Bates Motel premiere recap: 'Dark Paradise'
When it comes to a force of nature like Norma Bates… you just knew she couldn’t stay dead for long. Though often controlling, needy, and ripping people out of cars, the Norma Bates of Bates Motel was always a charmer: an eccentric woman who loved too much and spread that love around too little. Even at her worst, she was a far cry from the degrading shrew of a Mother in Pyscho who showed up for butcher knife shower sessions anytime her son so much as shared a sandwich with a woman.
Season 5 of Bates Motel is likely where we bridge that gap. Because if the final two episodes of season 4 made one thing clear, it’s that Norma Bates — superglued eyelids be damned — is quite dead. And what we know from Psycho is that her Mother persona lives on in her tragic son, Norman Bates. The first four seasons of Bates Motel made a meal (a rich, delicious, kitchen-wrecking, home-cooked meal) of laying out how that transition could have happened to a sweet co-sleeping mother/son pair like Norman and Norma Bates. What Monday’s excellent season 5 premiere seeks to explain is why.
To quote the totally credible psychologist from Psycho, “Matricide is probably the most unbearable crime of all — most unbearable to the son who commits it.” Indeed, if you killed your mother and then resurrected her in your mind only to keep her trapped in a Queen Anne prison of your own making, you’d probably need a pretty good explanation as to why you might have done such a thing. And Bates Motel wastes no time explaining how Norman can explain that his Mother is dead to outside world but very much alive to him: She faked her own death to protect her son: “So I could get away from everyone and everything that could distract me from you.”
That’s right: Norman Bates is now living for two. And, shockingly, being together-alone-forever (a Batesian term if ever there was one) isn’t always the paradise Mother and Son predicted…
Season 5 opens with Norman waking up to Bing Cosby’s “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” playing on the record player: “Does your mother realize / The stork delivered quite a prize.” She must! Because she’s right there in the kitchen cooking Norman a beautiful breakfast. And you know who else is running around? Juno the Dead Dog, that furry little harbinger of CrazyTown. Because you know and I know and everyone but Norman knows that Norma is dead. The woman cooking him breakfast is a psychological split: Mother only exists in Norman’s mind, and there, she can coexist with him, or, when driven to, she can take over him completely.
But typically, when Norman leaves the house to go manage the Bates Motel with his big boy “Manager” pin, he heads outside of this reality of his own making, out to a world where Norma Bates is still dead. The shots of Norman walking away from a beautiful meal cooked by Mother, only to reveal a wrecked kitchen left behind by Norman-acting-as-Norma are chilling, not just because of the mess, but because they’re a visual description of just how deep and false a world Norman has created for himself — er, themselves — within the confines of the Bates property.
Out in the village of White Pine Bay, however, Norman Bates seems just your average small business owner with an affinity for sports jackets. At the new hardware store, locals greet him by name, and shop owners are charmed by him. Unfortunately, said shop owner Madeline Loomis (Loomis!) bears a striking resemblance to Norma from behind, is a Very Nice Girl, and is therefore likely doomed to meet a gruesome end. But for now, she’s very helpful to Norman in picking out paint samples that his mother would have liked — she passed about a year and a half back, you see — until Norman pulls out his wallet to discover that it’s not his wallet at all.
Back at the house, Norman informs Mother that he has someone else’s wallet and doesn’t know how he got it, and Mother says she doesn’t know either and continues vacuuming sketchily. If you were worried that the death of Norma would mean less of Queen Vera Farmiga and her bar-setting performance, look no further than this exchange:
Norman: “Mother, do you ever have the feeling that you’ve had the same nightmare over and over again? But that you can’t remember it, you just remember the feeling of it?”
Norma lives on in Mother; it’s just that Mother lives on in Norman. That means there’s a whole other layer for Vera Farmiga to sing her teeth into, but it will likely also take a few episodes for the show to lay out just who Mother is and how she’s different than Norma now that she exists solely in Norman’s psyche.
NEXT: Fancy seeing you here David Davidson…if that IS your real name!
