For most of the penultimate episode of the second season of Bates Motel, Norman is locked inside a coffin-sized box following his abduction by Nick Ford and his goonies. While that may seem like the literal inspiration for the episode’s title, “The Box”, every other character finds him or herself inside a more figurative box. And they’re all desperate to get out of them, creating tension and suspense leading into next week’s season finale.
You’d think that keeping Norman isolated for an entire episode would limit the development of his character or storyline. But think about it… Where better to face his demons than in an environment where he’s forced to confront them himself? This elicits a wide range of emotions, beginning with rage; we haven’t yet seen a violent outburst like the one at the beginning of the episode when he first tries to get out of the box.
Next, he goes into some kind of trance where he recites… I don’t know what… until Ford’s men appear to give him food and water. After a failed attempt at escape, Norman experiences a “vision” where Norma comforts him, “I’m always with you. Everyone’s mother lives inside them.”
Finally, Norman has a flashback to the night of Miss Watson’s murder. While having sex with her, Norma’s voice whispers, “Norman, you know what you have to do.” Then, looking in a mirror, he hears, “I’m always with you” as the reflection alternates between mother and son. The episode ends with Norman screaming from the confines of his dark, wet prison. He seems to realize that he killed Miss Watson. But did he? Or has he simply convinced himself that he did?
Note: In a conference call Monday afternoon, Bates Motel creator Carlton Cuse and series star Freddie Highmore teased the season finale, promising that we will get a definitive answer about the murder of Miss Watson. Downright Creepy participated in this call and will have a report for you later in the week.
Meanwhile, Norma feels powerless inside her figurative box because, just as she’s received the “ransom” threat from Nick Ford, Sheriff Romero pressures her to allow Norman to be given a polygraph test. She delivers Ford’s message to Dylan, but later collapses inside her front door, having what I assume to be a panic attack. And the only thing that provides her relief is to leave Norman a voice message, “I love you more than anything on this earth or in Heaven. Know that.”
The only way Romero thinks he can escape from his figurative box is to learn the truth about Miss Watson’s murder. I don’t get the impression he will necessarily do anything with that truth; he states in this episode that a “real scumbag” has already been put away. But he tells his father’s ex-partner, who will administer the polygraph because he can always “ferret out the truth”, “I have to know what happened. I need to know.”
Dylan’s figurative box is likely the most difficult one to escape. In order to save Norman, he must kill Zane Morgan. When Norma first tells him about the “ransom”, they blame each other for the situation. Norma, “What do you have to do? I’ll help you.” Dylan, “You can’t help me. He wants me to kill my boss.” Norma, calm and collected after a pause, “Well then, you have to do it. There’s no other choice. Do you want Norman to die?” What ultimately happens is quite unexpected and leaves some question about Norman ever being released, providing the episode’s real cliffhanger leading into the season finale.
Poor Emma… In the case of another Bates Motel character disappearing without notice (unless I missed it), her boy toy has been strangely absent in the last few episodes. And she’s become very unhappy. Always in the middle of the Bates family drama, but never a real part of it, she whines to Romero, “I’m a person with brains. Why does everyone ignore me?”
This bothers her so much that she’s now inside a figurative box that she feels she must escape. She gives Norma two weeks’ notice. “It’s a family business. In some ways I feel like I’m part of the family. In some ways I’m not. You’d be better off without me always asking questions… wanting to feel included.” I don’t know what response she expected, but Norma basically wishes her well and Emma looks devastated.
Note: In the aforementioned conference call, I asked actor Freddie Highmore about the women in Norman Bates’ life. He teased that there would be a development in his relationship with Emma in the season finale. Check back later in the week for his complete response.
All in all, this was another strong episode of Bates Motel. I’ve been a little hard on the show from time to time for dropping characters and storylines, but I am impressed that “gone” does not necessarily mean “forgotten”. We don’t have to see a person every week, or address a plot point in every episode as long as they ultimately return to push Norman, Norma, Dylan, Romero and Emma further. Looking back on the entirety of season two (so far), I’m actually quite impressed about how it’s all coming together. And I can’t wait to see how it all ends.