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'Bates Motel' recap: 'Norma Louise'

Posted on

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…


Norman has pretty much accepted that Norma’s not coming back, because this is what she does. She bolts when things are too much to handle. I will say this for Norman: he may be crazy, but he certainly has a deft understanding of how his mother’s psyche works. Then again, most people who are slightly off-kilter are smarter in this way, and given how in tune he is with his Norma, I’m not surprised his brain is wired like this. Dylan’s still not sure what to do, since Norma isn’t answering her phone, for the first time, he finds himself truly alone—no mother, no father, even his brother isn’t all there. Enter Emma, who randomly happens to stop by the house while all this is going on. She offers to stay once she sees what’s going on.

Trouble is, Norman’s the worst he’s been in a while thanks to Norma’s abandonment. He claims that he feels strange, and Dylan thinks it’s because he hit him earlier. It’s more than that, though—much more. Norman slips into one of his catatonic states where he’s technically sleeping/unaware, but he’s really hallucinating. He imagines Norma being home and walking into her bedroom, only to be greeted by an attack of moths and cracks in the wall (which almost seem to symbolize the way things are falling down around him without his mother there to keep him safe). In another scene (that we almost don’t realize isn’t real because of how well it’s played), he’s cheerfully working on one of his taxidermy projects to the thrilling hum of classical music, when the deceased bird comes to life in his hands. I’m not sure what made me cringe more—the actual “killing” of the bird knowing it was already dead, or the fact that Norman proceeded to lay his head next to it tenderly afterward. It’s all disturbing, whatever way you slice it. Dylan and Emma are overly worried, but they’re kind of out of their depth here, and Dylan knows that the only thing they can do is wait the episode out and hope nothing terrible happens. Dylan does have the inspiration to move him to Norma’s bed, and in the process, Emma reveals just how sick she’s really getting.

With no other option, it turns out to be Dylan who helps her through an attack with an exercise that helps her to breathe properly again, and the moment ends up turning tender in a way that neither expects. But this isn’t something romantic. It’s more of a bonding moment than anything else, especially when Emma admits to Dylan how much she wants to be a part of this family while feeling she never can. (Do you really, Emma?) “You have no idea,” she tells Dylan, except Dylan obviously does. I really like the fact that these two are building a connection based on the fact they’re both lost and have been forced to learn how to depend on each other, if only for one night. And maybe it will turn into something more. I can see Norman’s relationships eventually crashing down around him as everyone in his life moves on and becomes closer with different people.

Dylan finally falls asleep, but wakes up to curious sounds that include Norman making breakfast. In Norma’s robe. Talking like Norma. In this moment, Norman has actually become his mother. He’s got the mannerisms, the voice, he knows exactly what Norma would say to Dylan and how she would react to him. Freddie Highmore does incredible work here—the entire kitchen scene made me completely uncomfortable, and not just because of what I was watching. Highmore was so convincing, it practically unsettled me. (When Dylan cringed, I cringed.) And with this moment, we came the closest we’ve ever been to a Psycho world. It’ll be hard to get this scene out of our brains (and Dylan’s) anytime soon.

Dylan plays along with his brother, mostly knowing that he’s not all there, and eventually gets back to sleep just in time for Norma to return. She wakes her sons up and tells them they’re going to the farm to talk to Caleb, and uh oh…Dylan is still convinced this is a bad idea, but Norma’s done trying to avoid things. She’s gotta deal with her life, and she’s gotta do it now. And what follows is the long-awaited scene of two siblings reuniting, under circumstances that are more intense than they ever expected. Caleb had been all set to leave once Dylan told him about how Norma reacted—he’s going to take that mystery driving gig that Chick offered him, the one he initially turned down because he wanted to build a better life. But when he sees his sister, everything goes out the window. And indeed, after so much build-up, we wonder how this will go down. Will Norma flee again? Will Caleb get angry? Will there be a big fight? Nope. Just two siblings reuniting emotionally, Norma breaking down at the realization of finally confronting her fears, and Caleb apologizing and crying with her. As you can guess, this isn’t great for Norman, who clearly isn’t happy his mother has returned and found a new shoulder to lean on—the person that Norman hated for hurting her in the first place.

Bates Bits:

  • Things with Romero are going from bad to worse. First he’s shot while food shopping, though thankfully, he wakes up in the hospital sometime later feeling okay. Then he gets a visit from Marcus Young, who more or less tells him he’s going to be dead soon thanks to the state of things as they relate to the flash drive. Young does at least offer the caveat that he won’t kill him, so long as Romero can keep feeding him the secrets of this town. Yeah, not the best move. He’s attacked by Romero, who apparently didn’t listen to that nurse who told him to take it easy. And not only does Romero attack Young, he shoots him point blank…before getting in the car next to him and driving off. Romero, what have you done?
  • The woman in the clothing store who tried to yell at Norma for taking more than three things into the dressing room might be the story of my life. I get your frustration, Norma. I get it.
  • While Romero is in the hospital, he warns Norma to be careful. Not that Norma actually will get this warning, because of her smashed phone. And she’s definitely being tailed, but we don’t see the consequences of that here, as the moments were more of a set-up for what’s to come. Hopefully, Romero can get to her and accurately warn her about the danger she’s in before someone tries to put her down as well.
  • I’d say if nothing else, Emma certainly knows Norman errs on the more insane side. She’s aware of his episodes to an extent, but she’s never experienced something like this before, and I’m curious to see how and if this will affect her.
  • I absolutely loved the reference Norma gave of The Giving Tree, because that’s actually a very decent representation of what being taken advantage of feels like. And I’m glad that Norma is realizing just how much pressure she’s under.