In “Plunge,” Bates Motel starts the complicated unraveling of Norman. There have been hints that have burst through the placid surface of how Norman would develop into the man known from Psycho, but the series has shown great restraint in keeping his weirdness present, without making it the only thing. The expansion into the town of White Pine Bay continued this hour, with Dylan learning more about the business he’s a part of, and Norma making a play for the city council. But the most shocking thing about Norman’s contribution to his own story this week was how it wasn’t shocking at all. In a town like White Pine Bay, his actions (and reactions) should barely register. Still, it makes his desire for anonymity that much harder. Hit the jump for why, judging by the company you keep, I know all I need to know.
There are plenty of killers on TV who lead double lives. Some do it because they cannot control their impulses (like Dexter), while others do it as part of an elaborate game (Hannibal Lecter). Their success is based on hiding (and feeding) that part of themselves while deceiving those around them. The Dexter approach (at least initially) was to become as invisible and unassuming as possible. Hannibal, on the other hand, inserts himself full into the fray, creating his own scapegoat to both attract and deflect attention. In many ways, Norman is like Will Graham from Hannibal who, though not a killer, cannot initially keep his inner life and waking life separated. Will supposedly blacks out and commits crimes, and can’t remember or believe he did them, because, well, he didn’t. Norman, on the other hand, blacks out and remembers nothing, but is ultimately guilty.
For Norman, hiding this dark part of himself is becoming increasingly difficult. It’s known by the women in his life (Norma, Cody and Emma), and by Dylan to a certain extent, but unknown fully to himself. He suspects something, but he’s protected in a way that doesn’t allow him to understand the enormity and significance of his fugue states. In the next episode, it looks like this could all come to light, which means Norman has a choice about how to repress or control his impulses once he begins to understand them. At that point, Bates Motel could turn into a very different (and still very interesting) show (and since it’s been officially renewed for a third season, it will have the opportunity to explore that).
Norman’s trigger is victimization, and so it’s at its most extreme when violence is involved. Norman and Emma haven’t even been particularly close this season, but when she almost dies he blames Cody’s goading, seeing the fragile and kind Emma as an ultimate victim. His intensity over saving her, which he is concerned about and apologizes for later, is juxtaposed nicely in the scene where Emma comes to thank him. He nods and brushes off her overtures, and then says, “I’ve got to get back to working on my crow.” Norman’s obsession with taxidermy is another way to “save” victims of unjust death. He didn’t get to them in time to save them, so he will preserve them in a way that honors them even in death.
What was so interesting about Norman killing Cody’s father was not that it happened, but how it happened. The foreshadowing for this had been extremely strong — Norman blacked out with Cody sometimes because of his issues, but sometimes because of hers. Despite her toughness, he saw her fear and her brokenness regarding her father. When they hid in the closet, the flashback showed Norman in a closet with Norma before she was beaten by Norman’s father. It was no surprise then that when Cody’s father was aggressive with them both, and then violent with Cody, that Norman would react. But like with Caleb and Dylan, jut because Norman goes into a rage doesn’t mean it will come to anything. Instead, he almost got lucky. As Cody’s father faltered and fell down the stairs to his death (presumably), Norman’s reaction seemed pretty normal. He went to help his friend in a bad situation, and something even worse happened. He didn’t strangle him or bludgeon him to death. He tried to help, and an accident occurred.
That kind of ambiguity is important at this point in Bates Motel. We know that at this point Norman is capable of murder. But we haven’t necessarily seen him commit it viscerally, only tangentially. The whole thing might have been overlooked had Norman not also been having the blackouts as witnessed by Cody. And here, as shown in the preview for the next episode, is where Norma comes in. Norman may have protected Cody, but Norma will protect Norman at all costs. Since Cody is already a wedge between them, it seems like her knowledge and relationship of and with the Bates may be her worst decision yet.
Episode Rating: B+
Musings and Miscellanea:
— “I didn’t raise you to be all kids your age, I raised you to be better” – Norma.
— Norma sabotaging Norman’s driving test in the name of safety because of his blackouts was a great moment, and an important turning point.
— Once again, I just have to say how much I love the conversations among the teenagers on this show. Cody especially, particularly in her conversation with Emma. So naturally awkward and halting, it’s great.
— I’m interested to see what connection Christine and George have to everything. It’s obvious that their influence, along with Nick’s, inspires fear. Norma’s face after the Mayor told her pointedly (and repeatedly) never to cross Nick Ford was fantastic.
— Vera Farmiga for all the awards. Norma in this episode was all over the place, and it was great: her vacant look when addressing Romero about the council (yet her reaction when he mentioned he could see through her drapes — and his reaction as well), her excitement over getting the council set, but her flubbing part of the interview, the confrontation with Cody — that entire sequence, from her with her flowers, in her apron, then running down the stairs with her wedges and jumping out in front of Cody’s car — everything is perfect.
— Not sure what to make of Dylan and Zane’s sister, but not overly impressed with how it all played out so obviously. Nice touch to have her listening to Phish in the car, though. Also the goat!
— “He leaves his body. He can move and talk a little, but he’s not there” – Cody.