The third episode is always the real test of a new series. Sure, the pilot establishes the concept, but there’s usually a long production hiatus between the shoot for the pilot and that for episode two. The second episode of a show can almost come across like a second pilot, in a sense. So the third episode is the real indicator of whether a series can transcend the novelty of its concept and immerse you in its story and characters on a long-term basis. These third installments are usually easy on the shocks and plot twists but dive a little deeper into the characters and their relationships.
That was what happened in the third episode of Bates Motel, titled “What’s Wrong With Norman.” (A title that excluded a question mark.) But damn, if it still didn’t end on a hell of a reveal. Our friendly neighborhood Sheriff’s deputy, Shelby, keeps a Chinese sex slave in his dungeon of a basement! I’m surprised by how quickly the sordid details of Norma and Norman’s town have floated to the surface: the human trafficking issue certainly reared its ugly head once again, as did the potfield. And it would be the Bates boys, doing a capable Hardy Boys impression, who would discover all this. Dylan took the job to work for Bradlee’s father—who, amazingly, had not died but was in an induced coma with a very poor life expectancy. That meant guarding the potfield, a task he prepared for by doing a whole “You talkin’ to me?” routine in his mirror. He’d make $300 a day protecting $5 million worth of weed. Dylan wanted to guard it and smoke it. But he learned the two families from town that own it would not be too pleased about that. Apparently, this potfield is responsible for much of the local economy.
Little did Norman know that his brother was now guarding the potfield from which he and Emma had barely escaped with their lives last week. Emma was particularly shaken. She felt guilty because she never really believed that there was human trafficking going on. She just used that as an excuse to bond with Norman. But once she saw that shed for real, she knew a dead Chinese sex slave really had been buried there. Norman wanted to have nothing to do with it. He called that diary “pornographic” and denied being obsessed with it. And yet he collapsed in the middle of class after imagining his teacher and Emma as the girl tied up. Was he aroused or horrified by that flight of fancy? Or was he horrified because he was aroused? The attraction and repulsion to sex that will one day make him take up a butcher knife are already firmly in place.
Norman recuperated in the hospital, an expense he and his mom sorely didn’t need. And we saw once again what a big TCM fan he is. It looked like he was watching a Ronald Reagan movie, but I couldn’t tell which one. More eagle-eyed classic Hollywood fans, please render an assist to this cinephile in the comments if you know what movie that is. While there, Bradlee stopped by to give him flowers. Norman is somehow a babe magnet when it comes to both girls with oxygen tanks and girls who are the prom-queen type.
Officer Guyliner, I mean Romero, showed up at the Bates’ house with a search warrant to look for Keith, the previous owner who raped Norma and who got a butcher knife stuck between his ribs. They scoured the place, and Norman knew immediately he had been given away because he had kept Keith’s belt as a souvenir. Moron.
Emma used her oxygen tank to force her way in to Bates House. She told Norman that if they forgot that poor dead girl it will be like she never existed. They had to uncover the circumstances of her death and expose this human trafficking ring. They searched the bathroom and found a Chinese character under the bathroom sink, a character that Yahoo Answers later revealed translates as “beautiful.” That made them even sadder. With that character and the diary hidden in Norman’s room, she must have been kept captive there. The motel itself was probably used as a brothel. In just the span of 30 minutes of screen time Norman had gone from wanting to deny this girl’s existence to doubling down on the search to unravel the mystery of her death. It’s also remarkable to see how one of the most awkward characters in pop culture history has already found himself in the middle of his own love triangle: with hottie Bradlee and sickly Emma, who cut in to his conversation with Bradlee with more than a glint of jealousy.
So Norma went on a date with Officer Shelby, involving wine consumption by a warm, cozy fire…and a little subtle blackmail. He told her that he found Keith’s belt under Norman’s bed. He wondered, did Norman kill Keith? He knew the former owner of the house was a bully, and he indicated that he might be willing to suspend the investigation. If Norma let him “take care of her.”
At first Norma took him at his word. She told Norman she thought they were safe. But as she continued to think about, she knew her son was right: Shelby could blackmail her to do anything. This was Norman’s mistake. And Norman would have to correct it. “You know what you have to do, don’t you?” asked Norma, indicating that Norman may have placed them in situations like this before and been forced to mop up after himself.
So Norman went to Officer Shelby’s house, presumably to steal back the belt and maybe also to kill Shelby. But what he found was a veritable haunted house. No. Scarier. The kind of place a serial killer would live. All flickering lights, peeling paint, and dark shadows. And whimpers. Oh, the whimpers. Behind a door where Norman maybe thought Shelby was sleeping was…a Chinese sex slave! So he’s in on the ring! And maybe even worked with Keith to keep it going, despite his saying that he didn’t like the guy. The final shot? Shelby pulling up to his house and about to enter the door. Get out, Norman! Terrifying.
What will Norman do to get out of this? Will he have to slash his way out? Or will he somehow escape with the belt and without Shelby noticing? Maybe he can use the existence of this sex slave as a type of blackmail over Shelby?
What do you guys think? And at this point, are you now officially hooked on Bates Motel?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: A+E]