After a week off, Bates Motel returned with the strongest episode yet of an already strong season. This is what we… well, I… want to see: Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) being crazy. It’s more subtle in episode 5, Refraction, than in last week’s freak out in a strip club, but that makes it even scarier. For those who don’t like backstories or explanations for a monster’s behavior (i.e. Rob Zombie’s Halloween), you may not feel the same way; but, I love the future slasher being diagnosed by Dr. Edwards (Damon Gupton).
It’s getting to the point that viewers don’t know if they can trust what they see happening on the show. I truly thought that after a phone call to his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga), she came to visit him at Pineview. When Dr. Edwards tells Norman, though, “I want to ask you a question that you might find confusing. Is it possible your mother wasn’t here yesterday,” I was surprised. Norman understandably grows agitated. By the time Edwards gets him to breathe slowly, he’s become his mother and Edwards asks him/her, “What do you think of Norman?”
He/she replies “I think he’s a very weak confused boy easy for people to take advantage of. If you want to talk about what’s wrong with Norman you should talk to the person who knows him best.” “That’s you?” asks Edwards. “Of course, I’m his mother.” It’s a terrific scene that comes at the end of several with Norman “working hard” to get better, taking notes about the physiology of blackouts and claiming, “My mother and I have a very typical mother and teenage boy relationship.” He describes her as hopeful and optimistic. “I can’t stand that I’ve added to the list of things that make her suffer.”
I wrote last season that when Norman becomes Norma, it’s his twisted view of her… a third character almost. Yes, his mother is a manipulative person, but she’s an amateur when compared to her personification in Norman. “You have a very soothing voice,” she tells Dr. Edwards. “Did they teach you that at medical school or were you born that way?” When he asks, “How do you feel,” she responds, “How do you want me to feel?” She’s really going to test the good doctor. It’s one thing to diagnose Norman, but what in the heck is he going to do with Norma?
The other strong point about Refraction is that something interesting finally happens to Dylan (Max Thieriot). Preparing to move to Seattle with Emma (Olivia Cooke), he goes on a job interview with a hops distributor. Ignoring her father’s advice to lie about his resume, he instead tells the truth, insisting that his stint as a drug dealer was really as a “Marijuana Distribution Manager,” that he was promoted and that it prepared him perfectly for this job. We don’t know that he got the job, but things look hopeful in that department.
They look so hopeful that Emma reveals her scars from the operation, a wide jagged line below her breasts. In turn, Dylan goes shirtless to reveal all his scars; you know, from bullets and things. After being told they have to wait four to six weeks for any sexual shenanigans, their last scene involves them making out on the bed. I love the writing in this episode. When Dylan says one of his scars is from a shark bite, Emma says he should blow up the shark with a gas tank. He corrects her, “I hate to tell you, but it was an oxygen tank.” Using Jaws as a reference to her illness is sweet, smart and funny.
I’m less thrilled about Refraction’s other development: Chick (Ryan Hurst) insinuates himself into Norma’s life under the guise of a stained glass repairman. Yeah… you know, whoever vandalized the house last week broke her favorite window. That’s not why I’m not thrilled, though. Chick is looking for Caleb, Norma’s brother with whom she had an incestuous relationship. He tells her, “We did not meet by accident. We were both hurt by the same person. I want to know where he is.” Then, “You want to kill him. Is that what you want?” She says, “No,” and he asks, “Why not?”
Refraction ends with Chick telling Norma, “Take time to think about what you need and I’ll think about what I need.” I don’t need any time to think about it; I know I don’t want Bates Motel to return to the Caleb subplot. It’s making such progress moving forward, I don’t want it to fall back. In a rare honest moment between Norma and Romero (Nestor Carbonell), he reveals that he killed Bob Paris. That subplot, with the mystery safety deposit box at the bank and jealous Rebecca (Jaime Ray Newman) is not my favorite, but at least it’s new. I’d prefer to kill, not Caleb himself, but any further mention of him.