As many good things as episode 503 of Bates Motel (“Bad Blood”) contained, it still felt overall like it was treading water. Granted, the cliffhanger from last week is a tough act to follow, when Caleb (Kenny Johnson) and Chick (Ryan Hurst) discovered Norma, in the form of Norman (Freddie Highmore) in a blonde wig, in the basement. However, the entire episode deals with the fallout of this discovery and does very little else to advance the actual Psycho story, which was building so amazingly until now.
I hate to say it, but Norman in a wig is not as creepy as Norman simply casting the reflection of his mother (Vera Farmiga) in a mirror. Highmore doesn’t necessarily do a lesser job of acting, but with “props,” his performance is less effective. He’s more confident as Norma when she’s less showy. In wig and dress, he appears more frazzled or confused. Frankly, he/she is less threatening. Perhaps that’s why both Caleb and Chick think they can survive by acknowledging “her,” sweet-talking her, and shifting blame to her son.
This is Johnson’s time to shine and his is the performance of the night, accompanied by flashbacks to the siblings’ childhood. Caleb, of course, has a deeply personal history with Norma. He’s not only her brother, but also the father of her other son, Dylan (Max Thieriot), of whom we see neither hide nor hair in this episode. We could say that their love is “special.” Regardless of his crimes, Norma loves Caleb and can do him no harm, so she commands Norman to kill him. Whether or not he’s successful is something I won’t spoil now.
Chick’s motives are more ambiguous. He must exist, at least in part, in survival mode. But remember there’s no love lost between him and Caleb, so rather than facilitate his escape, he tells him he’s just an observer who doesn’t feel like he has the “authority” to help him. “I unexpectedly found myself caught up in your family drama.” However, he’s also an opportunist who’s down on his luck. His reason for hanging around becomes clearer as the episode progresses, even though he possesses the most freedom to get out.
Elsewhere, Alex (Nestor Carbonell) comes closer to an eventual confrontation with Norman. Clearly, the incarcerated former sheriff has engineered his transfer to another facility so that he can escape. However, it’s not as easy as it sounds, and he faces obstacle after obstacle in actually reaching his ultimate destination. How you accept his role in the series at this point, as well as what happens to him at the end of the episode, may depend upon whom you see as the protagonist of the story. If you’re cheering for Alex, it’s a tough fight during this round.
There’s a brief appearance by Madeleine (Isabelle McNally). A humorous exchange between her and Norman reinforces her physical similarity to Norma. However, there’s only mention of Sam (Austin Nichols) following the previous two episodes’ build-up and shocking reveal that the man who’s cheating on his wife with whom we assume to be Marion Crane (Rihanna… yet to appear) is actually Madeleine’s husband. That’s the story in which I’m interested, although I appreciate the show’s dedication to resolving the fates of the other secondary characters it has introduced.