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'Bates Motel' recap: 'A Death in the Family'

Posted on

Cate Cameron

Bates Motel

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

For almost three years, we’ve seen tendrils of Psycho snake their way into the DNA of Bates Motel, teasing the larger story that we know has been hiding underneath Norman’s increasingly strange behavior and Norma’s deteriorating stability. Maybe the full transition could’ve happened sooner, but we needed the buildup, the shocking moments and the understanding of how Norman could go from sweet, innocent boy to disturbed teenager… so that when we finally did get to the meat of the series, it was something that felt deserved and warranted.

And so it’s fitting that our first shot of season 3 is Norman lying in bed next to his mother. If that doesn’t give off enough uncomfortable vibes, he turns over and starts cuddling her in a way that is obviously meant to make us shudder. It’s Bates Motel‘s way of telling us that it’s going to pull no punches, and also its way of welcoming us to a season that will no doubt be full of disturbing moments and images, as we wade deeper into the waters of Norma and Norman’s complicated relationship.

Dylan wakes up, and upon finding his brother and his mother in bed together, calls Norma out for not realizing how strange it is. Because it is strange to have an 18-year-old sleeping in the same bed as his mom, right? But Norma doesn’t think it’s weird at all (nor is she concerned) and tells him he’s overacting. Besides, this kind of thing happens all the time—they start talking, they fall asleep together… you know, the usual. To his credit, Dylan drops the conversation, and Norma’s interrupted by a phone call alerting her of her mother’s death. It’s clear that she’s apparently more upset about this news than she wants to be, but she tells the law firm that she’s not interested in any of her mother’s assets.

Onto more important things, though: It’s Norman’s first official day of senior year. He doesn’t really want to go, as he’s spent the summer with Norma, and, well, he’s gotten used to being around his mother. This should probably be more of a red flag, but considering the Miss Watson incident, it’s at least a little valid as to why he would feel nervous about returning. Norma casually drops the information about her mother’s death as they’re leaving for school, which of course prompts a barrage of overprotectiveness from Norman, who is absolutely convinced his mother needs him to comfort her.

But Norma’s fine. Really, she’s fine. She’s so fine that she’s going to drag Norman out of the car in front of all his classmates and make a scene about it. Norman seems to do okay for a while, at least, up until lunch, when he has a disturbing image of Miss Watson sitting next to him. It’s not exactly a friendly ghost visit—her throat is cut, she’s oozing blood, and she’s clearly in pain. Norman freaks out and runs home… straight into the arms of his mother.

NEXT: I’m Just Annika From The Block


Norman’s breakdown is interrupted by the arrival of new girl Annika Johnson (Tracy Spiridakos, all cleaned up from her days on NBC’s Revolution). She asks for a room and suddenly, Norman doesn’t seem so upset anymore. He’s even feeling okay enough to help her retrieve her things when she drops her wallet by accident. Again, Bates isn’t bothering to play around: they know the limits they can test in terms of what makes us squirm, and they’re going to continue to push that envelope in every way possible. This is a scene isn’t necessarily disturbing, but as a viewer, we know what’s going through Norman’s head, and so it’s something that we can’t help but focus on.

Norma’s conveniently out when Annika needs her lightbulb changed, so Norman gets to do the (slightly creepy) honors. Annika flirts gently with him while noting that he seems close with his mom. Ya think? She then gives him the truth about why she’s in town, telling him about her job at “big expensive parties with a lot of wealthy men.” Norman tells her she seems like a nice girl, because, well, she does. It’s clear that he’s taken with everything Annika embodies, and it’s quite a treat to see the way those emotions and realizations play out in Freddie Highmore’s facial expressions.

While watching a movie together later that night, Norma tells Norman that she doesn’t think school is good for him. He can be homeschooled instead, which works out rather nicely because Norma is thinking about taking some business classes at the local community college, to help with her motel management. Oh, and by the way: It’s time for a promotion! Which means that in the span of one minute, Norman is told that not only does he not have to go back to school, but that he’s also been made motel manager. Naturally, he’s ecstatic, until Norma follows up with the fact that they should start sleeping in separate rooms. Norman’s hurt by his mother’s request, taking it to mean he’s not wanted by the person he loves most, and retreats to his room rather moodily.

