‘Bates Motel’ S4E3: 'Til Death Do You Part

★ ★ ★ ★

Bates Motel plays around with the nature of tragedy as aptly as it possibly can, ensuring that every single decision the characters make is the wrong one — one that will lead to their eventual demise. There isn't an ounce of hope for anyone involved. Whatever fate Bates Motel planned for Norma the second she bought the soon-to-be infamous motel is being set in motion. About to set foot in a trap of her own making, the spring is loose and the jaws are ready to snap at any moment. It's all a matter of "when" now that a war has broken out between Norma and Norman.

Norma suffers through each season along and so do we, watching her break down with every loss and relish in her victories. What's worse is that it's all going to be for nothing. But it's her trying to break free of her string of bad luck that makes her even more sympathetic. Even better is watching Norma, after two horrifying marriages, struggle to open up to the people around her. Filled with defense mechanism after defense mechanism, it's no wonder Norman ended up the way he did. Norma has a habit of using the people around her in an innocently manipulative manner. Though she sometimes manipulates on purpose, she often can't help but attract people to fix her and the problems around her. Once she's finished with her goal, she tosses them aside and moves on. But this time around with Romero, she can't really escape. Having to commit herself to him in order to have Norman committed, Romero knows all of Norma's tricks and understands how to handle them. He's the best person for the job and has trapped Norma in her own scheme. When she showed up at his doorstep trading sex for marriage, I bet she didn't expect to find herself in a relationship that was more than just a scam.

Bates Motel: S4E3

It's sweet watching Norma try to figure out whether or not she's fallen for Romero. The relationships Norma finds herself in are more than complicated, they're entangled in the problems she finds herself attempting to solve. When it comes to Romero, their feelings for one another have been bottled up for seasons on end, so now that they're together, Norma's left to figure out whether she's beginning to fall for him or whether it's just another scheme of hers. Vera Farmiga does a wonderful job displaying the indecision in Norma and maintains a level of distance across the episode while slowly but surely opening herself up to Romero in a way she hasn't done in years. Though Norma tries keeping a tough front, the minute you crack her open her vulnerability shows itself. So does she see this sham marriage as a chance for some normality and happiness or does she feel trapped in her own web of lies? Her consummation of the marriage is as double-sided as the relationship itself. Is she only going along with it to please Romero after hearing Dylan tell her that's what he wanted or did she actually want to be with him at that point?

Sweetly enough, Romero gives Norma an amount of flexibility that she has never before enjoyed. For once she's in control of the relationship and has the power to decide when and what she wants to do. Romero's feelings for Norma are far stronger than hers are for him, but he cares for her in a way that she can attempt to grow for. He's about as afraid as she is when it comes to opening up, but for different reasons altogether. Romero doesn't want to mess the marriage up because it's his one shot at being with the woman he truly loves. His ability to provide for Norma adds another facet to the relationship that acts as an incentive for Norma to stay with him. It's more than just insurance; he's law enforcement, and he has that massive fortune lying around.

Alongside Norma's "honeymoon period" are Norman's first days at the Institute. Freddie Highmore, while maintaining Norman's level of insanity, keeps a relatively logical reaction to being locked up. It's human of him to display that level of fear of the world around him that's reminiscent of the way he used to be. It's like his first day at school except he doesn't have a single person to cling to while Norma's gone and can only rely on himself. It's cute seeing him get skittish around the other patients and it's similar to how he dealt with the other kids at school. He and Norma are codependent, so when you toss them into a situation in which they have to handle themselves, they often react abnormally. Even better though, Norman's keeping his head afloat by exerting power whenever he can. So when Norma visits him at the hospital, the last words he leaves her with are how disappointed he is in her.

Sleep tight, Norma.

The pot farm plot is coming to a close, but it's still there. Dylan needs something to do besides Emma and that's all he has left. The C-plot of the series, the weed farm hasn't been the most exciting and doesn't offer as much as the drama going on between Norman and Norma. While their fates are sealed, the same can't be said for DylEmma, who are wildcards of the series. Shame is, Bates Motel keeps them on the peripheral, where they often don't have much to do, and certainly can't become as interesting as Norma and Norman. It may just be because of the banter Norman and Norma have, but at least they're able to take a boring storyline and turn it into high camp-drama that's entertaining to watch. No one's really excited to see the comeback of Dylan's next-door weed person or the conflict he has to offer.

Bates Motel is setting the trap for the series' closing episodes. The character pool will begin to shrink, the storylines will begin to converge, and that sense of dread will only keep on climbing as Norman comes into his own and wages a war against his own mother. Also, Norma, don't ever say things like "sooner or later I'm going to break my neck on those stupid stairs." The ironic tone is strong enough as is.

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