S2ep8: “Meltdown”

Original air date: April 21, 2014

Another title that tells a lot about what’s going to happen in this episode. We’ve seen Norma, Norman and the Bates family as a collective have plenty of meltdowns, but the one to come is going to make all the past meltdowns look extremely minor by comparison. A fight over having a truth revealed is threatening the very fabric of the these two main characters’ relationship–two characters I’ve long since grown to know and love. Seeing this happen between them is gut-wrenching, not to mention frightening at times, and I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve shed a few tears between the start of “Meltdown” and the end of “The Immutable Truth.”

One issue we thought was over has now come back to haunt Norman: Blair Watson’s murder. For the past few episodes ever since he was busy with Cody, we haven’t seen him occupied at all with thoughts of Ms. Watson. Does he still keep her pearl necklace? We’ll find out soon enough.

When Norman’s apart from her, at least now Norma can’t keep him out of her thoughts. The opening scene has her lying on her bed and staring at a framed picture of Norman as a little boy. But he’s not that innocent little kid anymore, not by a long way. As much as she’s tried to protect him, she’s no longer going to be able to protect him from the truth about himself. The remaining question: how much of a meltdown does their relationship have to suffer before he has a complete idea of that truth?
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Norman’s taking his frustration at his mother out on the task of sweeping, when Romero comes into the office for coffee. It’s pretty obvious Norman’s on the sheriff’s radar now; Romero doesn’t do a great job of hiding that. And the following scene of him rebuffing and avoiding Norma is tough to watch. The message: it’s fine if she wants to keep secrets from him about himself, but she’s going to pay for that by him avoiding her at every turn. As I already mentioned; this is not going to be something Norma can handle in the slightest–not with her need to be close to him. Take that away and I can already see a Norma-meltdown coming. And it’s going to be a heart-breaking one at that.

Nick Ford provides Norma a temporary distraction when he shows up and wants a favor: her to arrange a meeting between him and Dylan. I’m sure if it came down to it, Ford could get in touch with Dylan himself, but that’s not the point here. The whole point is to let Norma know he can still exert control over her. And if she refuses or resists what he asks, it won’t be pretty.

“I lost a daughter. I was estranged from her when it happened..it was the most awful thing that ever happened to me.” Sounds like a veiled threat against Dylan; the way Ford says it generates more foreboding than it does sympathy.

Dylan himself wakes up in the field, to the sound of police sirens as the cops have been alerted to the bloodbath at Ford’s warehouse. A bunch of low-level pot workers ended up shot to death; Dylan’s wise to get up and get the hell out of there. He runs back to Jodi and tells her what Zane did–to Jodi’s surprise; she had no idea. Norma finds out where the Morgan warehouse is from Emma. At this point, it’s clear that something drastic needs to be done about Zane; Jodi’s right he is putting the way all of them make a living at risk. If there is a genuine psycho lunatic in this season, it’s Zane Morgan.
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“Oh yeah, what’s that? Hire Han Solo to crash the Millennium Falcon into the Ford warehouse?”

Zane’s plan actually involves strong-holding the Ford family into a buy-out so the Morgan family can take over the whole town. Only more bloodshed is likely to come from that. Norma and Emma meanwhile show up at the Morgan warehouse, and Norma runs right into Remo holding a shotgun until he learns who she is. She seems surprised Dylan has an office; I guess she didn’t think things like that came with working in the weed industry.

“He probably wants to meet me so he can put a bullet in my head.”

Even with that bit of news, Norma can’t seem to get past her disapproval of the marijuana business. The brief debate they have over cannabinoids is pretty funny, especially given the circumstances. They do acknowledge-without really saying-that there are still a lot of things they need to work through–although Dylan says he can’t. Their good-bye as Norma leaves the warehouse seems bleak and sad, like possibly it might be the last time they ever see each other. That’s probably not the reality, but the scene gives off that vibe all the same.

Norma does get some much happier news when she gets home: George drops by to tell her that the bypass has been temporarily hauled for environmental reasons. Fantastic! I’m happy as well to hear that. But George is not content just to drop by and pass on that information, and he’s not content to be only friends with Norma. The way she hugs him is a lot more awkward than I’ve ever seen her hug Norman. George and his love-sickness remind me of something Norman said in season 1: “It’s not nice to lead someone on.” I’ve been waiting for the inevitable between him and Norma: she hasn’t had any desire to jump into another romance, but now circumstances are backing her further against a wall–at least the way I see it. Flatly turning George down for good will likely lead to a rift with Christine, and Norma needs Christine’s backing with her new city council position.

“Okay..I’m not sure what I’m agreeing to…”

Once again, I adore Norma in spite of her occasional less-than-ideal decisions. She’s caught on a high point when she agrees to go to dinner with him. George is a very nice guy, but this is not going to go well. Actually, it goes worse than I ever anticipated when I first watched this episode.

“That’s the great thing about taxidermy. It goes with everything. It’s nature.”

