‘Bates Motel’ S1E8 Recap: Dog Days

Last night’s episode of Bates Motel was a nice mixture of salacious rumors, subtle power plays, surprisingly sweet confessionals and, last but not least, taxidermy lessons.

The episode opens with Norman visiting Will, who’s teaching Norman the “art” of taxidermy. One of the first steps includes pulling out the dead animal’s blood and guts, then, as Will assures Norman, the “beautiful work” can begin. Sorry, but taxidermy will never not be creepy.

Emma, in the bathroom following a struggle to breath, overhears a trio of girls discussing the rumors swirling Norman and Bradley’s tryst. The girls laugh over Norman’s state of denial about his chances with Bradley. The girls also laughingly discuss Norman, claiming he’s weird and socially challenged. Emma, angry, confronts the girls and confirms the rumors, letting the girls know Norman already slept with Bradley, and they’re the ones without the facts. After successfully rendering the girls speechless (like a boss), Emma leaves.

In the paper, Norma sees the news that the bypass is going to be built. Worried about her business, Norma calls up Romero’s office (he’s not there), and then spots Jake Abernathy (AKA creepy man from Room 9) in the parking lot, who notices her watching.

Bradley confronts Norman at school after the rumors have strengthened, demanding to know why Norman told everyone they slept together. Norman doesn’t understand why she’s so upset, and Bradley outright says she doesn’t want people to know about what happened. Miss Watson witnesses this exchange and attempts to stop Norman from leaving school in the middle of the day, but he yells at her, and, when she reaches for his arm, physically shoves her hand away.

At the motel, Norma stops by Jake’s room to clean. Though she attempts to come by later, when he’s not there, Jake insists he’d like the room cleaned now and proceeds to sit in a chair, watching, while Norma cleans. Jake casually mentions hearing about Shelby’s death at the motel while he was in town, flustering Norma into knocking over a lamp and breaking the bulb. Norma, desperate to leave, mentions needing to drive Norman somewhere. Jake counters this, telling Norma he knows Norman is at school. When Norma tries again to leave, Jake stops her cart and calmly pulls out a handful of towels before allowing Norma to exit his room. Though he never conveyed any outright hostility, Jake managed to seem oddly threatening in this scene, and Norma quite clearly appeared to feel the warning. I know I did. Jake Abernathy’s the type of person who can politely unsettle anyone simply with his mannerisms and subtle comments. Terrifying.

Later, Norma dolls herself up and stops by Sheriff Romero’s office. Norma wants to fight the new bypass from the inside, and is hoping Romero will put a good word in for her with the city planning committee, since there’s a vacant seat, and the two share a “history,” for lack of a better term. Romero’s clearly having none of this, and, when Norma tries to insist that both have something on the other, Romero perches on his desk and says that, if he finds Norma has anything truly incriminating on him, he will “burn [her] to the ground.” WOW. Romero, who’s seemed relatively harmless up till now, has suddenly become one of the most terrifying people in town. (Also, Nestor Carbonell killed in that scene, though I’ve always had a weakness for him because Richard Alpert.)

After the tense, threat-laced exchange with Romero, Norma receives a call from Norman’s principal requesting Norma to stop by. Miss Watson and the principal inform Norma that Norman will be suspended for three days for leaving school. Also, they think Norman should see the school psychologist because of his emotional instability and loner attitude. Norma, unsurprisingly upset by this, says she’ll find a private psychologist for Norman to see and leaves in a rush.

Meanwhile, outside of town, Dylan and Remo are on a trip to Fort Tuna to pick up some trimmers (AKA the people who turn the marijuana plants into the final product). The pair is alone in a bar, aside from the bartender, and strike up an argument after Dylan demands to know what Remo’s problem with him is. Remo mentions his 23 years of experience before punching Dylan off his bar stool. The bartender merely watches as the two beat each other around the bar. Afterwards, while walking back to the motel, Remo tells Dylan about his poor leadership skills due to his frequent unreliability and the lack of respect he’s receiving from everyone as a result. When Dylan suggests he quit, Remo laughs in his face and drops two bombs on Dylan: Gil isn’t the “big boss,” and quitting this job’s not an option, but getting fired is. Presumably, getting fired means something along the lines of being killed. But, more interestingly, who is the “big boss”?? The most obvious options right now are Jake Abernathy and Sheriff Romero, who are both plausibly involved in this increasingly growing and unraveling drug/sex trafficking business. Romero was friends with Keith Summers, and he also doesn’t seem the type to allow trafficking to happen in his town directly under his nose. Abernathy is a valid candidate for obvious reasons.

