Norma and Norman Bates, first-place winner of Motherboy’s “Most Lethal Couple” award for five seasons running, have tried and tried to create a world where nobody else exists. They have moved away from family members without telling them; they’ve ended marriages and alienated just about anyone who’s tried to befriend them. There’s also that thing where Norman and the version of his Mother that lives inside him have straight-up murdered a whole bunch of people who threatened to divide mother and son in any way. And in his final, most desperate attempt, Norman killed his mother and then resurrected her in his mind, along with the narrative that she faked her own death in order to devote herself entirely to him.
And even after all that, it’s still not going very well. Because you can’t murder your mom and eat cake with her too… or something like that.
Population count of White Pine Bay be damned, the Bates Motel audience has always benefited from this construct, because the series is at its best any time Norma and Norman — and Vera and Freddie — are sharing the screen. Though I’ve come to trust this wacky show completely, there was a bit of fear going into its fifth and final season that it simply couldn’t be as good with Norma Bates’ electric character being limited to what her son’s psyche would allow of her. And I can admit that with Mother not making her first appearance until about a third of the way into Monday’s hour, the overall appeal of the episode suffered a bit… but the series as a whole is better for it.
Because there is no living world where Norma and Norma can exist without interference. And this episode, with its focus on characters like Chick, Caleb, and Alex Romero, is a reminder of that. Yes, I impulsively curse just about any time Caleb lumbers onscreen, but then I remember what someone like Caleb means: accountability. Dousing Norman and Mother with the reality they’ve tried so mightily to avoid isn’t the most fun thing Bates Motel can do, but it is something it has to do tell a well-rounded story of Norman Bates, the life he’s led, and the future that’s been laid out for him by Alfred Hitchcock. You can run from reality, but you can’t hide from it — even in a wig.
Which is not to say that Norman doesn’t want the outside world himself sometimes. He spends the front half of Monday’s episode away from the Bates property, first dealing with a little business: the fact that former Sheriff Romero is actively trying to have him killed. Norman drives himself over to Romero’s prison for a little sit-down, and damn if he doesn’t make it almost the whole way through without looking scared s—less of his former stepfather and his former stepfather’s bulging muscles-that-prison-rage-built. With his most confident petulance, Norman tells Romero it was “really kind of you to send your friend to see how I’d been getting along — but as you can see, I’m quite all right.”
And knowing Norman, it’s probably not too difficult for Romero to figure out what happened to his hit man, but he’s no less determined. As Norman, who’s mostly been in control of this conversation, gets up to leave, Romero grabs him back: “I’m coming for you when you least expect it, so don’t get too cozy up at that house by yourself.”
But as we know, Norman doesn’t live at that house by himself. Mother lives there too, and when Norman arrives back home, he looks at the house like there’s something he can’t face up there just yet. Especially considering there’s someone he’d much rather face in the village: Madeline Loomis. Norman casually strolls into the coffee shop across from her hardware store and casually sits down to watch her from behind a newspaper like any casual, not-creepy man would. And Madeline, fully under the Norman spell, hops right on over to say hi when she spots him, after a fantastic sequence through the coffee shop window showcases just how much Madeline resembles Norma.
Her intentions couldn’t be further from Norma’s, though: Madeline wants to set Norman up with her cute web designer. Norman says he “doesn’t do that kind of thing” (boy does he ever not) until Madeline mentions that it would be a double date with her, and then he’s all about it. Of course, on that double date will also be Madeline’s husband, and of course, as many of us figured out last week, Madeline’s husband is Sam Loomis of Psycho origins, and Sam Loomis is last week’s “David Davidson,” of Can I have sex with this woman for a few hours in your hotel fame.
Even though it’s lighter on the usual Norma hijinks, there’s actually a lot of humor in this episode, and a great deal of it comes from watching Norman try to flirt with women and square off with men. Both of those combine in this scene to tremendous effect as Norman switches from having a lovely time with Madeline to being introduced to her two-timing husband: “Nice to meet you Sam Loomis.” With a sweet smile directed at Madeline and an aggressive pop of his coat collar directed at Sam, Norman bids farewell to the surely doomed couple with plans for their surely doomed double date that night.
