'Bates Motel' recap: 'The Arcanum Club'
Norman and Emma have their first date, while Norma takes her concern over Annika's disappearance to another level.
Last week, Bates Motel delivered a premiere episode that set up the season pretty nicely in terms of story lines, characters, and of course, mysteries. More specifically: the mystery of Annika getting into a car with Norman, who offered to take a break from studying with Emma in order to drive her to work. Annika’s car came back… but apparently, Annika did not. (Commenters pointed out that I should’ve talked about this moment more fully than I did in last week’s recap, and I agree. Your recapper has taken responsibility for her mistake!) Norma’s more than a little concerned about Annika’s absence, especially because a peek into her room shows that the bed hasn’t been slept in at all. And Emma hasn’t seen anything, although she’s a bit distracted helping a customer with his Wi-Fi complaints. Which is, quite honestly, the most real life moment on this show so far. (Dear tenant: We’ve all been there. Trust me. Signed, Girl Who Has Stayed In More Motels Across The Country Than I Would Ever Admit To.)
Norma takes her questions about Annika to her son, who is hard at work on a poor dead goat. Let’s welcome taxidermy back to the Bates Motel fold, everyone! At least Norma, for all her parenting faults, is rightfully horrified by the fact that Norman is using her freezer for purposes such as keeping a dead animal’s body fresh. But she also seemingly believes Norman when he tells her that he thinks Annika is fine. Because why wouldn’t she be fine? It’s not like Norman has a history of killing women when he climbs into cars with them. (Then again, Norma doesn’t know that part of the story—yet.)
When Norma comes home from getting some groceries, she notices that Annika’s car is still there, but Annika, still, is not. She questions Emma again, who lets it slip that it was Norman who last saw her. I want to talk about this entire sequence, especially because it’s mirrored in the next scene, when Norman is watching Norma. (We’ll get to that in a sec.) But it was truly a master class in both editing and acting—Vera Farmiga’s intense facial expressions as she let herself realize the possibilities of what Emma’s words meant, mingled with the strains of eerie Psycho-like music. It hit its nerve, in that we felt like we saw Norma’s crushing anger as she zoned out.
Norma essentially flies off the handle, screaming at Norman and asking why he lied. According to Norman, he wasn’t lying: He drove her car back because she asked him to, as she was meeting a friend and was worried she would be too drunk. “That’s all.” Two seasons ago, we might have sided with Norman and considered his words to be valid, but after what happened with Miss Watson, that’s not really an option anymore. Norma’s already suspicious and worried, and she demands that Norman retrace his steps with her. She then lets loose with, “you can’t keep getting into cars with questionable women!” When Norman gets frustrated, she clarifies that questionable = slutty. “I don’t know why, but unhinged women seem drawn to you.” The fact that this statement, meant to reflect on people like Miss Watson and Annika, is said by Norma to her son? Slow clap to Bates for the singular subtle best line delivery of season. (I know, it’s only the second episode. I’m saying it anyway.)
This is basically how Norma finds out that “Annika the nice girl” is also “Annika the call girl,” and you can basically see the sheltering wings come out. A clearly unhinged Norma drives them to the restaurant Norman claims he left Annika at, and that’s when Norma notices that in previous conversation, Norman had said “she was a nice woman and troubled.” Emphasis on the word “was.” Norman insists she’s not dead, but as we watch Freddie Highmore sit angrily in the car, we’re not so sure. As mentioned previously, this is the scene that mirrors Norma’s “zoning out” moment, complete with the unsettling score. It’s incredible to watch these few seconds of silence and realize how much acting Freddie Highmore can do by simply using facial expressions.
NEXT: Breakdowns and Parties and First Dates, Oh My!
Later, Norman finally admits his big secret—no, he didn’t kill Annika. No, he’s not a psycho. He’s dating Emma. Norma is surprised, but obviously happy. Finally, a step in the right direction for a boy who still sleeps in his mom’s bed and calls her “mother.”
Seeing how invested Norman is in Annika’s disappearance, Emma offers to wait on their first date, but Norman convinces her otherwise. After a bit of research on where to go and what to eat (ramen’s out), they end up at a restaurant with fruity drinks. I feel bad because Emma is clearly invested in this relationship, but Norman doesn’t quite feel the same way. Or, if he does, he’s too caught up in his head to care.
Emma tries to get Norman to open up by asking why he wanted to go out with her in the first place. Norman tells her she’s the one thing that makes sense with everything changing. In return, Norman asks if she had sex with Gunner. Emma tells him yes, and then we plunge headfirst into a very open, casual conversation about sex and relationships. Emma sees it as a special kind of bond, but Norman isn’t sure he’d refer to sex as “magical,” instead saying it feels more overwhelming—like it’s another part of him. It’s so interesting to watch these heavy conversations knowing how Norman’s brain works, but also knowing that we’re essentially supposed to be coming from the viewpoint of someone like Emma, who is in the dark about his true personality. Emma brings up Norma’s overprotective coddling, and it’s clear that Norman can’t hear criticism of his mother without becoming defensive. So Emma tries to make a joke of the whole thing, telling him he can grow up—unless he’s Peter Pan—a line which is also an Easter Egg for one of Freddie Highmore’s more famous roles. Norman doesn’t want to be Peter Pan, though, because Peter Pan and Wendy never got to have sex. (I mean, they did get to kind of flirt, depending on what story you read…)
Norma, meanwhile, is still trying to figure out the Annika mystery. Emma suggests looking through her room, where Norma finds (among other interesting things) a wallet with a card for something called “The Arcanum Club.” According to Emma, it’s very exclusive and very old school, which means that Norma is definitely taking herself on a solo date night. Unfortunately for Norma, entrance to the super swanky club requires both the card and a password. She doesn’t have half of the deal, so she’s turned away—not that that stops her from finding a way in. I gotta give Norma credit. She’s as determined as they come, even if it means taking an Indiana Jones approach while in formal wear. I wish Annika could see how much trouble she was going through for her.
