Bates Motel recap: 'Dreams Die First'
"Sometimes I see mother when she’s not really there. Sometimes I become her."
Throughout its run, Bates Motel has given us some juicy references to its source material: Norman’s budding interest in taxidermy, the origin of that trusty peephole between the motel office and Room 1, and, of course, Norman in a wig and dress, acting like his damn mother and murdering people
In its final season, Bates Motel has been flying blissfully fast and frequent with those ostrich-size Psycho easter eggs, but up until this point, those references have only served to build upon what the series was always intended to be: a prequel to Psycho set in the modern day (given, it’s a modern day where peter pan collars are much more prevalent). But as of Monday’s episode, starting with the moment Sam Loomis zips Marion Crane back into her business-professional wear, we’re officially dealing with something new: a full crossover into the plot of Psycho. That crossover is also set in modern day, and boy, does this hour drive that home in some unexpected ways.
Of course, Marion Crane and her suitcase full of cash don’t mean that season 5 of Bates Motel will suddenly become a remake of Psycho; merely that the TV series has now officially crossed narrative streams with the film that came before it. It’s great fun to see a modernized recreation of the moment Marion Crane decides to steal a bunch of money: $40,000 is now $400,000; Marion’s occupation has shifted to notary public; oh, and did I mention that Janet Leigh’s iconic role is now being played by one of the biggest pop stars in the world, Rihanna? But the real thrills of this episode lie in how Bates Motel reveals what Norman Bates and Mother have been getting up to in between the familiar scenes of Psycho.
Let’s just say, we’re not in 1960 anymore, Juno.
Following last week’s Final Look, the opening scene of Monday’s episode is the perfect combination of suspense and clarity: The camera opens on that oh-so-familiar picture of Norman lying in his mother’s bed, but as the camera pans up from the ground and over his shoulder, we see that Norman is still without Mother. When Norman doesn’t find her elsewhere in the house (following a quick trip to the bathroom to vomit and inspect what appear to be scratches on his shoulder), he spots a book of matches from White Horse Bar next to a telltale pack of cigarettes. We’ll soon find out that though Norman’s been missing Mother, she hasn’t exactly been missing altogether…
But first, the delightful Sheriff Greene would like to have a not-at-all-stressful chat with Norman. In her office, she tells Norman that they’re looking for any leads possible to capture Alex Romero, and given their contentious history, she thought Norman might know something that could help them out, some reason Romero might have been directing his former prison-mate Joe Blackwell toward White Pine Bay. Norman’s all, Mmmmm, can’t think of anything, sheriff, he’s just a lonely, unhappy man I used to know.
Sheriff Greene is very calm and understanding with this young man’s who’s still mourning the loss of his mother, and then it’s time to cut the s—: “What about the visit you made to him 24 hours before he escaped?” Oh, that? That was “a deeply unsatisfied experience, massive mistake,” according to Norman. Romero just stared at him and said nothing: “He looked like a madman, if I’m being honest.” It should be noted that Norman is a disheveled mess, sweating and guzzling water for this entire encounter. The sheriff doesn’t ask any more questions but suggests that Norman might have provoked Romero in that visit. It seems within the realm of possibility.
Norman arrives home screaming, “Mother!” but she’s still not there, so it’s time to check into this White Horse Bar. On the phone, the bartender tells Norman that, yeah, Norma was there last night (I’m listening…) and she left her car in the parking lot all night. So I guess that settles what Norman’s look directly into camera meant last week: Mother had entered the building. A little more ambiguous is the bartender’s response to Norman asking if she was accompanied by a man at the bar: “You mean did she leave with a man? Probably.” I. Am. LISTENING.
Soon after the news that Mother’s car is parked at some random bar, Madeleine calls to apologize to Norman about their friend-date-turned-makeout-session and ends up offering to drive him to his car (it was stolen, you see). He’s a mess on the ride over, but he’s trying to stay calm while Madeleine explains that she doesn’t want Norman to think the dinner was a setup. Norman tells Madeleine he doesn’t judge her; he just thinks she needs to talk to her husband. He says that a number of times, in fact, and by the time they make it to the bar, Madeleine is wondering why he’s so insistent upon her talking to Sam.
Norman finally ‘fesses up that he met Sam before he ever met Madeleine, when he checked into the Bates Motel with another woman. Madeleine is upset that Norman would have known this whole time and not told her, and that anger quickly turns into denial. She says maybe Norman is just trying to push her and Sam further apart, and he needs to get out of her truck. Norman tries to say one more thing, and has Isabelle McNally ever looked more like Vera Farmiga than when she flipped the switch and screamed, “GET OUT OF MY DAMN TRUCK!”
