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'Bates Motel' recap: 'Norma Louise'

Dylan and Emma grow closer after Norma goes AWOL, as Norman’s condition worsens. Meanwhile, Romero finds himself in a complicated situation.

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James Dittiger/A&E

Bates Motel

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

“Norma Louise” could have essentially been titled “a night in the life of Norma Bates.” It could also have been titled “The Episode That Vera Farmiga Should Submit To Emmy Voters, If Emmy Voters Actually Recognized The Amazing Content This Show Is Producing Each Week.” That’s a very long and complicated way of saying that Farmiga’s masterclass of acting aside, this episode was essentially a showcase of everyone’s emotions. The sixth hour of Bates Motel took the steps to tie a lot of current conflict together, bringing things to a head.

In a sense, “Norma Louise” pretty much wrapped up the issues between Norma and Caleb—there’s more to come on that front, I’m sure, but with Norma confronting her brother, one of the biggest secrets that has been festering in the Bates family is finally out in the open. Norman’s family (including Emma) is becoming aware of just how psychotic and troubled Norman is, which will no doubt play a role in their respective feelings going forward. And Romero finally took care of that pesky “other sheriff” problem, although not in the way that I ever would’ve expected. (Turns out, Sheriff Romero is more of a bad ass than I remembered from last season.)

Much of this episode is centered around Norma’s disappearance, and her subsequent breakdown after finding out about Caleb last week. Throughout the hour, we saw her spiral into grief, and we saw her coping mechanisms, her acceptance, and her fear, all of which were shown to us in different and prominent ways. There’s a fine line between being overly dramatic and being intense enough to make your scenes believable—and Farmiga walked that line masterfully, in a way that should garner her dozens of awards.

But let me stop gushing for a moment, and start talking about what happens after Norma guns the car and drives off, too upset to function. Norman completely loses it, becoming destructive, yelling at Dylan while blaming his brother for the fact Norma left at all. Dylan knocks him out unintentionally, while calling Norma for help and begging her to come home. Unfortunately, Norma has no interest in dealing with her life right now. Norma doesn’t want to be a mother, or a responsible human being, or a woman with secrets, or a woman with a troubled son. Much like we tend to think when things get overwhelming, Norma doesn’t want to do anything except avoid what’s making her upset. So she destroys her phone and gets the hell out of White Pine Bay, ending up in Portland, where the first thing she does is buy a brand new swanky fur jacket. (Fittingly at a place called “New World.” Subtle and clever all at once.)

After securing her new clothes, Norma’s desperate quest to shed her old life continues: She trades in her iconic beat-up car for something a little more modern, and checks into a motel, but finds that she can’t really rest her mind…especially when she starts remembering moments from her childhood with Caleb. (I love that the scene of Norma lying on the bed is essentially a mirror of Norman a few scenes later.) So, the next logical solution for Norma is obviously the bar, where she proceeds to meet a man named Taylor and then get far too drunk for her own good.

With everything going on, it was a nice touch to have Norma decide to give out her maiden name—Norma Louise Calhoun—as opposed to her married name. While she slows dances with Taylor, she makes up a lie about how she ran out on her wedding day. (And when Taylor asks if she was ever married, she does say yes. It was just that something was wrong with the man mentally, so, you know, she had to kill him.) Remember on LOST, where according to con man Sawyer, the best lies are the ones that are rooted in some sort of truth but skewed just slightly enough to be believable? I think this is more drunk!Norma than anything else, but I also do think there’s a level of consciousness that allows you to pick and choose what you want to share with someone. Anyway, it’s not like Taylor really believes her. They end up making out in his car—like, really making out—and it seems that Norma has gone completely off the rails in terms of her “bad girl” transition. But as things start to get heated, memories from Caleb surface, and she freaks out, attacking Taylor and causing an argument. She tells him to screw off (I love you, Norma), he tells her she’s a mess. And, well…he’s not that far from the truth.

Norma finds herself turning to the one person who she’s learned she can depend on: Finnegan. While he makes her toast (a.k.a. the good hangover food) Norma, in her still-drunken-and-not-all-there-state, opens up about Norman’s issues, complete with a spiral about how all she’s wanted to do is take care of him, and how betrayed she feels by the fact that he wants nothing to do with her. The mother-son bond is strong, and it transcends, and I think that’s one of the most interesting things about this relationship. In the same way that they unconsciously forget their dependence on each other, we also sometimes unconsciously forget, based on what we’re seeing the characters go through. But even when Norma and Norman are apart, there’s always one line or one moment that anchors how entwined they are with each other.

If that’s not enough, Norma truthfully tells him what happened with her husband, and how Norman was responsible for killing him. Cue another freak-out, where Norma tries to leave after panicking about how much she’s revealed without realizing it. Finnegan stops her and puts her to bed…and then, naturally, they start making out. (Though Finnegan, to his credit, attempts to stop them.) He knows that this is Norma acting out because she needs to feel, and not because she’s really thinking of what she’s doing. Norma wants it, though, and pushes the situation. And there’s not really any confirmation of whether or not they do sleep together given the vague manner in which we see them when they wake up, but we leave both characters on a terse and intense note as Norma once again comes to her senses. She can’t just run away from her life, as much as she wants to. She’s a mother. She’s a parent.

NEXT: Meanwhile, In the Bates Household…