After a terrific season premiere, the second episode of the third season of Bates Motel, The Arcanum Club, continues to focus on a darker Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore). It does this on two tracks. One is direct, through his physical discomfort as he gets closer to Emma. The other is indirect, reflected through the eyes of his mother (Vera Farmiga) as she frantically searches for Annika (Tracy Spiradakos), probably fearing that Norman had something to do with her disappearance.
Norma is obsessive in her quest to find Annika, and when Emma (Olivia Cooke) reveals that Norman took her on a drive the night before, she confronts her son in the basement:
Norman, “You can’t keep getting into cars with questionable ladies.”
Norma, “Slutty, oversexed, crazy. Look at what happened to Blair Watson. I don’t know why, but unhinged women are drawn to you.”
In this, and in a subsequent confrontation, their back and forth begins getting repetitive. How many times has Norman told his mother, “I’m not a little boy?” How many times has she told him, “I don’t know how long I can keep doing this, Norman?” (“Doing what?” he asks. “Nothing. Never mind,” she replies.) I think we fully understand that dynamic now and it’s time to go a step further, which is what it seems Bates Motel is trying to accomplish this season.
This is happening by Norman being more assertive with his mother. Slowly but surely, the dynamic is shifting from her expressing concern for/power over her son to him expressing concern for/power over his mother. This seems a natural progression as Norman grows up and becomes more confident. In fact, near the end of the episode, he tells her, “You’ve been through a lot, Mother… in the past two years. I’m worried about you.” Arm around her, he walks her up the stairs into the house.
Norman is visibly less confident in his relationship with Emma. Their first official date starts well, but grows uncomfortable when he asks her if she had sex with Gunner. She’s honest and replies that she did, although it made her feel naughty. She says, “Sex is complicated. It’s not nothing.” This statement is delivered in stark contrast to Annika’s the week before (“Sex is just sex. We all need it.”) Sex has always been in the background, but I think it’s moving into the forefront to torture Norman.
When it comes to sex, Norman is all talk. Emma tells him that she’s afraid his mom has taught him that sex is wrong. “She loves you so much; I think she’s afraid of you growing up.” There’s then playful banter about Peter Pan. Norman says he’ll be Peter Pan if Emma will be Wendy. Emma replies, “Peter Pan and Wendy never got to have sex.” This final statement shuts him down. When the two are making out later, he squirms out of it, claiming, “I don’t want to start something we can’t finish.”
There are some great moments in The Arcanum Club. Besides the dialog shared above, there’s a quick bit about Norman needing a full-size freezer in the basement for his taxidermy. There’s also a subtle change in his reactions to his mother. Again, he’s starting to seem creepier than she does. The hugs linger just a tad too long and the glances he gives her are just a little more evil. I also sense she’s starting to be more frightened of him, not for what he might do to other women, but also to her.
In this Norman-centric episode, there is also advancement of the Dylan (Max Theriot) subplot. Caleb (Kenny Johnson) has successfully insinuated himself into his life and takes charge at the “farm.” In a way, he bonds with his son when an odd neighbor, Chick Hogan (Ryan Hurst) introduces himself, “Are you planting to-mah-toes? Last year’s to-mah-to crop was wiped out by the DEA, so… lots of opportunity.”
The two later pay him a visit and find a stash of guns in his cabin. When it’s suggested that they can all co-exist if they respect the rules, Caleb is more aggressive. “We’re gonna do what we please on our own property. There are boundaries and we’re going to stay in them.” Why do I feel Caleb is going to cause more trouble for his son that he is going to help him? Dylan is mostly quiet in the background, demonstrating how his father’s personality overpowers his own.
The episode ends with a final shot that might lead us to believe Annika’s location has been discovered. I think it’s a red herring, though, crafted to make us suspect Norman has finally acted on his impulses. If he has, it’s too sudden when compared to the gradual progression he seems to be making toward his ultimate purpose. It will be interesting to see how it’s played. It could be a mere repeat of a previous subplot, or it could take us into new territory. We’ll likely find out which it is next week…