Last week saw the merging of two mythologies in “Bates Motel,” as the iconic narrative of “Psycho” met the modern twist on Norman Bates we know today. “Inseparable” (Apr. 3) isn’t just the inevitable aftermath of such a high-impact interpretation of canon, but the last thrillride climb leading into the show’s final, breathless drop.
And in a plot twist of its own, this episode we get a peek at just what might be coming for Norman (episode writer Freddie Highmore): With a number of outside forces drawing ever closer on the motel ready to take Norman down, could it be his own, fading grasp on reality that turns him in?
The episode starts off where it left last week, with Sam Loomis (Austin Nichols) lying naked, hunched over the lip of the shower, freshly stabbed to death, Norman hugging the wall, still panting and trying to put together what exactly he’s just done. Mother (Vera Farmiga) steps in, ready to take control as she normally does: Firm and with a sort of Midwestern sweetness that belies the shocking, bleak things she says.
It’s only as they’re driving Sam’s body to the lake that the reality of what’s happened sets in: “I’ve just killed someone, Mother,” Norman hiccups, and annoyed at his sudden need to analyze the meaning of life, Norma brushes him off: They still have a lot of work to do. As they pull up to their original dumping ground, the lake, and see a sheriff’s boat pulling a body out of the water, they realize just how much.
Plan B is to drag the body up into the woods to an abandoned well, and dump it there. At the well, Loomis’ body is half over the ledge when Norman has a moment of clarity and stops to ponder just what, exactly, they’re doing: “This isn’t right. He didn’t deserve to die.” Norma responds with essentially an as if, and coolly pushes the body the rest of the way into the well. If nothing else, the woman is efficient.
This is just one of many times that Norman has questioned the motives of “their” actions, and has attempted to exert some amount of free will in this episode. For the time being, integrating with Mother means he won’t be blacking out any more — and his exhortation that she never take over again is a promise she, and we, and probably Norman himself, know they can’t keep. Back at the house, he stands on his own two wobbly feet: Both when friendly, skeptical Sheriff Greene (Brooke Smith) stops by to tell him about the body they found, and when Dylan (Max Thieriot) shows up out of the blue.
With Sheriff Greene it’s easy enough to play normal, to hold back just enough to seemingly appease her and send her on her way, although it’s obvious to us and not to Norman that she’s mostly biding her time, however charming he manages to be. But with Dylan, it’s different — and Mother knows it. Desperately lonely Norman can’t stand lying to his brother, Dylan has considered himself Norman’s guardian (including, or especially, against their mother) since they all arrived in White Pine Bay, and that adds up to a decent threat against this special relationship.
In a throwaway moment, you can see how the whole night will unfold, when Dylan’s eyes fall on the shoes Norma’s casually kicked off at the end of some hard day or another: Norma’s gone, Norman’s going fast. Even if he doesn’t exactly know it, Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) is back in town to kill Mother — but Dylan’s back in town to save Norman. Two radical cures that equally terrify Mother, that equally threaten the illness… And ultimately feel the same to Norman, even if knows that’s wrong.
Mother and Norman keep fighting, all episode long, about how if they’re caught, he will either be executed or medicated into oblivion — which is to say, either Norman dies or Mother does: Either Alex wins, or Dylan does. And even if gunshot Alex isn’t quite ready to make his way to the Bates Motel, the war for Norman’s soul has already begun, and Norman’s already making the choices that will lead to the final decision, which until last week we thought was written in the stars.
But the really horrible thing here is that, obviously, Norman should — and probably will — win, but his definition of a win isn’t compatible with either of those outcomes, because it is a nightmare. Dylan thinks a win for Norman is the end of Mother, but that would (at least as Norman currently understands, and pretty explicitly says to Dylan more than once) be worse than death. A Norman win means ongoing murders, and unimaginable psychic pain that never ends; an Alex win means Norman and Mother die in physical pain; and a Dylan win means putting Norman and Mother through something worse than death. Those are the options.
Norman greets Dylan, offering him a sandwich when he appears, and excuses himself for a quick lie down. As Mother explains to Norman that Dylan is an impossible figure in this scenario, we see two kinds of sadness: Norman wants and needs Dylan on a human level — but back behind that, Norman desperately needs Dylan to rescue him. Their special relationship, Norma’s boys, is in direct conflict with this new phase of Norman’s relationship with his mother, and it would be a lot to ask for him to make the right decision here, when the call’s coming from inside the house.
Good boy Norman obeys Norma’s request to make Dylan a nice dinner and then get rid of him. Dylan, who had gone out to refill Norman’s meds only to learn that his doctor had been missing for over a year (which makes us want to re-watch last week’s episode all over again!) returns to find him making a fancy dinner in the kitchen. It’s a surreal contrast to the disarray of the house Dylan saw earlier, and he’s rightfully confused.
Dylan wants to help Norman get better, and requests he take a pill in front of him, in that firm and sad-eyed way — and it occurs to us now, very Emma (Olivia Cooke); big wet eyes with a spine of steel — he gets everything done. Norma’s handsome son, who never had a childhood — of course he knows precisely how many tears are necessary to get what he wants. And in case we’ve forgotten that aspect of him: Dylan did just came home from manly-crying his way into some illegal, highly powerful psychoactive schedule drugs.
And when Norman goes to to the sink for water, we see how close Dylan’s come to winning altogether: Mother takes over, against Norman’s verbal protestations, and shows herself to Dylan in a loving, brutal speech about how she’s going to continue to abandon him for Norman until the day he dies… Which is, it turns out, today. (And neither Norman nor Mother knows yet that Dylan’s tipped off Madeleine [Isabelle McNally] to Norman’s struggles, insinuating himself into Sam Loomis’s disappearance — and putting himself into a position not unlike that of Sam himself, in the film.)
The show’s gentleness with revealing the external, objective realities of this situation is always appreciated, and generally hilarious: If you’d been wondering what it’s like when Norman and Mother have their philosophical conversations and occasional slapfights, we get to see that now. It’s like a sweet kid talking to himself, of course. And when Mother turns on Dylan, grabbing a knife and knocking him cold, Norman springs into action, fighting her away from his brother — and again, we finally see what that looks like from the outside, too: A surreal struggle cutting back and forth from Norman’s perspective to Dylan’s, as Norman finally subdues their invisible mother.
With every ounce of what is left of him, in this moment, Norman stumbles over to the phone and dials 911.
“My name is Norman Bates,” he pants into the receiver. “I’d like to report a murder. I killed Sam Loomis.”
And there we are, set up for the final episodes to come swirling down around the Bates Motel. With Dylan, Sheriff Greene, and Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) all ready to put the final nail in Mother’s coffin — and therefore Norman’s — or vice versa, how much of a twist would it be if Norman could actually right these wrongs he and his mother have committed?
The show’s always been there to remind us that happiness and health are possible — and that possibility is the cruelest of all, because it means disappointment’s always waiting in the wings, too. A definitive victory for Norman against Mother would create a certain kind of hope; a final victory for Mother and Norman could even be a relief, if a sad one. But happiness here is hard to come by, that’s not the story we’re being told, and Mother — and White Pine Bay — have other plans. They always do.
“Bates Motel” airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on A&E.