‘Bates Motel’ recap: ‘Hidden’
Bates Motel has this glorious, infuriating way of letting me get through an entire episode thinking I’m going to shape my recap around one central idea, and then in the last minute — sometimes in the last second — completely redirecting everything I thought I understood. Which is to say: THAT LOOK. That look! That final literally-Psycho look cut me to the core, it stared into my soul, and it said, “Good luck ever figuring me out.”
Because here’s what I saw the rest of the episode (which was, by the way, very good, and directed by our very own puppy-dog-eyed, beer-distributin’ Good Son, Max Thieriot): as Freddie Highmore’s Norman increasingly takes on a more central and dynamic role in season 5 — as opposed to the more shared lead of season’s past, a transition we knew must be made from the moment Norma Bates died — it’s easy to feel sympathy for his situation, to feel like, if this small business owner could just get some help, he might be able to tamp down that tendency to, y’know… murder people.
In Norma’s absence, Vera Farmiga is still with us as Mother, of course, jutting out of stair wells, and peering over kitchen islands to ask what the hell is goin’ on here. But we know, and Chick knows, and Norman does not know, that Mother is a creation of Norman’s mind. Mother does not exist without Norman, and that seems to give Norman some semblance of power. What Monday’s episode reminds us over and over again is that Norman is not in charge here.
From the very beginning, Bates Motel has told the story of a power struggle between three often indistinct personalities: Norma Bates, Norman Bates, and Mother. Norman’s channeling of his other personality has been covered up by blackouts, it’s been tamped down by medicine, and, before she drew her last breath, Norma, ironically, was always the one thing that stood between her son and his full descent into… her. But with Norma no longer protecting Norman, there’s nothing stopping Mother from protecting him — certainly not Norman.
But for such a tragic, tragic tale, this episode sure had its funny moments, too, starting with rapport between Chick, Norman, and Mother shortly after killing — yes, he’s definitely dead — Caleb. See, Norman thinks they should call the sheriff since the actual killing of Caleb was an accident. Of note, while saying this, Norman is waving around a gun (a gun we last saw “Mother” shooting at Caleb with). Mother and Chick, however are of the same mind that they need to ditch the body and not tell anyone on account of Caleb recently being locked in their basement, a basement that really doesn’t need to be inspected to thoroughly. Of course, Chick can’t hear that Mother agrees with him, and also, Mother is a figment of Norman’s psyche. You can imagine the dynamics that are being drawn here.
Mother and Chick win the argument, so Chick and Norman load Caleb’s body into Chick’s car shortly before removing the groceries he’s just bought — “I want to make when I get back for dinner” — and Chick promises to take care of it. For Chick, taking care of it means giving Caleb a full Viking funeral. He wraps him up in a sheet on a raft filled with greenery, lays flowers on his bare chest, lights the pyre, and sends him out onto the lake. It’s rather beautiful. On a different show, I think we might’ve called these two frenemies.
As for Norman, he says he and Chick can be only just friends. It’s a classic it’s-not-you-it’s-me-and-my-dead-mom situation. He’s very appreciative — a word he’s very fond of these days — of all the help Chick has given to him and Mother, but adding one more person to the mix has made an already tricky dynamic even trickier. They can still be friends, Norman insists, but Chick can’t live there anymore. And he can still come over, but not anytime soon. Chick, who knows quite a bit about Norman, seems a bit salty to say the least, and leaves him with these words: You might want to cook up that chicken I brought over last night… or it goes bad. It goes real bad.”
And speaking of real bad, there’s a new sheriff in town, and she seems like one sharp shooter, figuratively and I’ll bet literally. Sheriff Jane Green swings by Norman’s house to ask him if he knows anything about the whereabouts of Joe Blackwell. This episode has a lot of juicy callbacks to previous seasons (as well as juicy foreshadowing to Psycho), but possibly my favorites are the scenes between Norman and Sheriff Green that so mirror former scenes between early-seasons Norma and Sheriff Romero: how they juxtapose these four very different characters and the way they mount attacks and defenses.
Sheriff Green shows up at Norman’s door for information about Blackwell because it seems he skipped his parole, and when his parole officer checked his house, he found Norman’s address written on a slip of paper. It also seems that Blackwell recently served jail time in the same facility as Norman’s stepfather, Alex Romero, who, by the way, recently escaped from said facility.
The sheriff delivers all of this information with a kind of measured nonchalance, while Norman receives it with a barely hidden building terror. The sheriff says it’s the timing that concerns her — what could Romero want to get to so badly that he couldn’t wait two years to get off a work farm, and why might Blackwell have been headed to the Bates Motel? Norman insists there’s nothing in his house he doesn’t know about (as we scream in unison, Kid, there are things in your own MIND you don’t know about), and the sheriff calmly reminds him that he told her just moments ago that he was working on de-cluttering his house because he couldn’t keep up with everything he has.