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'Bates Motel' recap: 'Unbreak-Able'

Posted on

James Dittiger

Bates Motel

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

Raise your hand if you thought Annika Johnson was going to make it. (No? Just me?)

Look, I’m not saying that she won’t pop up in flashbacks, which seems increasingly likely. (And Tracy Spiridakos would have not been billed as a “recurring” character if this and the premiere were her only two appearances.) And obviously, whatever she gave Norma is an essential part of this season’s story line, not to mention something that will have a hand in defining the relationship between Norma, Norman, and Dylan. But I really thought that after last week, we would open assuming the worst, only to have the writers pull the rug out from underneath us. Surprise! She lives after all!

But, this is Bates. Death (and taxidermy) comes with the territory. And Annika is very much dead. Norma tries to protect this fact from Norman, who ends up finding out about Annika after being woken up by all the hoopla. Naturally, he’s unsettled, because now he’s unsure again—did he kill Annika, after all that? Norma assures him that he’s totally clean this time, considering the circumstances, and the fact that Annika was clearly shot when he wasn’t around.

Romero, though, questions Norma incessantly, even after she defends her son. He finds it odd that Annika would come to the motel specifically after being shot and is convinced that there’s something Norma’s not telling him. It’s an entirely heated moment between Normero, and one that leaves the two on less than cordial terms. Four episodes in, and we’re in a very different place than we were even an episode or two ago, when Norma clung to Romero and looked at him like a safety net.

In the safety of her room, Norma takes Annika’s flash drive and attempts to figure out what its contents are. But that would be too easy. Turns out the file is password protected, and nothing works. Not ANNIKA, not JOHNSON, not even SEXCRAZED. (High five for that one, Norma.) This is the point in which the flash drive takes over Norma’s life, basically. She tries to get a random computer nerd in a coffee shop to help her, but the program is apparently so good, the guy can’t override it. And when Professor Finnegan catches Norma later in the library, she’s in the computer section, looking for books on hacking.

But we’ll get back to that meet-cute in a sec. For now, let’s focus on the fact that even though Annika’s death was not Norman’s fault, he’s still not over his mother’s treatment of him in last week’s episode. And he’s doing his best to be as “defiantly moody teenager” about it as possible. During a study session with Emma (they’re really taking school seriously on Bates, which is more than I can say for other shows… looking at you, Once Upon A Time), he inappropriately starts making out with her for no reason after Norma sees them. While Emma apologizes, Norman is as caustic as ever, a strained moment that comes to a head later on when Norma catches Norman preparing food for a picnic. She rightfully assumes that her sweet son is preparing a picnic for her, until Norman says it’s for Emma, who has suggested that due to the stress of Annika’s murder, they should take some time for themselves. Norma thinks that he’s using Emma to get back at her for being close with Dylan, which leads to another argument, as Norman thinks she’s trying to make it all about her. Norma goes one step further, forbidding Norman to sleep with Emma, lest he hurt her. Norman pretty much ignores this warning, but as we’ll later see, even underneath all his anger, he’s still carrying his mother around with him. Everywhere.

Meanwhile, the mystery of Who Killed Annika Johnson continues. Romero finds out that she was shot at least 20 minutes before she got to the motel, and even more interestingly, that the car Annika was driving wasn’t registered to her… but rather, to the other girl who was recently murdered. Our intrepid sheriff makes a visit to Bob’s house, because two dead girls in two days with links to his club isn’t exactly something he can ignore. Bob isn’t so forthcoming with information, though he does bait Romero by asking if Annika had anything on her. (He doesn’t, however, hint about what he might be looking for.) In any other situation, this would make Bob more suspicious, but instead, it sends Romero straight back to obsessing over Norma’s involvement. When Norma catches him at the motel going through Annika’s belongings, he calls her out for lying, because he’s sure she’s hiding something. Norma, in turn, calls him out for lying. “I’m not lying,” Romero explains. “I’m not revealing everything. That’s my job.” Ah, the trials of love. (But really, Bates…don’t make Normero sad!)

Romero goes to interview a girl who apparently knew Annika and Lindsay, the other woman who was murdered. The girl opens up about how involved Lindsay was with Bob, to the point where the friend was asked if she wanted to participate in a three-way. She didn’t, so someone else stepped in: Annika Johnson.

NEXT: Dylan and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day


Emma and Norman’s date is going great, by the way. Well, as great as it can go while walking through the woods while it’s freezing. They do find an abandoned cabin, and everything is cozy and romantic, right down to the cuddling in front of the fire and the part where they have deep talks about mortality. Emma takes it one step further and starts what we assume will lead to Norman shrugging off his mother’s influence and sleeping with her (which would also serve as another way to “fight back.”) But Norman stops her, admitting that Norma told him they shouldn’t have sex because he could kill her. Emma is (rightfully) positively insulted, storming away before Norman can apologize, and her parting words can pretty much sum up this entire episode: “I didn’t think your mother was coming on this date with us.”

