After watching an episode of Bates Motel like “Presumed Innocent,” it becomes clear that this show has greatly matured. Looking back at the first episode of the show, when Norman and Norma had a dead body on their hands, they were careless, scared and uncertain of what to do, which sort of feels like a metaphor for the show’s writing. Yet in “Presumed Innocent,” one of the show’s best episodes, if not its best ever, we see the repercussions of another death, and start to see the cracks in the show’s most important relationship.
“Presumed Innocent” at times feels like a bottle episode, with Norman in police custody for the accidental death of Cody’s father and Norma desperately trying to see her son at the police station. We clearly see that Norman isn’t a willing murderer, in fact when he isn’t blacking out, he’s just a scared teenager who sometimes is angsty against his mother. Norma is naturally freaking out, worried about her son who she isn’t able to see and afraid someone will let it slip that he occasionally does black out and become a monster.
I rarely give Freddie Highmore the credit he deserves for taking on such a monumental character, but here, Highmore blew me away. His reaction to this accident is completely natural and flat-out terrified, even though he’s trying not to show it. He’s especially strong when he is interviewed by Sheriff Romero, and the two discuss what is next for him and the recently orphaned Cody. This was also a great episode for Nestor Carbonell’s character, who is trying to do his job, yet clearly has an affection for this family. Romero is calm with Norman and can turn around and tell Norma she needs to loosen her grip, without feeling cruel about it.
But as usual, it’s Vera Farmiga as Norma who is consistently great on Bates Motel, and she’s asked to do a lot this episode. She starts off “Presumed Innocent” as the new councilwoman out of her element, then immediately is thrown into concerned mother mode, then right into protective- by-any-means-necessary mother.
Yet “Presumed Innocent” at this point at least seems to be the moment when Norma and Norman’s relationship starts to splinter. Norman knows he’s being lied to by his mother about what happens during his black outs, and when he confronts her about it, she goes from sympathetic to demanding they never talk about this ever again. In “Presumed Innocent,” we see that Norman isn’t the only character with a light and dark side, but that everyone in town seems to have this inside of them.
Dylan’s drug business is still the show’s weakest part, but it does feel like it’s starting to have more importance in the overall scheme of things. Everyone seems to know that Dylan is sleeping with his boss, and Zane decides to bring in Dylan on the next step of their drug war. Zane is leading a group of guys into the rival drug company’s warehouse, where they shoot up the place, but leave the unwilling Dylan knocked out outside. Things are escalating far too quickly for Dylan’s liking, but he seems like he now might be trapped in too deep.
By the end, Norman is cleared of the murder, as it’s ruled an accident, and Cody leaves town to go live with her aunt in Indiana. Things seem to be going fine, until a deputy puts Norman’s DNA information into their system and discovers that Norman’s DNA matches the sperm sample taken from Blair Watson. Uh oh.
“Presumed Innocent” puts a bunch of Bates Motel’s increasingly interesting characters in one place and lets them all interact over an incident. It helps deliver one of this show’s best episodes. With Cody gone and Norman trying to escape the clutches of his mother, Norman is becoming more alone each episode, and more prone to causing unintended disaster. There’s light and dark in each of us, and Norman seems about ready to embrace the dark.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.