On last week’s Bates Motel, Norman and Norma talked about Double Indemnity, a film that Norman claims to have watched about a hundred times. In the great Billy Wilder film, Fred MacMurray plays Walter Neff, an insurance salesman and all-around good guy, who is turned into a murder at the suggestion of a woman he craves to please, played by Barbara Stanwyck. The film is a noir classic about the duality of our lives, how a person can seem so pleasant on the outside, yet underneath can be capable of horrible things. It’s sort of perfect that this is a film favorite in the Bates’ household, as this double lifestyle is what everyone in this family has to deal with, especially in the penultimate episode of this season, “The Box.”
Obviously, Norman Bates is having the hardest time dealing with these dueling sides of his own personality and trapped in a literal case of emotion, he starts to deal with these battling sides. At the end of last week’s episode, Norman was kidnapped by Nick Ford’s drug team because Dylan wouldn’t kill his boss, Zane. Now Norman is trapped until Dylan does what Nick wants him to do. Throughout his capture, we see every element of Norman’s personality.
He starts off innocent enough, reciting Meet John Doe to himself in its entirety, but after an escape attempt, you can see the darkness in his eyes growing larger and larger. He tries to find solace in his mother, having visions of her telling him that everybody’s mother lives inside them and if he’s worried about something, all he has to do is hear her voice to know everything is okay. But by the end of the episode, Norman looks like he’s dead inside, covered in rain and mud and remembering the night he killed his teacher, Miss Watson, while he had sex with her, seemingly without any remorse. This is by far the deepest into the darkness we’ve seen Norman go so far.
Norma has been well known for her dual sides, and we also see them rapidly becoming one for her as well. Due to her fear over Norman’s fate, she simply doesn’t have time to put up with anyone else’s shit, and instead of handling them carefully, she explodes. When Emma comes to Norma with tears in her eyes saying she is quitting her job because she isn’t included in the family like she thought she was, Norma coldly says they’ll miss having her around and shuts the door in her face. When George comes to visit after their first night together, Norma angrily says she’ll never be what he wants her to be and that his entire life is fake. Norma doesn’t care about keeping up appearances right now, it’s kill or be killed, quite literally.
The entire fate of what happens to Norman’s life and Norma’s mental stability lies in the hands of Dylan, who goes to kill Zane, then finds that he is heavily guarded for instances just like this. When Dylan tells Nick this, he realizes Dylan can’t help him anymore, before Nick tries to kill him and ultimately fails when Dylan fights back. Dylan’s struggle is much more internal than the rest of his family’s. Part of him seems to want a close family relationship, but his fear and pride have placed him in the middle of this conundrum of drugs lords and bloodshed.
The development of the drugs story line in “The Box” is exciting, but not because it inherently makes the show more interesting. No, it’s exciting because it might be signaling that the end of this particular arc is near. It’s always been the weakest part of Bates Motel, and hopefully by next week, we’ll see the conclusion of this section and be on to more exciting things. Meanwhile, the darkness in the Bates family is growing stronger and more fascinating the further we go. With the season ending next week, I imagine we’re never going to see these three as a happy family any time soon.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.