The sixth episode of Bates Motel, season four, The Vault, is perhaps the darkest yet of the entire series. I don’t mean to imply that subject matter like incest, murder and rape isn’t normally dark, but in this series it’s often surrounded by lighter characterization, dialogue and events. Between Norman (Freddie Highmore) remembering more about his childhood and abusive father and Norma (Vera Farmiga) finally admitting the true nature of her relationship with Caleb (Kenny Johnson), this episode is not a lot of fun.
I also don’t think it’s quite as strong an episode as the rest of this season. One reason is that Norman takes a back seat; his sessions with Dr. Edwards (Damon Gupton), while significant, are not the focus of The Vault. It’s more about Norma, Caleb, Chick (Ryan Hurst) and Alex (Nestor Carbonell). As you recall, I wasn’t too happy last week with the return of Chick and his attempt to blackmail Norma into helping him find Caleb.
However, I do like the way the subplot is handled in this episode and quickly resolved. Norma allows Chick to pressure her until she feels forced to face him at gunpoint. “I can’t get Caleb killed and I can’t kill you, so I’m screwed. All I wanted was my window fixed!” When Chick later appears at the house with her new window, she assumes he’s there to tell Alex about her past, so takes that task from him in an energetic rant, which she begins by telling Alex, “You’re going to be packing your bags soon, so just stay out of it.”
The interaction between her and Alex afterward is a defining moment for the character of Norma Bates and a highlight for the career of Vera Farmiga. It’s also part of a larger moment for Normero (Norma/Romero), as fans call the couple. It clarifies a purpose behind the practical reasons for the two getting married and is wish fulfillment for viewers who believe the two belong together. She tells him, “I’ve never loved anyone enough to be obligated to be honest with him.” I won’t spoil his reaction.
Previously in the episode, Dylan (Max Thieriot) visits Norman at Pineview for a game of croquet, answers a few questions for him about his father, then reports back to Norma, “He seems calmer, like he’s more open.” She replies, “That’s the best news I could ever hear.” It’s obvious that spending some time in an institution should benefit Norman, but I also believe time away from her son has benefitted Norma. She could not have made her own personal progress constantly worrying about him underfoot.
Dylan tells Norman that their father was an unhappy man. “He wasn’t nice to Norma, or more or you.” Yeah, we see that in flashbacks as Dr. Edwards leads Norman through a memory. After a night when his mother tried to take Norman and run away, he caught them, pointed a gun to her head, and made them come home. While he had brutal sex with her, Norman was hiding under the bed, holding his crying mother’s hand. That’s what I mean about dark.
When Norman doesn’t want to talk about it, his version of Norma comes out. Earlier, Dr. Edwards referred to “her” as “charming,” but he probably feels differently after “she” tells him, “I don’t want him to know these things. Please doctor, if you have a heart, don’t make him remember these things… Or I will have to do something about it.” It’s a reminder of where the story is headed. Characters can evolve and “get better,” but we all know it’s going to end with a fateful shower in a room of the Bates Motel.