With a title like “Meltdown”, you’d think that in this week’s episode (season 2, episode 8) of Bates Motel, there’d be a major event finally pushing Norman over the edge. That’s not really the case; instead, it’s a largely Dylan-centric episode. And even though the series takes another cliffhanger and downplays it, it does a better job than usual of integrating the various plotlines into one coherent episode.
The cliffhanger is, or course, last week’s revelation that Norman’s sperm was found inside Miss Watson’s dead body. Any other series might sensationalize this and make it a focal point of the next episode. But this is Bates Motel, and Sheriff Romero keeps the information under his hat, instead quietly watching Norman, hoping to eventually ease a confession from him. It almost becomes a moot point when the jury declares another man guilty. (I can’t even remember who it is and that detail doesn’t seem important since it’s mentioned only in passing.)
I actually like the approach that is taken. I want to think that Norma and Romero have become close and he’s trying to protect her by protecting Norman. Their familiarity with each other this season supports that theory. On the other hand, Romero wants to learn the truth about what happened and doesn’t shy away from pushing Norman just a little too far, sending him running through the storm into his room where he fondles Miss Watson’s pearls.
You’d think this was going to be the titular meltdown. Give credit to Bates Motel for keeping you guessing. A last minute surprise with Norman actually incorporates Dylan’s story instead. However, it’s another cliffhanger and you never know how important it’s going to be in the next episode.
It’s surprising that Romero even has time to think about Norman since the feud between Nick Ford and the Morgans has become an all-out war. Following last week’s shootout, it’s that situation rather than Norman’s that’s approaching a meltdown. And guess what? Norma is thrust into the middle of it. Nick Ford wants her to arrange a meeting between him and Dylan, so she later walks right into the heart of the Morgan’s operation to talk to him.
This results in a sweet scene between mother and stepson. “Is this your office? It’s nice. I mean, I don’t like the marijuana part…” Norma tells Dylan she’s proud of him and that she doesn’t want him to get hurt ever. It’s another tour de force for Vera Farmiga as she alternates between pride, concern and humor. Always the mother, her final advice to him is to wear appropriate clothing on the job because she’s heard the marijuana can seep into the skin even if you’re not smoking it.
Norma later tells Nick Ford that she couldn’t find Dylan. In a scene between Nick and Norman just prior, Ford notes how close he is to his mother, then uses that information to make a veiled threat to Norma about her family. When she tells Nick that she is not beholden to him, he replies, “You are. You’re just too ignorant to realize it.”
Dylan does later meet with Ford in a location where, he says, “you can’t shoot me”. Ford tells him that Zane Morgan is their mutual problem, but that Dylan can get to him to take him out. “I’m not asking you. You need to do it.” After another veiled threat towards the Bates family, Dylan counters with his own less subtle warning, “Stay away from my mother or I will kill you.” He later seems to get permission from Jodi, who says (while in Dylan’s arms), “If you need to do something about Zane, you can do it.”
Running throughout the entire episode are shorter scenes between Norma and Norman that demonstrate the growing rift between them. He behaves like a brat. In one hilarious encounter, he decorates the foyer with a collection of taxidermy. “I thought you’d like some of my work in the house.” “I’m not sure they go,” Norma replies. “Taxidermy goes with everything. It’s nature. I’m sharing it with you because I love you. Enjoy!”
This drives Norma, well, crazy. To counter her son’s behavior, she accepts an offer for a date from George (who says their friendship is not enough for him), standing up Norman for their “mother/son date” to see Double Indemnity at the Vista. But as things become passionate between them, she flees George’s house, speeding home while crying, “Norman.”
The following scene with Norma and Norman is the best of the episode. When she tells him that she doesn’t like the way he is acting, like he can’t be bothered with her, he asks, “You mean I’m acting like my own person? Like I have secrets of my own?” On the stairs, Norma changes tactics, resulting in the best line of the episode when Norman says, “Yelling didn’t work; here come the tears!”
When Norman locks himself in his room, Norma runs back into George’s arms. He moans, “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time.” “Then do it!” she orders. The next morning, she wakes abruptly in his bed at the same moment that the cliffhanger happens back at the Bates house. And the episode ends.
With only two episodes left, Bates Motel is now on the upswing after a couple average episodes. It’s definitely building to… something, but what will it be? At this point, it seems to be Dylan’s story and the drug war that is front and center; however, all season it has just been simmering on the back burner. I don’t think it’s safe to assume that anything is for certain. This can sometimes be frustrating on the show, but it’s never not entertaining.