NEXT: Seattle is for lovers
But Norman knows and we know that Sam really is having an affair, and he’s doing it with Marion Crane in a handful of fantastically familiar scenes. After a linger on the Seattle skyline, we’re in Marion Crane’s apartment as she tries to talk Sam Loomis into not going back to Oregon. This new Marion Crane plays a little edgier than the original: for starters, I would like to reiterate that she’s played by world-famous pop star Rihanna, plus she has a fiery red bob and rocks a fashionable-blazer-with-a-twist that Norma Bates herself might envy. The scene with Sam is fun because we know what it’s leading to — and we find out that Marion thinks that Sam has to stay in Oregon because of his “debt” — but it’s not exactly electric.
Things heat up when Marion arrives at her office job, no longer the three-man operation of Psycho’s past but a large real estate operation where Marion is the notary public. Just like in the film, she bustles in late due to her tryst and is rushed into her boss’ office to help him handle a sketchy cash transaction with a pervy client. Marion makes it out of the office after notarizing the documents, seeing “what $400,000 feels like,” and much obnoxious ogling. But her boss stops by her desk to seal his burgled fate: He doesn’t want to keep that much cash in the office over the weekend, so he needs Marion to deposit it at the bank. And after he refuses her request for a promotion or a raise, she says sure, she’ll take the money off his hands.
She’ll put it in a suitcase, throw on her blue hooded velvet cape, pack everything into her red Miata, and take that money right off his hands, and right toward White Pine Bay.
And we all know what’s waiting for her there. That this episode manages to seamlessly incorporate a story we know so well from Psycho with a wallop of a new reveal that is built entirely upon the back of four seasons’ worth of Bates Motel is simply the most I could have hoped for out of this long-awaited transition. That it does all that without so much as a glimpse of Norma/Vera Farmiga is perfectly fitting and, as much as it pains me to admit it, probably all the better for that focus on what Norman and his mind have been getting up to since his mother died…
You might want to hold onto your hats, partners.
Norman finds his car at the White Horse Salon and he heads inside in search of some answers about where Mother has disappeared to. The bartender greets him with an affectionate, “Hey you,” so that’s… interesting. Norman says he’s the one who called about “his friend Norma’s” car, causing the bartender to ask him if he’s okay to drive. Norman just plows through, asking if his good friend might have been there the night before with a man fitting the description: “Dark hair, six-foot, maybe with the look of an escaped convict?” The bartender asks again if Norman is alright, but when Norman insists that he is, he hands over the keys to the car. Inside the car, Norman turns his head to reverse out of the parking space and is greeted in the back seat by a pair of women’s red lace underwear.
I think it’s safe to say this would be a good time for Norman to speak with a therapist. And you know what? He actually looks a little relieved to run into Dr. Edwards, someone I have been dying to have come back on the scene. Much like Caleb, Dr. Edwards is one of the only people who knows that Norman turns into his mother from time to time, but unlike Caleb, Dr. Edwards is equipped to help in a situation like that. In fact, when they sit down to coffee, Norman tells Dr. Edwards that he helped him a lot in their sessions to “face everything at home.” Unfortunately, we know exactly how Norman faced everything once he was out of Dr. Edwards’ care.
Norman tries to tell Dr. Edwards that he doesn’t have blackouts anymore because he takes his medicine, but the doctor seems to sense that both of those things aren’t true. He tells Norman that he’s glad to talk to him because he feels like in their time together, he pushed him too far, too fast, and he’s sorry about that. Though he adds, “We were getting to some pretty interesting stuff when you left.” When Norman inquires what he means, he reminds him that he “pushed [Norman] to remember certain coping mechanisms that [he] had developed over the years to deal with trauma.” Norman looks stunned, recalling back to perhaps his one stint of psychological clarity in the entire series.
Dr. Edwards: Do you have your mother still?
Dr. Edwards: Do you remember what I told you about her?
Norman: Sometimes I see her when she’s not really there… and sometimes I become her.