Still, Norman can’t wait to share his shiny new manager news with Emma, who has some news of her own after the summer… though hers is less celebratory: Her lung capacity has diminished. “I wish I could leave school,” she despairs, before Norman suggests that of course she can. Emma’s worried that she’d be copying him by making that choice, but Norman doesn’t see it that way. He’d be glad to have a study buddy, not to mention one that’s also his best friend. (Seriously, who needs school? Half the kids on television shows don’t go these days, anyway.)

Norman then drops the big bombshell: “I think we should date.” Emma’s understandably shocked, thinking Norman just wanted to date her because she’s dying, but Norman insists that it’s been time for a while. Looks like Emma and Norman are now a thing—do we need a ship name? (I’ll take your suggestions in the comments.)

NEXT: Dylan’s Daddy Issues


Decidedly done with the illegal drug business, a reformed Dylan meets with Sheriff Romero to discuss going about selling weed the legal way. His thought process: He’ll make enough money to get by, and he’ll get to help people at the same time. Sheriff Romero warns Dylan that if he goes down this road, he’ll pretty much be on his own. But Dylan’s work will now be legal, so this shouldn’t be a problem, right? Well, it shouldn’t…

While driving late at night, Dylan realizes he’s being followed by a car and gets out to investigate. As it turns out, the suspect is none other than Norma’s brother Caleb (Kenny Johnson)—who, if you remember from last season, Dylan confronted before Norman tried to attack him. Caleb doesn’t want to go to the motel, but he does want Dylan to know that his grandmother died, and that there are assets he wants Dylan to have.

Dylan wants no part of this and sends his uncle on his way, only to come across him and his bum truck the next day. Caleb uses the excuse to hitch a ride to the auto shop, where he admits to Dylan the reason he came back was because he felt alone. With his mom’s death, and his sister pushing him away, he now has no more family. Also? “I know I’m your dad.” It’s a genuine and honest gesture, but Dylan really does not want to hear about his parents’ incest past right now. He returns home to Norma telling him what he already knows about his grandmother, which segues into a really wonderful scene between Max Thieriot and Vera Farmiga, as Norma tries to work out why she’s so upset about a woman who wasn’t ever really there for her in the first place.

Later, Norman is wandering around outside when he sees a raccoon pilfering through the garbage. He chases it off, coming across Annika’s open window, and gets caught up watching her get undressed. In one sense, it’s normal 18-year-old boy behavior, especially for someone who hasn’t had much social interaction. On the other hand, it’s Norman, and because we know something’s a little off, we agree with Norma when she finds him and insists it’s “not normal.” Norman’s surprised at his mother’s anger but takes his reprimanding pretty well, all things considered. When he overhears Norma crying in the bedroom later, he apologizes for spying. But it’s not Norman she’s crying about, Norma admits—it’s her mother. The emotional collapse has finally happened, and it’s hitting her that she’s never even had a mother.

Cue the second highly uncomfortable moment of the night, where Norman tenderly comforts Norma the way a father figure might, while soothing her with the fact that he may be growing up… but he’s never going anywhere. In her overly vulnerable state, Norma ends up asking Norman to stay with her, going back on her word despite her earlier insistence that he sleep in his own room. To say Norman is thrilled about being asked back into his mother’s bed would be an understatement, and the end of the hour finds us with a chilling bookend: Norman in bed with Norma, shielding her from all the things that try to hurt her.

Bates Bits:

  • Norman drives Annika to work…and Norman returns to the motel alone. I’m pretty sure this is not how Annika envisioned her ride from a nice motel manager boy would go. Your theories are welcome.
  • Looks like Sheriff Romero is going to have some interesting things to deal with this season. The bad kids in town are upset that he’s busted the underground weed business that so many dealers have been thriving on, and I’m pretty sure Romero’s still slightly suspicious of Norman… even though he did pass last season’s lie detector test.
  • It’s clear from the scene in the car, where Annika is talking rather freely about the work she does as a hooker, that Norman is going to have to deal with his attraction to someone new—though it’s unclear whether or not this will play out in a sexual way or not. We know how Norman reacts to intimacy, and the fact remains that outside of his mother, Emma, and Bradley, Norman has had very little interaction with women. While Annika is more firmly in the Bradley camp in this scenario, she’s probably not out for blood as much as she appears to be. Still, it’s an interesting way to start off, as this season is clearly about everything that contributes to Norman’s downfall.