‘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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‘Bates Motel’ S1E7 Recap: Girl Trouble

After six episodes of crazy, nonstop Keith Summers/Zach Shelby drama and scandal, Bates Motel dialed back the fast-paced story for an episode focused almost solely on character drama. Though not much happened plot-wise, the episode featured plenty of introspective Norman drama while hinting at new mysteries arriving in the second half of the season, including a strange new motel resident who may or may not (but let’s be honest, probably will) be conducting illegal “sales” out of the motel, and a stray dog Norman briefly befriends before the dog’s untimely demise (taxidermy, anyone?). Anyway, time to discuss!

Picking up almost immediately where the last episode ended, the cold open found Sheriff Romero arriving at the motel to find Norma pulling Norman (who had finally snapped out of his trance) out of the car, Dylan stumbling, injured, from the house with a gun in his hand and Deputy Zach Shelby lying dead on the stairs. Looking at Norma, Sheriff Romero said, “We’d better talk.” And talk they did. Norma told Sheriff Romero everything, including the truth about Keith Summers’s death. Then, surprising everyone, Sheriff Romero decided to fabricate an entirely new story, one which conveniently explained away the deaths of Keith and Shelby while making himself look the hero. In the new, fake story, Romero suspected Shelby of corruption, a violent confrontation between Keith and Shelby resulted in Keith’s death, Shelby hid the trafficked girl on Keith’s boat, and, when Shelby attempted to move the girl, a showdown occurred on the Bates’ property resulting in Shelby’s death at the Sheriff’s hand. The trafficked girl had been killed by Shelby in the woods before the Sheriff arrived. Dylan, outraged, demanded to know how he’d explain his injury, to which the Sheriff simply responded “You got in the way.” Romero left, and Norma and Norman shared a relieved hug so uncomfortably intimate that Dylan looked away with a weirded-out expression on his face.

The next morning, Norman is sleeping with Bradley again when Norma knocks on his bedroom door, interrupting. But, no, Norman was simply dreaming, and he’s alone. Norma is incredibly cheerful, opening Norman’s blinds and humming with the birds outside, because the motel’s opening in a week’s time. Her good mood quickly sours when Norman reminds her that no one’s made a reservation yet.

Norma sends Norman outside to fix the lattice beneath the porch, where Norman finds a mangy stray dog hiding. Inside, Dylan walks into the kitchen to find Norma making him breakfast. Dylan is suspicious of his mother’s niceness and informs her that he’s still moving out, as soon as his arm heals. “Even after everything I told you about your brother?” Norma demands, and Dylan insists he doesn’t think he’d be of much help. Too bad, because Dylan’s the only normal member of the family and would undoubtedly be a good influence on Norman. Maybe his mind will change in time; we’ll see.

As Dylan’s taking out the trash, an odd man wearing dark sunglasses pulls up in a black car and rolls his window down. After the man asks about the Seafairer Motel, Dylan informs her the motel has new owners and Keith Summers has died. The man immediately leaves.

Later, Norma stops by a local restaurant and asks if the manager will display brochures of the motel for promotion, and Norma volunteers to do the same for the restaurant at the motel. The restaurant manager refuses, because, despite Sheriff Romero’s official story, rumors are still circulating around town about the scandal at the Bates’, and the motel’s reputation is already tainted. Upset, Norma returns to the motel and dumps the restaurant’s pamphlets in the trash before noticing someone attempting to enter one of the motel rooms. The man, whom Dylan had met while taking out the trash, informed Norma that he’d had a standing room reservation with Keith Summers. After introducing himself as Jake Abernathy, he asked, very adamantly, for a key to Room 9. Norma obliged. Dylan arrived, and, after learning that Norma had forgotten, offered to get the man’s information. Abernathy rather reluctantly handed his driver’s license to Dylan, and, instead of a credit card, paid fully in cash (which he had a substantial stack of). Clearly this man had some sort of business arrangement with Keith Summers, possibly involving human trafficking, but whatever “sales” business he claims to be involved in will likely turn into a whole new scandal for the Bates Motel to face.