NEXT: Sometimes I become her…
Freddie Highmore should get an Emmy for his “mm-hmms” in this scene alone. The complexity of remembering that what he accomplished with Dr. Edwards still exists somewhere within him, while still believing that Mother exists somewhere too, while trying to figure out if the last year and a half of his life have been one extended hallucination (and maybe trying to figure just who wore those red underwear last night) all reads loud and clear in Highmore’s tearful eyes, which I swear change color as he dives from one part of Norman’s psyche into the next. But even with the hope of truth lingering between these two men, Norman stutters out, “Well, that doesn’t happen anymore. I just miss her, that’s why I’m upset,” and hustles out of the café.
Because Bates Motel is not a show about hope.
But this episode does dabble in truth. Norman Bates sits in his car whispering, “Sometimes I see Mother when she’s not really there; sometimes I become her,” like a mantra to himself. He walks once more into White Horse Bar, but this time it’s at night, and the place is hopping with regulars looking to enjoy the evening. One of those patrons greets Norman by saying, “Hey, this is a new look for you. I like it.” Tuck that in your pocket and add it to how the bartender from earlier greets Norman: “That was kind of strange today. I’ve never seen you like that before. Take it easy tonight — last night got a little crazy.”
Words like “new look,” “never,” “last night,” and “a little crazy,” are making me — and presumably Norman — wonder a few world-altering things, like: How many times has Norman been to this freaking bar? What is new about his current state of Norman-dress? Why do they all seem to know him as Norma, and how are they reconciling… his current state of Norman-dress?
As Norman is given a whiskey (served neat, sound familiar?), one more employee asks him if he got home okay last night, so he chugs the whiskey and heads to the bathroom for a little water splash to the face that will maybe cure his debilitating blackouts that make him think he’s his mother. Post-splash, as he experiences a flash of what looks like Mother’s blonde head kissing someone in a car, a handsome man approaches him saying, “Hey, I thought I saw you come in,” leaning right in for a kiss on the mouth. Norman dodges. “Come on Norma, you weren’t that drunk,” says the man.
Norman says he doesn’t know what’s happening, but he’s getting flashes of what has happened: legs in thigh-high stockings, that man floating ’round the crotch region of someone who looks like Norma, but who exists in the memories of Norman. The handsome man asks how he can help, and Norman says pitifully, “I need my mother,” and runs out of the bar. But when he gets back to the house, for perhaps the first time in season 5, he rushes through the front door without screaming, “Mother!” Because, at least for now, even Norman knows she isn’t there.
Down the road, a red Miata approaches a neon blue sign; Marion Crane squints through her rain-covered windshield to read what it says: Bates Motel… VACANCY.
Bates & Pieces:
This has become the section of these recaps where we check in on characters that we love who are most likely doomed. Much as last week didn’t feature Dylan’s storyline and was directed by Max Thieriot, this week’s episode didn’t feature the majorly injured Alex Romero, but was directed by the majorly talented Nestor Carbonell.
Remember all that talk about Dylan and Emma raising their baby in an honest household? That comes to bite Dylan in his West-Coast-cool-dad ass this episode, because as good as he’s been to his beloved Emma, there’s one huge thing that he’s been hiding from her: that he finally cut ties with Norma because she wasn’t getting Norman the help he needed, and he realized just how much help Norman needed when he figured out that his half-brother likely killed his now-wife’s estranged mother.
Dylan admits all this to Emma saying, “I was a coward, and I left because I wanted to be with you.” Emma is as upset as you might imagine, and I just want to wrap this little family up in warm blankets, get them in the Witness Protection Program, and zap them with one of those memory erasers from Men in Black.
In her distress, Emma does some Googling — excuse me, Wikifinders-ing — and stumble upon an article: “Norma Bates found dead by sheriff in an attempted murder-suicide.” What are the chances she’ll return the favor and just keep this from Dylan for a while?
Emma before she found out that Norma probably got her own mother killed: “I know that [Norma] is a nut, but how amazing would she be as a grandmother.” Break my heart, why don’t you?
Cameo by Bates Motel co-creator Carlton Cuse as the cop who pulls Marion over! The classic car-switch didn’t make the cut though.
Marion calls Sam to tell him she’s in White Pine Bay and coming to his apartment, and he tells her that he lives in a crappy room-share where he’s not allowed guests. His actual roommate/wife Madeleine overhears: “What’s her name?”
You guys — WHAT HAS MOTHER BEEN UP TO? I simply cannot say enough about introducing the classic story line of Psycho so seamlessly within an episode that features Bates Motel’s most modern, well-earned, and shocking dip into Norman’s psyche yet.
With Marion Crane in the parking lot, and Mother MIA… what’s next for Norman Bates?