Chick is going full Capote in the Bates household, while Caleb remains firmly on the more losing end of the 'In Cold Blood' dynamic
Yes, there might be serial killers out there; there could be a sketchy sheriff’s deputy running a human trafficking ring out of a local hotel; there might even be young men who disassociate from themselves to become homicidal versions of their already dead mother, whom they’re storing in their basement. But you’re still more likely to be killed by texting and driving — them’s just the facts.
Of course, we don’t know if Caleb is officially dead, but goodness, for his sake, I almost hope he is. The man had a hell of an episode, with a hell of a performance by Kenny Johnson, and he’s always been one hell of a conflicting character. Caleb and Chick have that in common, and it is a totally unexpected — and surprisingly fun — twist that they’ve now been placed in the role of audience surrogate within this twisted little world Norma and Mother have created for themselves.
Mostly because they’re the only two people who know that Norman is dividing his time at home between impersonating his dead mother and interacting with a particularly villainous version of her that only exists in his own head. Monday’s episode picks up just after last week’s left off, with Caleb now handcuffed to a pole in the basement. He wakes up to visions of Norma in dreamy light, but it turns out to be more of a nightmare, in that he’s actually being spoken to by his nephew dressed up as his sister, and also, he’s probably about to be murdered by some combination of both of them.
For now, though, Mother seems to be at a loss for what to what to do with her brother as she rocks in her iconic rocking chair: “I’m sorry you know my secret… why are you always putting me in a tough spot, Caleb?” Caleb speaks to Mother like she’s Norma and tells her he just came to share the news that Emma and Dylan had a baby. A look of recognition briefly crosses Mother’s face, like Norman might be peeking back out at the mention of his brother and friend, but no. It’s still Mother, still unsure what to do with her brother.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Chick has seen Norman in a Norma wig and lived to tell the tale beyond the basement of doom. When Mother comes up, she tells him that she appreciates how good he’s been to Norman since her fake passing. Chick says he just enjoys helping people, and that might be true, but the thing about Chick is that after all this time, his motivations and intentions are still one huge, kimono-wearing question mark. Norman and Norma may have been labyrinths of codependent crazy in their heyday, but their motivations were always transparent: Nothing in the world was more important to them than each other.
The fun in season 5 is seeing how those motivations adjust now that they’re both fueled by only Norman’s psyche; how they’re affected by an outsider like Chick who could destroy them, or possibly save them from themselves. Mother leans in, seeming so much like Norma when she says, “Can you keep this secret about me? Can I trust you, Chick?” He says she can. Chick — a loner outsider who nearly got Dylan killed and had his own life mostly destroyed by Caleb — now knows more about the Bates family than… well, anyone. He asks if he can stay a while to keep an eye on them, and Mother says yes.
But what will Norman say? When he wakes up, he of course has no recollection of putting on a paisley dress, chaining his uncle up in the basement, or inviting Chick to have a slumber party. He’s awoken by Mother, who says she’s sorry for following him to the restaurant last night; she just goes a little crazy staying in the house all the time. She tells him to stay in bed a little longer, and oh, by the way, don’t go in the basement — eskimo kisses!
Then comes Chick. He asks if Norman remembers the night before, and Norman Bates stumbling around with the vocabulary to try and imply that he was blackout drunk instead of deep inside a psychotic episode is almost adorable. Chick’s very careful and deliberate line of questioning in his interactions with Norman suggests that he’s up to a little more than just being the least judgmental mountain man in the world. He tells Norman that he knows “about your mother,” that he spoke to her last night. He’s just going to stick around a little while to keep an eye on them. It seems Chick is making himself an indispensable part of the Bates dynamic, but there’s still one burly problem in the basement.
Caleb wakes up from a flashback to his and Norma’s sad, intertwined childhood to find Chick sitting in front of him. Caleb wants his help getting the hell outta there, naturally, but Chick is always zagging when you’re hoping for a zig: “That’s not my role here… I don’t have the feeling I have the authority to act in that manner.” Chick tells Caleb he’s merely an observer in whatever is happening with Norman.
And I mean… can you imagine being chained up in a basement a couple of feet from your mummified sister and hearing that this dude won’t let you go because he’s doing an independent anthropological study? In a later visit, Chick furthers his field research: “I unexpectedly found myself caught up in your family’s… drama.” That’s one way to put it. Chick continues, “And I don’t know anything about you. It’s unsettling.” Chick… calling someone unsettling. Incredible.
Caleb tells Chick about their childhood and says that he doesn’t want to talk about how he raped his sister (always a harsh reminder right when you find yourself feeling sorry for Caleb). He talks about that look Norma gives where, “She will look at someone so hard you would think they’re going to burst into flames.” You know the one. Caleb breaks down into sobs, and with good reason; the man is clearly losing it.
Chick might have the upper hand on Caleb, but he’s still a guest in the Bates home, never exactly the most hospitable environment. When Norman heads downstairs to find Chick picking up broken glass from a picture frame, he seems a little upset — but no more disgruntled than Mother, who’d been just hidden from view over his shoulder: “Try wearing a little less clothes next time. Maybe lose the kimono and you won’t pull down the walls.”
Of course, Chick doesn’t catch any of that, because while there are two active Bates personalities in the room, there’s only one little ol’ Norman. He just hears, “Don’t be rude, Mother.” And now he knows Mother is in the room with them — jot those mental notes, Chick. Norman tells Chick that he likes his kimono, and Chick craftily responds that it’s not the first time someone has talked s— about his kimono. He suggests that since “we’re all here,” they sit down for a nice, three-person curry meal he prepared. And then he hits the button on the voice recorder in his pocket.