NEXT: To the basement!
In perhaps my favorite detail of the episode, Norman hesitates at the front door and pops his bad boy collar back down before facing Mother. But she’s already onto him — she’s onto him in French. That’s right: If Mother Bates has to be trapped in the house, she figures she’ll keep her mind fresh by learning French online. We hear the program teaching her phrases like, “The dress is blue,” “The cherry is red,” and, when Norman lies and says he was just running errands this morning, “The traitor was hung.” Oh, it is delicious.
Norman admits that he was seeing Romero in prison, and Mother says she can “handle him when he get out.” But before Norman can finish asking if that’s more of a murder-style “handle him” or a still-have-feelings-for-him “handle him,” someone is at the door. For what seems like one of many times, Chick has shown up to check on Norman. Norman seems to enjoy Chick; Mother’s thoughts on having to hide in the basement every time he comes over: “Pretending to be dead isn’t as much fun as I thought it was going to be!”
Chick, apparently, knows the way to Norman’s heart, so along with a crate of fresh apples, he’s brought a bag with a dead bird in it. A Peregrine falcon, to be precise, and Chick has a business proposition for Norman: Chick brings the specimens, Norman stuffs them, and Chick will help him sell them for a 50/50 split. Norman hesitates a bit but eventually agrees: “We’ll give this a go then, partner.” I think we all remember how well it went the last few times this family did business with Chick…
Which brings us to Caleb. He’s left Dylan and Emma per Emma’s request and arrived in the other place in the world where he’s the least welcome: the Bates Motel, home of the sister he raped and impregnated and her son who hates his freakin’ guts. When he arrives, Norma’s car is there, and the back door is open, so Caleb goes through the house calling her name. But all he find is every room in disarray, not at all like the last time he was there. And when he checks in to a different hotel and tells them he’s there to visit his sister Norma Bates, he learns why: Norma Bates killed herself a year and a half ago.
Down at the Bates Motel, there are some other tough conversations taking place, namely Sam Loomis being a big, tough adulterer, threatening to kick Norman’s ass across the pavement if he tells his wife about his last stay at the Bates Motel. Needless to say, this is probably not Sam’s best move.
And going on this double date certainly isn’t in Norman’s best interest, but boys simply don’t know what’s best for them, do they, Norma? When Norman starts to head out for the evening, he finds Norma smoking in the living room. Mother says since she’s already dead, she’s really got nothing to lose, but Norman knows she’s just trying to punish him. Because in assuming her personality, the aspect of the relationship with his mother that Norman seems to have most held on to is their toxic punish-and-protect cycle, but here, he brandishes her as the childish one.
They fuss about Romero again and about how much “business” Norman seems to need to tend to in town recently, but unlike last week, Norman manages to make it out of the driveway to go meet Madeline without Norma throwing herself in front of the car. But that surely can’t last long…
And it doesn’t. On the double date, Norman is clearly more interested in Madeline than poor Joanne and her theater major, but he’s just as interested in screwing with Sam. “What is it you’re always doing, Sam,” Norman asks when Madeline talks about Sam’s travels to Seattle for business. Of the Loomis’ current situation, Madeline assures them, “It’s all going to be good,” something Norman says his mother used to say. And as if the mere mention of her brings her to life, Norman quickly needs to excuse himself from the table and look in the bathroom mirror — always a bad sign! — for a while. And there Mother waits for him in a classic Norma-undercover outfit: jaunty cap, black trench coat, sly smile.
Norman is furious with her for going in public, but Norma was careful: “I didn’t see any people I know — I looked!” Norman insists that Mother go out of the bathroom window and wait in the car, but not before she asks what’s been eating at her: “Norman, do you still like me?” Even through the layer of psychosis, it’s so sweet and sad, and the back half of this episode is more proof that just because Mother now exists within Norman and not within Norma, that does not mean she’ll be one note.
NEXT: To the basement, Part Deux!