After Mother tells him to just tuck the wallet away in case it belonged to a motel guest, he pours over the guest book to try and find a Joe Blackwell. No dice. But he finds a gas receipt in the wallet and then pours over his own personal moleskin day planner to see what he was up to during that fill-up. And, as he seems to be at least once or twice a week according to his calendar, he was brain-deep in a “BLACKOUT!!” Also purchased during the October 16th blackout timeframe: a substance called Luminol, which Norman is informing Northwest Science Supply he did not order. But there’s no time to dispute every charge made during a dissociative mental break, because the Bates Motel has a new customer!
The man asks for a room for a few hours, and when Norman’s eyes go decidedly darker and he refuses — the Bates Motel is not that kind of establishment — the man says he’ll take a room for a night. He gives the name “David Davidson” and, along with a woman we can’t see, heads into Room 1. And you know what Room 1 means: voyeur, party of one!
Norman sidles up to his peephole and watches as the mystery couple begins to get intimate. About the time you hear more than one man’s belt jingling, Mother phones from the house: “Norman, what are you doing?” Yes, what are you doing, Norman? The Norman of season 5, the one who has a mental timeshare with his Mother, seems throughout most of the premiere like the sweet but confused boy we met in the series premiere, before he was dragged fully and deeply into his unique mental illness. But here, with this sketchy new motel guest, we get a glimpse of the Norman who emerged in later seasons, the one who came at Sherriff Romero with an axe for daring to love his mother as much as he did.
And speaking of Alex Romero, he’s still in prison for lying to the DEA one time, but he’s using that time to get jacked, and judging by the photo of Norma and him on his cell wall, revenge on her murderer is probably his most immediate get-out-of-jail goal.
Not much time is spent on characters other than Norman and Mother tonight, and that makes sense: they went through all of this to be together, after all, and their insular world is all the more vivid for lack of distractions. But of course the premiere has to check up on resident audience surrogates Dylan and Emma, and if you thought they couldn’t get any more heartbreakingly adorable, picture this: Dylan grilling out in a grown man button-down because they’re celebrating Emma’s birthday with their adult Seattle friends… oh, and they have a baby.
A baby! For these two who always felt on the outside of the Bates family, now happy as their own little unit. Yes, Emma is younger than you might have expected for her and her new lungs to have a baby, but living a little outside of reality is all part of the Bates Motel charm. And just when it seems like nothing could ruin this idyllic little setup…
Caleb shows up for an unannounced visit, as he does. Caleb is a complicated character in the Bates Motel canon, but I usually try to look at him through Dylan’s eyes, and right now Dylan is getting the feeling Caleb wants to move to Seattle to be close to them. And he doesn’t know how to turn him away not only because he knows they’re the only family he has, but because — confession time — Caleb once risked his life to get $50,000 for Emma to have lung transplant surgery. Emma is incredibly grateful for that, and she tells Caleb as much when she runs into him in the kitchen getting a late night snack. She tells him that she never dreamed of having a life like this, she grew up knowing she was going to die, and he changed that for her: “But you have to leave. It kills me to say this, but you being here is going to force Dylan to live a lie with his daughter every time you’re in the house.”
Caleb accepts her gratitude, and he accepts that he has to leave. But for some parental sacrifices, mere appreciation isn’t enough…
After all, Norma Bates died for her son.
In a simply epic dinner scene that alleviates any worry that the dynamic characters of Mother-and-Son might lose anything now that they’re existing in the same psyche, the idyllic façade of the reality Norman has built for himself and his Mother begins to show its cracks. He arrives back home from his peep-sesh to a beautiful dinner table set by Mother and some nice dinner table conversation, like Mother demanding to know who the “she” is who helped Norman pick out paint samples at the hardware store is (it’s the very yellow Norma would have picked out herself, though, can you believe it?).
And that’s when you know things are going to s—, because “shes” have never gone over very well with Norman and his mother, especially not now that we’re witnessing the Mother of Norman’s own making, the one who is his exaggeration of her goodness, and, likely, his exaggeration of her worst qualities, as well. Norman describes Madeline as “just a woman” and “very nice,” which might as well be “whore” and “trying to steal me from you.” As Mother asks more questions, Norman gets more frustrated with the inquisition and snaps, “What’s wrong with you?”
