The story of Norman Bates and his overprotective mother Norma is inherently interesting, since we know how this is all going to end and we’re just watching a ticking time bomb. In its second season, Bates Motel has gotten to a point where it knows how strong this story is and has done quite well writing for these two, making a compelling story about a mother-son bond on the brink of collapse. Yet this is mostly why we turn in for Bates Motel week after week; this is what drew us in. So it’s not surprising that the weakest element of the show since the beginning has been their new hometown’s drug trade and Norma’s other son, Dylan, going deeper and deeper into this seedy part of the town. “Meltdown” is mostly an episode that takes place in Bates Motel’s weakest territory, but tries its best to integrate the Norma-Norman dynamic into this segment to try and strengthen it.
Last week, we saw how Zane went into Nick Ford’s drug headquarters and started blasting up the place, causing a drug war. Now, Nick wants to meet with Dylan, saying that the only way this things can’t get out of hand is if Dylan kills Zane. If he doesn’t, well, its no holds barred, with even Dylan’s family in play as pieces in this war. By the end of “Meltdown,” Dylan is given permission to take care of Zane by his boss/love interest, but it’s too late, as Ford’s thugs have already kidnapped Norman.
In terms of the drug story, this does make things far more compelling than they have been in the past. It seems like it’s pushing towards a conclusion to this battling drug feud, but also places the Bates family at the center of it, accelerating all the emotions that all three members have toward each other. The drug angle might not reach an interesting point in “Meltdown,” but it does set the plans to create interesting developments in the last two episodes of the season.
As always though, the strength here is in the story between Norman and Norma. Last week, Norma declared she wouldn’t tell Norman about the dark side that lives inside of him and never would, so this week, Norman is giving his mother the cold shoulder at every opportunity, or just trying to piss her off by placing dead animals everywhere.
When Norma told Norman that she was hiding information from him about himself, it was a great scene, but she underestimated the power Norman has over her. This week, we get a fantastic mirror to that scene with Norman knowingly having the upper hand. Even their placement on the stairs changes, putting Norman in a position of power, as he tells his clingy mother he wants to be alone, glaring at her with evil glinting in his eyes. Norman can deal without Norma always breathing down his neck, but Norma can’t escape Norman. Even as she goes on a date with a handsome rich man, Norman is always in the back of her mind.
Throughout the series, Dylan has pointed out to Norman that Norma is very manipulative, using any trick she can to get her way, and in “Meltdown,” we see her exhausting her entire bag of tricks with no success. She shows Norman that she’s mad at him, then when he walks away from her she starts crying, finally defeated saying that if he wants to be alone, she’ll leave, and heads to George’s house once again to have sex with him, all seemingly to spite Norman. Norma thinks she knows how to play Norman, but it’s actually the other way around now. The tables have turned, and they’re no longer in Norma’s favor.
“Meltdown” might be one of the weaker episodes of Bates Motel’s second season, due to its focus on the weak drug trade plot, yet in this particularly strong season, that’s still not too bad. The scenes between Norma and Norman more than make up for the boring stretches, and the entire episode is setting up the pieces for what is sure to be an exciting final two episodes. Maybe we’ll even get an end to the drug story altogether so we won’t have to worry about it anymore.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.