At dinner, Chick says he thinks he could be of service to them, and he’d like to stick around in a sort of handyman capacity, looking back and forth between Norman and an empty seat that occasionally contains Vera Famiga as he speaks. He says, “It’s easier with two.” And isn’t it just?
Everything is turning up Chick; every time Mother speaks, Norman says something just close enough to what she’s said for Chick to appropriately react, and it’s starting to seem like Norman might be subconsciously moving this triangle of people safely along on purpose. But then Mother agrees to his proposal by saying she would like her window fixed… and Norman says nothing… and Chick says nothing… and the suggestion of just how wrong this could go sits heavy on the table along with Chick’s home-cooked naan.
But when Chick asks Mother to repeat herself and her mouth is full, Norman repeats it for her — and you have to wonder what made Mother’s mouth be full in that moment. Is Norman protecting Chick? Is Mother? Is it a coincidence? HOW DOES THIS ALL WORK?! I think that 100 times in each new episode. But we’re getting there. Or more likely, we’re getting to where it all stops working. And a large part of that will probably come as a catalyst of the two other outsider characters floating around in this episode, Madeleine Loomis and Alex Romero. Madeleine stops by the house with cookies for Norman and is greeted by Chick instead: “I want a cookie. What kind of cookies?” They’re chocolate chip, and Norman quickly comes outside to sweep Madeleine down to the motel and away from the now two people he’s trying to hide.
But Norman? Oh, he’s just fine to chat with for a few minutes. Madeleine says she actually came by to apologize for their disastrous double date: “I think I’ve just been so lonely, and I think if I was really honest with you, I just wanted to have dinner.” It seems that things with Sam Loomis are as rocky at home as they seem, and she doesn’t even mind when he leaves for his frequent trips anymore. She doesn’t know why she’s telling Norman all this, and Norman says, “Because you know you’re safe to tell me.” Oh Norman — he truly believes that. She asks if they can be friends even though she’s married, and Norman says she reminds him of someone he loved very much: his mother. “Is that a good thing?” DEPENDS WHO YOU ASK, GIRLFRIEND.
As for Romero, he’s getting a pleasant little transfer to the new work farm from his maximum security prison with very minimal security. He bonds with the officer who’s transporting them, and while they’re at a gas station bathroom, he manages to overpower him, take his gun, and cuff him inside. With his gun, he gets a nice man to drive him far away from there, and then he steals his car but is very reassuring to the man that he doesn’t mean him any harm. He might have been ready to hit something, though, when he gets a flat tire and is stuck in the middle of the woods with night falling. He makes it to a farm and is lucky enough to find a car with the keys stashed in the flip-down mirror, but just as he finds them, a kid appears with a shotgun trained right on him.
Romero tells the kid he just got lost on a hike and was getting in the car to warm up. But the kid freaks when he comes near him and… shoots Romero in the stomach.
That might slightly alter his mission to go murder Norman, which is unfortunate news for Caleb. Norman finally hears Caleb banging around downstairs and demands to know what’s going on with Chick, who has a simple explanation: “Your uncle is in the basement, he’s a little freaked out… I think he’s here to kill you.” To this point, Norman had no idea Caleb had come to the house or been trapped in the basement, and at this moment it seems Mother is nowhere to be found. Norman tells Chick to go look for her to make sure she hasn’t left the house, and it’s hard to tell if he’s truly concerned or just trying to get rid of Chick. But I’m glad having Chick around even makes those third-party questions possible.
Because the second Norman is on his own, he goes downstairs to look at Caleb, and from his perch on the stairs he almost seems to… will himself to transition fully into Mother: “It’s me Caleb, it’s Norma.” Caleb tries to play to the Norma he knew and tell her that if she lets him go, he’ll help her get help for Norman. But she tells him, “It would never work, Caleb. Because you’re both in love with me.” And while that didn’t seem to be something Norma was willing to admit, Mother seems more than happy to lay this family’s messed up cards on the table. She says there’s nothing that can be changed about what he’s done to her in the past, so for now, they should just be together. She also tells him she’s sorry that Norman will have to kill him; she just can’t do it. “I love you, Norma Louise,” Caleb tells Mother. “I know,” Mother responds.
Later, after Chick has taken Norman back upstairs and gone to buy a typewriter, Mother wakes Norman up to tell him what needs to be done: “I need you to kill him. I need you to go down there, be strong, and not black out.” So it seems that even as a product of Norman’s psyche, Norma/Mother can’t hate her brother, at least not enough to kill him. But the thing is… Mother is the killer, not Norman.
And that doesn’t look to be changing yet, because when Norman gets to the basement with his clear instructions from Mother — “fast, aim true, right through the brain, okay?” — he can’t do it. He takes off the handcuffs and has to scream at a completely broken Caleb to get out of there.
But Mother’s instructions have never been able to be avoided for long. She goes chasing after Norman, who’s chasing out Caleb, and starts shooting at him with the gun. Caleb runs out into the road to flag down a car for help. But the car approaching contains Chick, who’s just getting a text from Mother about picking up some milk, and with his eyes on the text and not the road, Chick blazes right through Caleb, whose head hits the ground with a sickening bang. But still — there is simply never any guessing at Caleb Calhoun’s fate.
With so little Norma and frequent breaks to check in on Romero’s casual prison break, the episode was bound to feel a little slower than the two that came before it. But Chick said it best in the notes for his very own dangerous In Cold Blood experiment: “Feels like things are coming to a significant head.”
Bates & Pieces:
- Does Mother have her own cell phone for grocery texts or…
- Ask her to go on a creepy walk in the woods and tell her she looks like your mom — the Norman Bates School of Wooing
- “You don’t need to announce her, Chick, you’re not the butler.”
- Caleb: “He’s your son.” Mother: “And you’re my brother.” Me: WOOOOOF.