“He’s not a bad person; he’s not a criminal… he’s crazy.”
Jodi Walker writes: Appropriately on National Sibling Day, Dylan continues his streak of plainly (and finally) stating facts about his brother Norman that we’ve all been screaming at our screens in vain for five seasons now. Norman Bates is not inherently a bad or evil person. The Norman we have come to know is the product of a mental illness that he cannot control and that his mother was unwilling to attempt to control with appropriate measures for far too long. No, Dylan’s phrasing is not the most sensitive — Chick would tell him “crazy” is a word the world tosses around a little too often — but that’s because Dylan is ignorant to exactly what’s wrong with his brother.
This is what Dylan knows: that Norman sometimes flips a switch and seems to be possessed into thinking he is their mother, Norma; that Norman killed his father, probably killed Emma’s mother; that the list probably doesn’t stop there. Dylan knows that Norman is crazy. But the most important thing Dylan knows is that with help, Norman can get better. It is a hope — a sweet hope, the hope of a brother, a hope that could only be born from the deepest familial love — that is seeming more and more like it will get Dylan killed.
Bates Motel might not be the most realistic or nuanced story of mental illness on television, but it does take one angle very seriously: People cannot control their minds, but their minds can most certainly control them if left untended. Mother can take Norman over entirely — wear him like a peter-pan-collared dressing gown. Mother is the villain of this story; Monday’s episode (directed to freaky-deaky perfection by all-grown-up Freddie Highmore) makes that perfectly clear. And the painful, invigorating, completely conflicting hell and heaven of watching this series is that Norman has the potential to be this story’s hero. Every time Mother takes over, I want Norman to be stronger, I want him to batten down the hatches and resist.
But that’s not how it works. Mother doesn’t take over Norman because he’s weak or because he’s innately bad — Mother takes over Norman because she exists. As long as Norman isn’t medicated, Mother will exist; as long as Mother exists, he is likely to not be medicated; and as long as Mother exists and Norman is not medicated, Norman can never be the hero of this story, merely one of its many, many victims. Norman isn’t a bad person, he’s not a criminal — he’s crazy.
At the beginning of this episode, no one is more aware of that fact than Norman Bates himself, who is trying so desperately to do the right thing. Sheriff Greene and the police are at his house following his call last week confessing to the murder of Sam Loomis. As Sheriff Greene speaks to him, he has his eyes closed; he opens them and sees Mother; he closes them, opens them again, and she is gone; he begs Sheriff Greene to get his meds from Dylan. She promises to do so, but before giving them to him, she puts him in an interrogation room down at the station.
And so begins the first of this episode’s many incredible scenes between Norman and the many strong-willed women in his life, both old and new. As a calm and patient presence, Sheriff Greene has served as a thrilling counterpoint for Mother all season, one that reaches brand new heights when she comes face to face with the woman (er, dissociative woman personality) herself. But for now, Greene is talking to Norman, and she doesn’t love what she’s hearing. Norman says he dumped the body in a well, but he keeps pointing to different spots on the map to show her where that well is and generally doesn’t seem too confident in the facts of his own story. When the sheriff asks if Norman also killed the two people they found in the lake — Joe Blackwell and an unidentified female — he tells her, “It’s possible … there’s a lot that I don’t know, Sheriff, a lot that I try very hard to understand, and I just never can.”
But Sheriff Greene has her own theory: She thinks he’s making it up. That his crazy mother died tragically, leaving him to “develop this strange adult affect to present maturity” when he’s really still a child. “And children sometimes act out. Almost always because they feel ignored.” It’s incredible how right and wrong one person can be at the same time. (The writing from Erica Lipez is particularly elegant this week, and Brooke Smith’s unreadable calm as Sheriff Greene knocks it out of the park in a series already so packed with dynamic performances.) Norman tells Greene she’s not wrong about the psychological analysis, but he did kill Sam Loomis: “I watched his eyes go blank. I did — me, Norman.” It’s really the only thing he’s sure of.
And so Norman is sent to a holding cell and finally given his meds, which he gulps down as quickly as he can. For most of the scene between Norman and the sheriff, there was an analog clock reflected in the two-way mirror right over their heads, marking the passing time… counting down the seconds until Norman would be away from Sheriff Greene. Until he’d no longer be in control. In what has become a classic Bates Motel move, the camera pans over Norman’s shoulder to reveal an icy blue stare waiting for him, reminding us that our protagonist is rarely without his antagonist. … (read more)