Season three ended last year with terrific cliffhangers in two of its storylines. First, Romero (Nestor Carbonell) shot Bob Paris on his boat as he tried to leave White Pine Bay. Second, Norman (Freddie Highmore) killed Bradley (Nicola Peltz), stuffed her in the trunk of her car, and pushed the car into the water. Like in the movie Psycho (1960), to which this scene is a nod, Norman’s personality was completely split and he stood hugging a mother who wasn’t really there.
Season four begins immediately following these events. Romero disposes of evidence from his crime and Norman awakens dirty in the woods. By the time episode one, A Danger to Himself and Others, ends, it’s clear that the series is going to move forward without hesitation, instead of backtracking to dwell in the past. In its very first hour, Bates Motel doesn’t sugarcoat Norman’s illness or delay him from attempting to murder someone else.
When a local farmer encounters Norman arguing with his unseen mother, the young man is taken to the “psychiatric unit.” His real-life mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga), can’t get to him because he’s under 48-hour observation. A professional at the facility asks her incredulously, “He blacks out regularly and you haven’t taken him to see a doctor?” Norma replies, “It depends what you mean by ‘regularly.’ You know I didn’t let him get his drivers’ license.”
As negligent as that sounds, I believe Norma finally realizes the seriousness of her son’s condition. However, that doesn’t stop her from trying to cut corners and spring him from captivity. She goes crying to Romero, who, if you recall, is still stinging from her rejection of him. “I’m not magical,” he bluntly tells her. “Wait it out and pray, if you do pray. I gave it up a long time ago.” She then heads to Pineview, the expensive institution she briefly investigated last season.
You’re never quite sure if Norma is naïve or simply hell bent on taking care of her son, regardless of the circumstances. When Pineview tells her that Norman can’t be admitted without a doctor’s recommendation, she replies, “But he needs help now.” Leaving, she spots Dr. Edwards (Damon Gupton) and tells him she has a bit of an emergency. He replies, “Then you should call 911.” “No, it’s not a 911 problem.” When words don’t work, she turns on the charm…
“I’m gay, “ he tells her, to shut down the attempt at manipulation. At her wit’s end, Norma does something she probably never thought of: tells the truth. Surprisingly, it works. He gives her his card and says that once Norman is released, he’ll see if he can help her. Before that happens, though, Norma takes her son home with a scolding that she cannot ignore his need for care and a threat that Social Services will be calling on her.
You can tell Norma’s going to be no good for her son; they’re soon sleeping in the same bed again. Well, Norma’s not doing much sleeping. She calls Romero and tells him she needs to talk to him… now. She says, “I need insurance, you have insurance, so I thought you could marry me. You’re not doing anything else.” Demonstrating desperation, but little understanding of the man, she adds, “I know you’re attracted to me. I’ll sleep with you.”
The other storyline is Emma’s (Olivia Cooke) lung transplant in Portland. With Dylan (Max Thieriot) at her side, she pulls through the operation just fine. However, a new character enters the scene who eventually ties the plot points together. This is Emma’s mother, Audrey. She checks into the motel, where the normally friendly proprietor, Norma Bates, dismisses her just as the rest of her family did. “I don’t want to hear any of this. I care about Emma, but this is none of my business.”
Against Norma’s orders to stay away from her son, Audrey rings the doorbell at the Bates house. Although Norman is in full “mother mode,” he’s friendly enough until Audrey pushes him, “I’m so sorry for you, but what kind of mother runs away from her sick child? You love someone more than anything and they leave you.” Uh-oh. No one is able to catch their breath in this episode, least of all those watching it. Bates Motel is back and the momentum keeps building. I hope it never stops.