NEXT: For the good of the family…
That’s when he gets the little speech about her faking her own death in order to “get away from everyone that could distract me from you.” But it goes deeper than that; Norman’s insistence that he’s appreciative of the sacrifice just sets Mother off more. It isn’t enough: “I literally gave up my life to protect you, to give you a life without trouble… you just can’t have other people in your life, especially women. You’ll just make my job harder.” And what’s that job, you ask?
Even Norman, in the grips of his mental illness, can hear the menace in that. That night, lying in Norma’s old bed, staring at sleeping Mother, he can’t fall asleep. He gets up from the bed, and as he walks away, we see that the bed is empty, that there are clothes, and trash, and empty Luminol bottles scattered everywhere. He goes to the basement, opens the door to a back room, and cuddles up to the lap of Norma’s preserved corpse, decked out in a gown and fur stole. And while this image is affectingly creepy, especially coupled with all the other weird s— Norman gets up to in that basement (taxidermy, murder by furnace, etc.), I hope for a little more explanation further down the road about just how Norman’s psyche explains Norma’s corpse in the basement and Mother’s body in his bed.
But every single thing can’t fit into one premiere; there’s a body to be dumped, after all! Madeline shows up unannounced to drop off some paint and tells Norman about a meeting for small business owners in town that night. When he tries to go, Mother informs him that’s not happening. He can’t drive — he has blackouts. It’s an excuse that Norman has already had wielded at him by Alive Norma, and it’s his breaking point here. He takes the keys anyway, storms out of the house, throws the car in reverse and —
She’s standing behind the car, though we never saw her come down the steps. Norman tells her she has to get back inside — she’s supposed to be dead — but Mother informs him that if he’s not playing by the rules, she isn’t either. And then she says this doozy: “Norman, you do not have autonomy here.”
In a theme that’s reiterated over and over in the premiere, Mother tells Norman that she knows him better then anyone… better than he knows himself: “I know what you’re doing, and I know why you’re doing it… and that’s why you make me so angry. Because you keep doing s— that just makes more work for me. Asking me questions that I can’t give you answers to because I’m just trying to take care of you.”
Norman bites back that he didn’t ask her to take care of him, and that’s how Norman Bates winds up being marched back up to the house by his ear to see just how much his Mother has to take care of him. How much? Body-of-Joe-Blackwell-in-the-freezer much!
Between Norman’s flashbacks and Mother’s explanation, we see that while Norman was hanging up the new shower curtains, a man showed up with a gun. Mother showed up — “How did you get in the room so quickly? Why were you even outside?” — and did her job: She protected Norman. She can’t answer questions about how and why. She can only tell Norman what she knows for sure: “The world is full of bad people, and we cannot trust anyone from the outside. It is you and me, Norman, that is all we have. We would die without each other.”
And they’ve long committed to killing for each other. Per Norman, “Well, it’s not like we haven’t done this before; we just gotta get rid of him.”
To the tune of — not kidding — “At Last” by Etta James, Norman pulls a plastic shower liner from a suspiciously large stack of them, and Mother and Son get to work wrapping Joe up and canoeing him out into the middle of the lake. Mother talks about nature and about how they’re just trying to survive. Then Joe’s phone starts ringing, and at least one of Norman’s many questions from the premiere is answered. Joe, the man who attempted to shoot Norman, is receiving a call from an inmate at the Bay Correctional Facility… and that inmate is Alex Romero
Bates & Pieces:
- Soooo, that adulterous man at the hotel was Sam, right? As in SAM Sam? As in like husband of Madeline Loomus Sam???
- Norman stress-eats candy corn.
- And Norman’s Mother gives goodbye kisses straight on the mouth; are you shocked?
- A few chilling and thrilling images: used lipsticks on the vanity in a quick flash of reality, Mother lurking in the second story window as Norman talks to Madeline.
- The genius of this show and of Freddie Highmore’s performance is that every time Norman meets a sweet blonde woman I still briefly hope that he might hit it off with her, until I remember what Norman hitting it off with a sweet blonde woman means for that sweet blonde woman, and an angry chill runs up my spine. Congratulations, you’ve done it again, Bates Motel!
- Mother demands to know what would happen if he brought someone in the house: “I mean what am I going to do, go in a closet?” Of course not, Norma, you’ll go in the fruit cellar!
- “I’m just coming, I’ll be right there!” Bates Motel, WHY YOU PLAYIN’?!