In other strained relationship news, Dylan is angry at Caleb, who has gone into town and was almost seen by Norma in the process. It’s clear that the rift between the two has finally reached its peak, and Dylan cracks, the two engaging in an argument that ends with Caleb falling from the roof and slicing his hand open. Suddenly realizing his fear of losing a family member, Dylan tries to get Caleb to agree to go the hospital, but his father/uncle refuses on the grounds of having a warrant. So Dylan does what any self-respecting son/cousin would do in times like this: He stitches Caleb up himself.

And the whole scene is really one of the most poignant moments to come out of the hour. Kenny Johnson finally gets some time to shine as he emotionally breaks down his feelings about Norma, how they bonded the way they did because they only had each other, and how he wishes he could apologize. And Dylan gets it. He gets it, and he understands it, and maybe they’re not going to be best friends anytime soon, but they’re finally on their way to connecting in a healthy way. As much as Bates is about death, it’s also, in a way, about re-birth—relationships that people want to mend, and new lives that people want to start. (Heck, that’s how Bates began: with a rebirth of Norma, who moved to White Pine Bay to re-start her life.)

Dylan returns to the motel to receive a surprise of his own, as two men have broken into the office, looking for (it’s assumed) the flash drive that Annika had given Norma. Dylan holds his own, but not before one of the thugs threatens that he can’t kill him if he’s not always around. Coincidentally, in a desperate attempt to confide in someone she trusts, Norma tells Dylan about the flash drive. Still worried and shaken from his run-in, Dylan wants to tell Romero, but Norma refuses. Dylan offers to at least take the flash drive in order to try to protect his mother in some way, because in the same way that he realized he didn’t want to lose Caleb, he’s learning that he doesn’t want to lose Norma. It’s a really wonderful full circle and it’s almost a little too happy for this show, so we should immediately assume that things will turn a corner.

And they do, quickly, when Norman overhears their conversation, which leads him to become upset about being left out again. Obviously, this is not so much “left out” as it is “jealousy” and Norman becomes overly territorial when he starts spewing his annoyance about how he should be allowed to know what goes on in his own house. Indeed, while Dylan is working on repairing his relationship with Norma, his brother seems intent on destroying it. From the start of the episode, where Norman guilt-trips his mother into reassuring him that she still likes him, to his tantrums about the fact that Norma and Dylan are keeping secrets, it’s easy to see the spiral that will eventually end in something that you know is going to be upsetting. But like a bad train wreck, you just can’t look away.

Norma insists that nothing’s different, though that’s not what she tells Finnegan when he invites her out for coffee after their library meeting. And although it’s “just coffee,” the two end up in an impromptu therapy session. (I mean, you can’t sit that way for just coffee.) Norma admits to Finnegan that she’s close with Norman—“probably too close”—and also that she doesn’t really trust him anymore. It’s a really good scene for Vera Farmiga, who becomes overly emotional while trying to talk about all the issues she knows she has with her son, but just can’t seem to make herself believe… even by saying them out loud.

Dylan heads back to the farm, doing his best to protect Norma by hiding the flash drive in their timer. Caleb almost catches him, but the conversation ends up turning into a rather heartfelt moment where Caleb genuinely thanks Dylan for his help. It’s a moment that seems almost too good to be true, and it apparently is, because who shows up to ruin the fun? Norman, who, in a fit of jealous rage, has followed Dylan to the farm. And you can imagine how he reacts when he learns that his precious mother’s brother—the one who hurt her—has been sneaking around behind his back. (Co-conspiring with someone else who is trying to get close to his mother, no less.) Norman flips out on both Dylan and Caleb, threatening to tell Norma, while Dylan desperately implores him not to, because he knows a breach of their trust will destroy every ounce of the bond he’s worked so hard to mend. Not that Norman really cares about that…he’s out to destroy anyone’s relationship with his mother that’s not his own. The resulting fight between the two brothers is raw and extreme, before Caleb gets between them. Still, it doesn’t stop Norman from driving off angrily…while Dylan watches helplessly, knowing there’s nothing he can do to stop the inevitable.

Bates Bits:

  • Dylan being the big brother in tonight’s hour was everything to me. Everyone on this show is so good, but Dylan’s transformation from season 1 has been an absolute treat to watch, and it’s a journey that Max Thieriot has made really rewarding.
  • Norma hiding the flash drive in her bra? Genius. I smiled. It’s the little things.
  • Every time I think Bates can’t make things creepier or more intense, there’s a line or a scene that takes the cake for me. This week, it was Norman’s impassioned fight with Dylan, when he asks, referring to Norma, “Is she allowing this?” Talk about words that get under your skin.

Enjoying the season so far? Theories/reactions? Let’s talk about it.