Norma soon figures out that this isn’t any ordinary party, and in some window-snooping of her own, stumbles upon what clearly looks like the makings of a brothel. She’s caught by Sherriff Romero of all people, who was there because he was pressing the flesh for some council members. Okay, I’ll buy that. Freaked out by everything going on, Norma finally loses it and spills the beans about Annika… including the fact she thinks that she might be dead. Romero asks for more information, and Norma cannot tell a lie: Norman was the last person who saw her.
Romero urges her to go home, which Norma does… promptly running into the almost completed bridge that has been threatening to ruin their motel since day one of coming to White Pines Bay. And you know, it’s just one of those days. It’s one of those days where everything really sucks, and you’re frustrated, and your son might be a serial killer, who might be responsible for a missing girl, and your business might shutter, and you’ve just gotten kicked out of a high society party. So you, Norma Bates, have every right to kick the crap out of that bridge sign like there’s no tomorrow. Go ahead. It’s okay.
NEXT: Won’t You Be My (Illegal Firearms) Neighbor?
Gunner and Caleb are working on their weed garden along with Gunner’s guard dog, Rex. As Dylan prepares to head home for the night, Caleb tries to convince him to stay and hang out, but they get distracted by the intrusion of a stray dog who gets under Rex’s skin. I don’t think it’s any surprise that this fight ends up with Caleb taking matters into his own hands, much to Dylan’s horror. But at this point, it should just be common knowledge that any animal who walks onto the Bates Motel set isn’t going to make it out alive.
The commotion causes a visit from a man named Chick Hogan (Sons of Anarchy’s Ryan Hurst) who basically is what would happen if SAMCRO came to Bates Motel. He tells them he lives over the hill, and Dylan says he didn’t know that they had any neighbors over the hill. (Us either, Dylan!) Chick claims he’s looking for his dog, which freaks Dylan out, until Caleb comes to his rescue and plays the protective father card. This doesn’t stop Chick from stealthily asking about their weed crop—at least, we think that’s what he means when he asks about their garden of “tomatoes,” “corn,” and “green beans.”
Naturally, Caleb feels that this is territorial violation, not a missing pet case. They end up sneaking onto Chick’s property, where Dylan promptly loses his cool and blurts out that they shot his dog. Guess what? Chick doesn’t have a dog. Looks like Caleb was right, but that isn’t going to make this confrontation any easier. Chick takes both guys aside and gives them a drink while explaining the rules of friendly neighboring. Oh and he also wants to know how many plants they have. Caleb refuses to answer that… so of course, Dylan answers for him. Man, Dylan is just not the guy you want on your side if you’re trying to be stealthy. Then again, it’s actually nice to see him so entrenched in wanting to turn over a new leaf, based on his behavior the past two seasons. Caleb essentially tells him they’re going to do what they want on their own property, but obviously, we haven’t seen the last of Chick. And my sense is that between this and last week’s bar confrontation with Romero, we’re headed for a much bigger story.
By the time Emma and Norman get back from their date (yes, they both return), they’re pretty much ready to share their first real kiss. Well, Emma is. Norman seems to be a little hesitant, claiming he doesn’t want to get involved being so close to the motel and all. Emma is disappointed but understands, and she leaves right before Norma returns from her party. Norma’s frazzled and freaked out, and surprise! Norman completely forgets all about his date and starts worrying about his mother instead. “Why are you all dressed up? Why are you dirty?” he asks authoritatively, and there’s no way around it—Norman is definitely channeling the controlling male in a way that makes me squirm. Norma admits that she went to a party (though she declines to give more information than that) and it’s clear as she breaks down that she needs support. So Norman tells her it’ll be okay. Because, well…it will. Right?
Right. Except our final shot of the episode is a body floating face down in the water. Is it Annika? The betting pool—er, I mean, the comment floor—is open.
- It’s a Sons of Anarchy reunion with Ryan Hurst and Kenny Johnson! Rejoice!
- The more you know: 99 plants is apparently the medical marijuana limit. Also: “You guys remind me of these two guys in a book. You don’t have any rabbits up there, do you?”
- Poor Emma. Between Norma and Norman confiding in her, she really is just being relegated to the secret keeper role. I’m hopeful that since she and Norman are going to be together now that there’s more for her to do down the line.
- Norma and Romero. Let’s talk about them. Let’s talk about how that’s what this show should be, if this show was about a normal family. (And yes, I might be shipping them.) Romero is obviously filling the shoes of the protective figure Norman desperately wishes she had by her side, and their super awkward goodbye hug (which turns into a super clingy emotional hug) just cements that theory. Norma admits that she felt safer when he was around, and is clearly upset to be losing him as a tenant. At least the good news is that Romero may be leaving the motel, but he’s certainly not leaving anytime soon, especially knowing Norman was involved in Annika’s disappearance.