Back at the motel, Norma tells Norman he needs to try harder to fit in. Norman, oblivious, believes he does fit in at school, then (humorously) asks his mother for a ride to Will’s shop, where he’s learning taxidermy. Oh, Norman. After meeting Will, Norma pulls him aside and tells Will she doesn’t want Norman helping him, as she’s afraid people will see Norman as a freak. (Um, too late?) After brushing aside Norma’s insult (since she insinuated Will was also a freak), Will says “What’s the harm in letting a young person follow their passion? What could go wrong in that?” Sorry, but I laughed hard over this. Oh, Bates Motel. How funny you can be sometimes.

Anyway, Dylan and Remo pick up the trimmers. Dylan ignores Remo’s advice about leaving one of them, whom Remo describes as a huge “pain in the ass,” behind, because Gil’s instructions were to bring everyone. Later, after the pain in the ass refuses to stop playing guitar in the back of the van, and then has the audacity to demand Remo stop and buy them all lunch, Dylan makes Remo pull the van over. When the singing douchebag refuses to get out of the van, Dylan whips out his gun and forces him out, along with anyone else who believes this is a democracy. (Dylan did a nice job channeling Rick Grimes, here.) Remo seems impressed, and they leave Douchebag and his guitar on the side of the street.

When Norma spots Jake leaving the motel at night as she pulls into the parking lot, she, naturally, follows him. The two are the only ones on the road, so this is not at all obvious on Norma’s part. Jake leads her to the boatyard, where he proceeds to search one of the boats (presumably Keith Summers’s), but he doesn’t find what he’s looking for. However, he does find Norma and confronts her, well aware that she followed him, and suggests she knows what he’s after. When she tries to deny this, Jake lets her know he’s on the “top rung,” unlike Keith, who was at the very bottom.

Norman visits a psychologist, but Norma tags along and responds to the counselor’s questions for Norman. After the session, the psychologist pulls Norma aside and asks to see Norman alone next time. Norma, of course, doesn’t like this. The psychologist then asks if Norma’s ever been in therapy (she hasn’t) and suggests she try a solo session herself. The psychologist notes that Norma has a “strong influence on Norman” and “a need to control things.” No, really? When the psychologist states that Norma probably feels out of control internally, Norma flips her defensive switch on and insists she never feels powerless (though we see several instances of her powerlessness in this episode alone, with both Romero and Abernathy).

Fueled by the exchange with the psychologist, Norma confronts Jake. She counts out the money he paid her and throws it in his face before demanding he leave the motel. He politely threatens her and she counters with a threat to call the cops (which, as Romero is likely involved with Jake, is a hollow threat). Norma says (in the same way a child would tell a monster hiding under his or her bed), “I’m not afraid of you. You have no power over me,” while simultaneously shrinking away from Abernathy and looking terrified. “You wanna play? We’ll play,” Abernathy calls after Norma’s retreating back. Jake leaves, but he’s not gone for good. More on this in a bit.

Norman and Emma share a sweet moment at her dad’s shop. Emma tells Norman why she told the girls about his tryst with Bradley, confesses that she does indeed like him, and then lets Norman know that, despite her unrequited feelings for him, she doesn’t want to lose Norman’s friendship. The moment was very sweet, but I feel bad for Emma. She seems to be one of the only normal, genuinely good people in this mess of a town, though she’s a good influence on Norman.

Lastly, Norma’s cleaning Jake’s vacant room when Dylan pulls up with a van full of people looking for rooms. In her enthusiasm, Norma invites Dylan out to dinner with her, just the two of them, since Norman’s eating at Emma’s. Dylan agrees, though he’s nowhere near as enthusiastic as she is. As she heads to her room to change, Norma finds Shelby’s body (complete with the police badge pinned to his chest), lying on her bed and screams. Uh oh.

A really great episode, all around. There was plenty of character development (especially with Romero and Abernathy, who both let a hint of their dark sides show) along with a gradual nudge of the plot in a forward direction. I’m sure the plot will explode soon, as the finale approaches, but I’m satisfied with its pace for now. The characters are what keep me interested in this show, and, as usual, Bates Motel successfully delivers on that front.

Rating: 8/10

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