Warning: More spoilers than usual in this week’s recap…
The third episode of the third season of Bates Motel, Persuasion, is my favorite of the season so far, if not of the entire series itself. Brilliantly written and directed, it takes the saga of future serial killer Norman Bates to an entirely new level. Not only is it entertaining and frightening, it causes me to rethink what I’ve previously understood about the relationship between Norman (Freddie Highmore) and his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga). However, before we get to the good stuff…
I hate to say I told you so, but I was right about last week’s cliffhanger. The dead body floating in the marsh is not that of Annika Johnson (Tracy Spiradakos). Further, it’s very unlikely that Norman ever met her, much less killed her. However, it does put into the forefront the fact that Norman may have been the last person to see Annika, who is still nowhere to be found. As Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) states when he pays a visit, “I need to talk to Norman in case there’s a connection between Annika and the other girl.”
As you can imagine, Norma tries to cover for her son. With his growing assertiveness, he orders her to leave them alone and go make dinner. “If you need me, I’ll be right here,” she tells him. “Yeah, I know where the kitchen is,” he replies. But what is Norma trying to cover? There’s no evidence that Norman had anything to do with Annika’s disappearance. This doubt that Norma has toward Norman is going to be the catalyst for something big… later in the episode…
Norman’s “interrogation” is funny and again demonstrates Norman’s growing impatience. Romero has to work to get a straight answer:
Romero: “What did you think when she said she was working at a party?”
Norman: “I didn’t think she was a magician.”
Romero: “Women seem to trust you. Blair Watson trusted you.”
Norman: “I like women, maybe from spending so many years close to my mother.”
Romero: “Did Annika seem nervous?”
Norman: “Not more than most women; have you met my mother?”
The verbal sparring concludes with Romero showing Norman a picture of the dead girl. His reply reveals what may be Norman’s true opinion of women, “I’ve never seen that one.” That “one,” not that “girl” or that “woman.” Are all women, except probably his mother, just an object to Norman?
Let’s pause for a moment and get the progress of other subplots out of the way. First of all, Norma returns to school for the first time in 20 years. Ironically, instead of going to Business Marketing 101, she accidentally walks into Psych 101. After arguing with the instructor over a seat and then she realizes her mistake, he asks her, “Are you sure you don’t think Psychology would be a good idea?”
At the time, he’s being sarcastic, but he later apologizes for being a dick. He’s totally serious when he says, “If you’ve been under a lot of stress, maybe I could help.” This could be a good move for Norma, especially after he strikes a chord with her by telling her about his “Secret Club of the Damaged” theory. He believes people who had rough upbringings can sense it from others. We’ll have to see if Norma takes advantage of his kind offer to listen.
Second, besides a new mystery on his hands, Romero has a rough road ahead of him. Not only does he spar with the head of the Arcanum Club, Bob Paris (Kevin Rahm), we learn that the election for sheriff is coming up. Bob obviously won’t back Romero, “What’s worse? Sex parties or letting the town erupt into a drug war?” Romero stands defiant, though, “I’m not going to walk away from this crime because of what went down. No one gets a free pass.”
Marcus Young is running for sheriff and pays Romero a visit, “I thought it would be nice for us to meet.” Romero asks, “Why would that be nice?” Young replies, “So we could talk.” What follows is a conversation full of veiled threats as each man makes his position clear. It concludes with Romero saying, “Glad you could see the office, but it’s the last time you’re going to be here.” Young has to get the last word, though, “Homicides are always tough. Let me know if I can be any assistance.”
Third, Dylan (Max Theriot) is a little more assertive with Caleb (Kenny Johnson). When his father offers to pay for more expensive lumber for the barn, Dylan refuses; he doesn’t want his money. Later, when Caleb buys it anyway, Dylan gets upset with him. “This is my farm. I would have found some way.” Caleb replies, “I knew you would, but I just wanted to do something.” Over a beer, Dylan seems to soften a little.
But that doesn’t mean he’s ready to publicize the fact that Caleb is back in town. When Emma (Olivia Cooke) delivers a VW full of marijuana plants and meets Dylan’s “uncle,” Dylan makes her promise she won’t tell Norma. Emma knows all about Caleb’s reputation and is skeptical, “What’s he like?” Dylan replies, “I never really knew him before. He’s OK.”
Now back to the good stuff… Immediately following Romero’s interrogation of Norman, Norma confronts him, “How can you treat me like that in front of someone? I’m just trying to help you.” Norman replies, “I know exactly what you’re doing.” What does he think she’s doing? From his dominant position on the stairs, Norman shouts, “Maybe you should stop telling lies about me. I wasn’t the last person to see her. I think one of us has a problem and I’m tired of the assumption that it’s me.”
Visibly upset later, Emma offer to talk about it:
Norman: “I don’t think my mother trusts me. She’s always second-guessing me. I just feel outside of her, like she’s annoyed at me all the time, like I can’t do anything right.”
Emma: “Your mother can be a controlling person. Sometimes she’s a little demanding.”
Norman: “She thinks there’s something wrong with me. That I’m bad.”
It’s interesting here that Emma is playing the role of Psychiatrist to Norman when Norma has been invited to see a Psychiatrist.
Emma: “I don’t think she thinks you’re bad. I know you’re not bad. And you know you’re not bad. So you’re not bad. Right?”
Norman: “I don’t know Emma. If someone’s always looking at you like you’ve done something wrong, talking to you like you’ve done something wrong, treating you like you’ve done something wrong, then you start to believe you’ve done something wrong.”
This impromptu counseling session doesn’t soothe Norman, it infuriates him and he loses his temper with Emma. “Stop walking away from me. Calm down,” she implores. And Norman shouts, “I can’t stop! It’s her!”
Inside, Norman’s temper continues to grow worse. Norma asks, “Why are you glaring at me like that?” He replies, “What game are we playing today, Mother?” This brief encounter escalates into a full tilt physical outburst in Norman’s bedroom that sends Norma running. Trying to calm down by washing his face in the bathroom, Norman has his first encounter with the mother he’s created in his head.
This Norma admits to killing Blair Watson. She also reminds him that when he was buried in the hole in the ground, he was able to remember, so maybe he should just crawl in the bathtub and lie under water for a while. When he doesn’t respond to her knocking on the door, the real Norma bursts in to rescue her son from drowning. Norman apologizes and tearfully asks, “What if I did kill her, Mother?”
I always assumed when Norman Bates made his complete personality split, his alter ego would be Norma Bates. But is seems now that it’s really going to be his unique version of his mother, featuring only the qualities he hates and fears about her. This turns the tables completely on who is “good” and “bad” in Bates Motel. I now see Norma as a victim. We know at some point, Norman is going to kill her, but now I’m not so sure it’s going to be deserved.
Besides all of this, Persuasion has its regular moments of Bates Motel humor. When identifying the body of the dead girl at the morgue, she’s willing to do so because she recognizes the toenail polish on her feet. Then, when the cover is pulled back, she seems skeptical that it’s not Annika. Also, we see images of a woman getting dressed up and made up, assuming it’s Annika. When it’s revealed to be Emma, it takes us and Norman by surprise:
“You look good, Emma.”
“Do I?” she asks. “I get bored sometimes with my regular clothes.”
Both of these details reveal volumes about the characters: Norma’s pattern of jumping to conclusions and being stubborn about admitting when she’s wrong, and Emma’s desperation for Norman to like her (not to mention, perhaps, her horniness). Overall, I repeat, this is the best episode of Bates Motel I think I’ve seen yet. If you’ve lost interest or think last season dragged, it’s really stepping up its game now and you shouldn’t be missing it.