“Bates Motel: The Escape Artist,” an escape from reality

On this week's episode of "Bates Motel." Image courtesy of www.aetv.com.
On this week’s episode of “Bates Motel.” Image courtesy of www.aetv.com.

Episode Grade: B-

“Bates Motel” continues its strangely alluring quality with the slow-moving plot of “The Escape Artist.” Taking a break from the intense Norma/Norman dynamic of last week’s episode, the show makes way for some lighter moments to take stage, allowing viewers to rest from the Bates craziness (we can only take so much at one time) and opening the plot to explore some the lesser known characters.

It is secondary characters like Cody (Paloma Kwiatkowski) , Emma (Olivia Cooke) and Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) who provide a much needed contrast between the Bates, which does well to further explore the intricacies of both Norma (Vera Farmiga) and Norman (Freddie Highmore), all while building up the plot for the future twists and turns we all know are coming.

As the episode opens, Norman wakes from his psychotic break in Cody’s car, disoriented as to where he is and what happened. Cody, curious about Norman’s blackout, questions him, and despite denying ever having had one before, the two establish a camaraderie.

Meanwhile, Dylan (Max Thieriot) is struggling to maintain his place in White Pine Bay, physically and emotionally. He’s moved out of the Bates house and into the drug warehouse where he’s still struggling with the difficult reality of his incestuous parentage as well as trying to put a handle on drug lord Zane’s (Michael Eklund) hot-headed antics.

Dylan (Max Thieriot) gets caught up in a drive-by between two rival drug lords. Image courtesy of www.aetv.com.
Dylan (Max Thieriot) gets caught up in a drive-by between two rival drug lords. Image courtesy of www.aetv.com.

Inevitably, Dylan gets dragged in the middle of the drug war. He earns himself high praise from the newly introduced Jodi, played by Kathleen Robinson, (who’s revealed as the head boss of White Pine Bay’s drug trade) when he saves Zane, her brother, from getting killed by a drive-by shooting by two rival drug dealers (though Dylan ends up getting hit by a car in the process).

Of course, it’s not all drama, and the characters are able to indulge in a little romance. Emma and her drug-selling crush Gunner (Keenan Tracey) are all about that, taking long walks on the beach and having good old fashioned make-out sessions.

Similarly, Norman and Cody take their friendship to the next level. When Cody has a brief encounter with her abusive father that Norman overhears, she drags him along on an adventure in the middle of the woods as she blows off some steam.

And, after a beautiful moment of trust and understanding between the two (revealing that he feels safe around her, Norman admits to Cody that he’s had blackouts before), they seal the deal and end up having sex in a treehouse.

The dynamic between these two, though it’ll most likely end badly for Norman (who’s already grown attached to Cody and would probably do anything to protect her from her abusive father, like kill him) but their relationship really adds depth to Norman’s character. To see him trust and open up about his blackouts was very endearing.

But, once again, the town’s drug trading business comes to forefront of the episode in multiple ways. Zane (Michael Eklund) and Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) are in the midst of a never-ending battle as to who’s boss of the town, while Nick Ford (Michael O’Neill), rival drug lord, finally comes through on his word, helping Norma put a stop to the bypass construction (his motivation for helping is still unclear, though whatever it is, it certainly isn’t what Norma needs in her life right now).

Since Zane burned down Sheriff Romero’s house, the sheriff, or “the big daddy of White Pine Bay” as Norma calls him, must resort to checking in at the Bates motel, providing some very funny scenes between the well-meaning yet controlling Norma and the stoic Romero.

But it’s Nick Ford, who’s been lurking in the background, who really stirs the pot this episode as he lures Norma into an alliance that is certain to get her in trouble.

After teasing for weeks, the creators finally give Ford screen time, inviting Norma to his boat to “discuss ideas” about the bypass. Ford, unable to publicly disagree with the town council’s decision, agrees to support Norma anonymously. He vows to “take care of it” (by forging an environmental impact report, and eventually killing the head councilman that was spearheading the project).

Though warned by Romero to stay away from Ford, Norma still finds herself in the middle of a situation that is surely gonna blow up in her face. But that’s part of the fun of the show–watching the already tragic character of Norma navigate through the shit storm that is her life.

Norma ( Vera Farmiga) may be in over her head with this bypass deal. Image courtesy of www.aetv.com.
Norma ( Vera Farmiga) may be in over her head with this bypass deal. Image courtesy of www.aetv.com.

The episode, though slightly long and drawn out, takes a step back from the two main characters’ struggles and instead, by highlighting their interactions with the minor characters, the audience is able to see much more of what their characters have to offer.

Vera Farmiga’s Norma is as perfect as ever. She’s able to encapsulate all the complexities of Norma in a single look or line. In what I think was one of the most tender scenes of the episode, in which Emma (who’s finally able to show off her acting in a scene that doesn’t make her the messenger) asks Norma about sex, the creators create such a beautiful contrast between Norma and Emma’s characters, revealing the softer side of Norma that we don’t get to see very often as she’s portrayed as this domineering woman.

Despite the horrible memories Emma’s questions conjure for Norma, which could have created a very awkward moment, she’s still able to overcome her past and be excited for Emma. Farmiga is able to reflect Norma’s true character, illuminating the fact the Norma isn’t the monster of a mother that we’re led to believe she is, based on Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” but rather a caring but sometimes misguided mother who is trying her best.

As a whole, the episode was an escape from the reality of the Bates family drama. While still very present, as both Norma and Norman get themselves into situations that lends itself to disaster, the episode focused more on the town (certainly gearing up for when the town catches up with the Bates).

“The Escape Artist,” earns itself a B- for pulling back to more fully develop both the plot and characters.


“Bates Motel” airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on A&E.