The double date breaks up without making the love connection Madeline was hoping for, and Norman gets in his car to find Mother waiting for him. She peers out the car window — a lovely little twist on a Psycho classic — at Madeline and realizes what we’ve been seeing all along: “She’s like me but 10 years younger!” Norman insists that it was just a friendly dinner, but Mother has had it; she says she’s going out, and when Norman tells her she can’t, there’s a noticeable shift…
We see Norman walking into a bar, but by the swing of the hips we know — that’s Mother. It’s a scene that simply can’t be described in words as Norman speaking to the bartender switches from Norman’s face to Norma’s face, from Norman’s voice to Norma’s voice, sometimes in matching sets, sometimes at odds with each other. But the whole time, Norman speaks from the point of view of Mother, telling the bartender how she’s simply sick of her “job” as a caretaker for a mentally ill person. She says she’s not even sure if the person likes her anymore: “I spend a lot of time alone, or getting him out of problems he creates by not listening to me. I just don’t like having to do these things, it’s getting to me… I’m going to have to start cutting my hours.”
In true Bates Motel fashion, this scene is chilling, hilarious, cringe-inducing, and thrilling at any given moment. But nothing compares to what comes next.
We see Chick writing in a bar, the narration of the text sounding a lot like he’s writing about Norman: “He knew she wasn’t there, except in his mind. She was dead, but what did that matter … Isn’t happiness, in a sense, all just a creation of the mind?” Tuck that in your back pocket for later, because guess who just walked in this bar — Caleb, bringer of constant chaos. He’s clearly reeling from the news about Norma’s death, and he has no patience for Chick confronting him in this moment. Chick brings up that haunting fact that he raped his sister, and Caleb has him pinned to the bar in a second flat, saying he’ll kill him if he ever says Norma’s name again.
Seeing the tears in his eyes, Chick realizes that he’s only just found out about Norma’s death. Caleb heads outside, and Chick follows. “She wouldn’t kill herself,” says Caleb. “I warned her about her kid. I told her he was going to snap someday, but she didn’t listen to me.” As if realizing what must have happened in that moment, Caleb takes off to the house. Just like earlier in the episode, we see him tearing through the house, but this time he’s yelling Norman’s name. He’s not in the bedrooms, not in the kitchen, not in the living room, not in the basement…
Caleb opens the last door in the basement and finds Norman Bates’ secret: Norma Bates, mummified. Then we see a blonde head right behind him and — BOOM! — Caleb is knocked out by… Norman in full Norma drag!!! Oh what a moment, put into words for all of us by Chick, who just watched it all go down: “Ho-ly s—.”
Bates & Pieces:
- Romero’s rage continues to build in prison, especially following Norman’s little visit, as he gets himself beat up so that he can say the other prisoners have found out he’s a cop, which could potentially get him transferred to a work farm. It’s not clear yet how that will help him get his murderous revenge on Norman, but it is clear that the man is highly motivated and highly jacked.
- Dylan and Emma only get a brief scene tonight, but it’s as sweet as pie, until we’re reminded that Dylan kinda-sorta knows that Norman definitely-probably killed Emma’s mom and buried her in a pit in front of the Bates Motel. Of their broken relationships with their various parents, Emma says, “Katie will be short on grandparents, but at least she’ll live in an honest, open world, especially between us.” OOF.
- First Kenny Johnson as a grown-up Max Thieriot, and now Isabelle McNally as a lil’ Vera Farmiga? The casting people over at Bates Motel (IMDb credits Sara Isaacson, April Webster, and Jessica Sherman for casting) are unreal.
- I missed Juno the Harbinger of Split Personalities this episode but loved Caleb spotting a dog bowl overflowing with uneaten food.
- This interaction between Chick and Norman standing at the front door while Mother is supposed to be hiding: “Let’s go in… THE BASEMENT.” Chick, always down to clown: “…THE BASEMENT IT IS!”
- Norma’s gravestone/Twitter bio: “Loveliest mother, sweetest friend, most beautiful woman, dearest heart, purest soul, happiest playmate, wife.”
- Caleb finds out about Norma’s death at the Kings Hotel, the same place where we first saw her murderer, Norman, transition into his Mother persona and try to kill Caleb.
- And on that note: our first glimpse of Norman dressed up as Mother in full wig and dress — discuss!