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‘Bates Motel’ Recap: ‘Dark Paradise’

A whirlwind of delusion and disbelief. That’s how I would describe the season premiere of Bates Motel.

We start the episode completely immersed in Norman’s deluded mindset. He wakes to the soothing sound of music and the sight of his long-dead dog Juno happily greeting him. As he wanders downstairs, we see an almost idyllic vision: Mother, full of life and donning an apron, presenting Norman with freshly baked biscuits.

All is bright, clean, and perfect.

Over a scrumptious breakfast, we learn that Mother has not left the house in ages. But she doesn’t complain. Instead, she dotes on Norman, even saying at one point that she’d give up a million villages just to be with him forever.

It has all the earmarks of a 1950’s romance, like the very films Norma and Norman once watched together.

And then, in a flash, all that perfection dissolves into the truth. Norma is dead. Norman is alone. And nothing can change those two facts.

These initial scenes set the tone for the rest of the episode. All throughout we see delusion juxtaposed with reality. For every vision Norman has of Mother, we get glimpses of what lies beneath. He’s a willing participant in his delusion and he shuns anyone who dares to challenge it, even if that happens to be Mother herself.

A&E | Photo by Sergei Bachlakov

As we see this now fully formed relationship between Norman and Mother unfold, we learn quite a lot about this new dynamic:

The roles have been completely reversed.

Where Norman was once Norma’s prisoner, he now has complete control over Mother. She not only dotes on him, but watches his every move, waiting for her cue to act. Now it is she who waits up at night for Norman to come home; it is she who must bend to Norman’s every whim. He’s the gatekeeper of everything, as Norma was when she was alive.

Norman recognizes what he’s done.

One of the most interesting things about this episode is how Norman’s delusion frames Mother’s perception of their predicament.

“I gave up my life to protect you,” she says.

In reality, this is Norman’s way of coming to grips with what he has taken away from Norma and from himself as well. I would argue that through his conversations with Mother, we see strong undercurrents of grief which bubble to the surface when he visits Norma’s corpse in the basement and clings to it.

Mother gives voice to Norman’s most primal fears.

As Norman and Mother carry on throughout the episode, we come to understand that Norman uses Mother as his soapbox. As she voices her fears about Norman meeting with a young woman named Madeleine Loomis, we see all of Norman’s anxieties about losing Norma in reverse. Mother is jealous, possessive, and fearful that Norman might leave her for something or someone better. Are these not the very qualities Norman embodied when Norma was being courted by Romero?

Mother is a protector and keeper of secrets.

A major plot point in this episode was Norman’s discovery of a stranger’s wallet in his breast pocket. When he inquires where the wallet could have come from, Mother is suspiciously mum about the whole thing. By the end of the episode, Mother reveals that the stranger had actually showed up to kill Norman first, so she went into Mama Bear mode. Turns out the stranger was a hit man hired by Romero.

A&E | Photo by Cate Cameron

All that said, the premiere wasn’t only about the love affair between Norman and Mother. Here are some other important things to know about the season premiere:

  • Emma has now fully recovered from her transplant. In fact, so much time has passed since last season that she and Dylan have gotten married and had a daughter.
  • Caleb is still lurking in the shadows and will likely remain there. When he shows up at Dylan and Emma’s house unexpectedly, Emma turns him away for the sake of Dylan’s mental and emotional health.
  • Romero is still in prison and is still heartbroken over losing Norma. He aches to get out and avenge her death, but due to his reputation as a crooked cop, his chances of release are slim.

The episode ended on a strangely romantic note, with Norman and Mother making eyes at each other over a dead corpse as Etta James’ “At Last” plays in the background. Despite the macabre nature of the scene, it was an interesting and almost lovely callback to season one where Norma and Norman are bonding over Keith Summer’s dead body. My, how far we’ve come…

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Tara Martinez

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Tara Martinez is a New York-based writer with a passion for pop culture and a penchant for analysis. She frequently covers film, television, and representations of women in the media.