Anyway, poor Norman remains stubbornly hung up on Bradley after their one-night stand, despite her repeatedly blowing him off and everyone else’s insistence that the two aren’t even remotely together romantically. While picking up supplies, Norman and Dylan run into Bradley in the parking lot. After an awkward conversation, Bradley walks away, but not before exchanging a glance with Dylan. Maybe I’m building this into something it’s not, but the glance seemed loaded with the potential for a future relationship of some sort. Could be wishful thinking, but you never know with this show.

That night, Norma is woken up by a banging noise coming from the kitchen. When she investigates, the house and yard are empty. Hmm. The next day, Emma stops by to see Norman, but Norman has no desire to see her and tells Norma to inform Emma that he’s sick. Emma clearly doesn’t buy this and, crying, begins to leave the house. Norma, taking pity, invites Emma into town with her to buy curtain sheers and have lunch. On the drive, Emma brings up Bradley and Norma drills her for information. Emma knows where Bradley is, because she does yoga beside her father’s shop, and offers to show her to Norma. The two spy on Bradley, whom Norma recognizes, and Norma has a quick, highly sexualized mental image of Norman and Bradley hooking up. The mental-image scene was short, but highly creepy and incestuous.

Back at the motel, Norma catches Norman feeding the dog (now named Juno) and chides him. As the two are doing dishes, Norman begs his mother to let him keep the dog, and Norma eventually relents. However, Norma quickly changes the subject to sex, which, as suspected, is extremely awkward and weird (even more so than a normal mother/son sex talk because it’s the Bateses). Norma warns Norman away from sleeping with Bradley (a girl Norma doesn’t particularly like because she visited Norman a day after the Bateses moved in) by telling him about the chemicals released in a woman’s body during and after sex that affect the woman’s mind. When Norman insists he really likes Bradley, and their relationship isn’t just a fling, Norma informs him that she’s hired Emma to work part-time around the motel. Angry with his mother for interfering with his life and attempting to control who he dates, Norman storms out and heads to Bradley’s.

When Norman rings Bradley’s doorbell, she attempts to blow him off once again, but Norman is adamant that they talk about their relationship. After Norman confesses that he has feelings for Bradley and feels a connection between them, Bradley tells Norman that those feelings aren’t reciprocated. After making a comment that she shouldn’t have slept with “someone like [Norman]”, Norman gets angry and leaves. Bradley follows, and we hear Norman repeating his mother’s reasons for not trusting a girl like Bradley to himself. Bradley catches up to Norman, who begins to go into one of his trances. I was afraid he was going to hurt her, but after saying “You’re not a nice girl,” Bradley apologizes and hugs him. Norman calms and snaps out of it. Disaster averted.

At the motel, Jake stops by the lobby, startling Norma, and compliments her on the motel. The two exchange a polite conversation before Jake asks to resume the standing room reservation he had with Keith. The man needs not only Room 9, but the entire block of rooms surrounding Room 9, for the first week of every other month. And, as he claims, he (and his “business partners”) like privacy, so the rooms don’t need to be cleaned for the entire week. Not at all weird, Mr. Abernathy. Norma, rightfully suspicious, asks if the man’s business is illegal, and he laughingly replies that it isn’t. Sure.

Lastly, Norman arrives home from Bradley’s. Juno barks across the street when she sees him, but, after encouraging her to come to him, Norman spots headlights down the road. Panicking, he yells at Juno to stay, but it’s too late–Juno has already started crossing and is hit by the car. Already upset over his exchange with Bradley, Norman freaks out, insisting Emma’s dad can save the dead dog. His frantic yelling even appears to scare Norma, and the episode ends with Norman confessing that he was wrong about everything and Norma running to get the car.

Bates Motel has been one of my absolute favorite new shows this season, with each episode consistently delivering great story and character material. This episode, though not as stuffed plot-wise, gave the audience a reprieve from the ongoing action and allowed us to delve farther into Norman’s increasingly psychotic mind. As a big fan of character-driven stories, these types of episodes are gold for me, and Norman Bates is an excellent character to study and watch onscreen. A great episode, all around, and I can’t wait to discover more about Jake Abernathy, and hopefully see the beginnings of Norman’s taxidermy obsession.

Rating: 8/10