There were a few things that needed to happen for Bates Motel, even with such a limited number of episodes per season, for it to be able to continue. Since there’s an obvious endpoint down the line, the question becomes how to expand upon the story in a believable way (for this crazy landscape, anyway). But, also in a narratively satisfying way, one that pays homage to that eventual end, and that has its own, separate stories beforehand. “The Escape Artist” was an episode that beefed up on everything that wasn’t about Norma and Norman’s relationship, which was a welcomed departure story-wise, but emotionally, made the episode less haunting than usual. Hit the jump for more.
Bates Motel has distinguished itself from Psycho through the introduction of characters like Emma and Dylan, who help flesh out the overall story while providing some breaks from Norma and Norman’s relationship, and the driving drug underbelly of White Pine Bay. Without the drug plot, Bates Motel would be flailing right now. The city’s dependency on the trade, but refusal to overtly acknowledge it, not only casts a sinister shadow over everything, but provides the basis for a lot of murder (and allows for murders not directly connected — like those perpetrated by Norma or Norman — to be more easily covered up).
On that front, “The Escape Artist” went a little deeper in the war that we began aware of with the advent of Zane. There are two drug factions in White Pine Bay, but what (and who) each controls is not completely clear. The faction led by Zane’s sister (surprise! A young, hot, female Queenpin), is the one Dylan, Remo, and formerly Shelby and Bradley and her father were connected to. But there was a mention by Zane about “the Ford family,” who he got retaliation on (and who got retaliation on him). Nick Ford, father of Blair, is apparently the Kingpin of that organization, which now Norma is mixed up in. Where Romero stands is unclear, but it seems that the issue of control over more than the drug trade is at stake (as it so often is). Nick Ford wants control of the city government, and he thinks he can get that through Norma (whose self-interest may make her overlook some untimely deaths, like that of Lee Birman).
All of that, while not directly connected to the central story (though Norma and Norman interact with it tangentially throughout the series), is a driving force for what happens around the Bates, and creates situations for them to react to. Emma is even caught up in it with her love affair with the pot seller living in the motel, and Dylan of course was knee-deep in it even before his death wish — mistaken as bravery — gets him into the innermost circles.
The rest of “The Escape Artist” was devoted to cultivating a sense of freedom for Norman. Though he talks about mother mother mother when he’s with Cody, her strength begins to attract him (he says he feels safe with her, which maybe is a weird thing to say, but with Norman is makes sense). He’s also drawn to her brokenness just like he is with Norma. Norma even spelled out, essentially, the parallels between the two of them: Cody may be rude and smoke cigarettes, but she and Norma both came from desperate family situations, and will do whatever necessary to find their freedom as quickly as possible by hitching themselves to the first cart out of town. That’s something Norman needs to be watchful of. And while Cody sneers at Norman that he’s afraid to run away, really, she’s the one who is afraid to strike out on her own.
The sex between Cody and Norman also solidified their bond, and appears to be causing cracks between him and Norma. We know that sex is a trigger for Norman’s violence and blackouts, so the fact he reacted so casually to sleeping with Cody suggests there may be a breakdown just about ready to happen. But between the blackouts, Bates Motel continues to create a creepy sense of place in which to set this offbeat behavior. While “The Escape Artist” might not have provided as many dramatic moments as previous episodes this season, it advanced some of the non-Norma/Norman plots that will help — like the biological study that thwarted the highway — to keep Bates Motel sustained.
Episode Rating: B
Musings and Miscellanea:
— I like how the show plays down the drama with humor in small ways, like when Cody suggests they run away immediately, and Norman says with a smile that while that could be fun, this mother would put out an Amber Alert immediately.
— Norman: “He sells pot.” Emma: “Nobody’s perfect.”
— Norma’s speech about Cody hit all of the right notes.
— Awww Emma Googling “first sex experience” (or whatever keywords she put in). Lord help her regarding what she found … I’m interested to see where this plot goes, because as much as I adore Emma’s character, they haven’t really made her necessary this year, or very connected with the central story. This makes me think her love affair is going to have a bad end in service to another arc.
— The fact that Nick’s boat is called “Amnesia” …
— Norma and Romero (“the Big Daddy of White Pine Bay”) bonding is a good thing, it’s been earned since the first season (as something to develop slowly and warily, particularly on his part).
— I thought there might be a twist that Remo had torched Romero’s house to implicate Zane and get him gone, but it appears Zane was indeed the culprit (at least, he hired someone to do it). Bringing in his sister as the boss, and how that will connect with Dylan … is there another ill-fated love affair in the wings?
— “Omg you smiled, I thought your face was paralyzed!” – Norma.