Norman’s done quite an impressive job on the stuffed owl he mentioned to Norma earlier. It might startle me in the middle of the night, but it looks pretty cool by the light of day. Norman’s also making an attempt to share some of his handiwork with Norma, despite her being not that crazy about it. He insists he’s not mad at her; he’s just sharing his work with her because he loves her. A brief calm before an emotional storm.

Norman helps Romero fix a shower curtain rod while the sheriff starts back in with the questions about Blair Watson, about how well Norman knew her. He also gets denial and retreat when he point-blank asks Norman if he ever slept with his teacher. He’s got the evidence anyway, so Norman’s inadvertently digging himself in further by lying. Norman also doesn’t get any relief from that line of questioning when Nick Ford shows up looking for Norma, who’s thankfully in town. It very well could’ve been another fight among the three of them if she’d been at home. Ford is not any less menacing with the fact he’s talking to a teenager, letting us know he is in fact dangerous to anyone who wrongs him–or who did something wrong to his late daughter. Norman’s got every reason to be nervous now; I sure am nervous for him.

“Looks like you and your mother are very close.”

Now Ford has something he can hurt or threaten Norma with if he thinks it’s necessary: her son. And now Norman gets the whole picture about how she’s beholden to Ford, but she refuses to believe it. But this (unwisely) gets pushed out of her mind as we get to another scene between her and Norman that’s almost physically painful for me to watch. In the past, Norman gave her the third degree whenever she was going out with any man: “Who is it? When will you be back?” et al. to the point of evident jealousy. But now the only response she gets is a nonchalant “Okay.” as Norman’s still concentrating on another taxidermy project. Norma even tries inciting that jealousy with the parting shot, “I’ll probably be very late.” She might’ve succeeded to a degree as Norman starts pulling at the bird he’s working on.

This exchange is what starts Norma emotionally unraveling at the seams. She tries to push the feelings of anguish away by focusing on her dinner date with George, but forcing those feelings down only makes them worse. The rift between her and Norman is such a distraction that she can’t even keep up her regular M.O. of fabrication about her past. She mixes up where she originally said she went to college, and then every part of that facade just comes crashing down.

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“I’m not educated or polished or nice. I’m nothing.”

Norma is far from nothing, and those words are just heart-breaking to hear out of her. They aren’t true, but she feels she is nothing without Norman close to her. But her one last attempt to get back that closeness hits a final, shattering meltdown. Back at home, Norman physically shuts her out, something we’ve never seen him do before, and his frightening dark side starts to wake up too. Now it’s directed at Norma for the first time. It’s a miracle I’m still alive and writing this, because I’m not sure I remember breathing at all when I first watched these scenes. Whatever kind of kaleidoscopic, complicated love exists between these two, it’s become a big part of the fabric of their psyches. Take that love away, and it’ll quickly tear those psyches to shreds. We can debate the “rightness” or the “healthiness” of it all day long, but that’ll never change it.
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“I don’t like you this way, all distant!!”

“You stay out here. Alone.”

Probably the decision that’ll haunt Norma for a long time is the one to go back and sleep with George, for no other reason than to forget what just happened with Norman. She’s not there when something horrid happens, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Summers raped her when Norman wasn’t there to protect her. Now she’s not there to protect him from being kidnapped. She tried to protect him from the dark truth about himself, but that backfired and ripped them apart emotionally; now that led to Norma not being there to protect him at all. How is this ever going to be fixed? It seems almost as hopeless as Dylan trying to put an end to the drug war, which has now brought the danger right to Norman and Norma’s doorstep.

“If you need to do something about Zane, you can do it.”
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Someone else is overwhelmed with the drug war escalation too: Jodi. She’s even come to the realization her own brother might need to be taken out before it’ll all come to an end. I’m still glad she and Dylan have each other; things’d likely be even worse otherwise.

One voice of reason emerges: Sheriff Romero as he tries once again to get Norman to admit he had sex with Blair Watson the night she was murdered. Romero tries to get Norman to see the wrongness of putting away an innocent man, and it comes down to the ultimatum Norman really doesn’t want: Romero telling Norma the truth about what happened between Norman and his teacher. If their relationship is caving in now, I can barely imagine the devastation that news would bring on it. I don’t even want to.

Norman runs to his room and grabs the pearl necklace and newspaper clipping from under his bed. He calls for Norma as he hears noises downstairs, suddenly sounding much more pitiful and scared–not at all angry as he did only a short time ago. If only it was Norma who’d been in the house…
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The ending shot is spectacular. Norma’s eyes open as she lays in George’s bed, right at the same moment Norman gets attacked, chloroformed and dragged into the rainy night. Perhaps they’re linked in even more ways than even they might realize…

This episode still takes quite a lot out of me, for all the ways it’s so incredibly, masterfully done. 5 out of 5 blue hearts:
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It’s hard to believe it’s possible, but “The Box” is going to ramp up the emotional intensity even more.

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