’t help.

Then again, it’s like Norman said: We all go a little mad sometimes.

Bates Bits:

  • Shout out to the Bates creative team, because the music in this episode was really wonderful. Emma’s dress-up scene and her drive to the weed farm were two of my favorite sequences of the hour, and they also provided a bit of lightness to an episode that was otherwise heavy and intense.
  • “Did she tell you she was a prostitute?” —Romero  

    “She told me she was working at a party, I didn’t think she was a magician.” —Norman

  • “I like women. Maybe from spending so many years close to my mother.” Understatement of the century, here.
  • Is Norma going to start therapy for real? She did take Professor Finnigan’s card (despite wanting to throw it away) and we haven’t seen the last of Joshua Leonard. Given the events of this week’s episode, I think it’s safe to say Norma could use someone to talk to.
  • Yes, I’m still trying to figure out how the show is setting up Emma this season. She’s a girlfriend, a secret keeper, and essentially Switzerland… but given how she agreed with Norman about his mother’s treatment, I wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up turning against her mentor mother in defense of her boyfriend. (Especially since she’s holding the trump card of the knowledge that her brother is still here.)