In the past when Norma had problems, she had a support system to help her, but more importantly, she had power. She could ask Romero for help and due to some combination of justice and feelings towards Norma, he would help. At the very least, Norma could always rely on Norman to help her, even if most of her problems were caused by him in the first place. As we get to the end of the third season of Bates Motel, Norma doesn’t really have anyone in her corner anymore and she’s got a giant damn hole in her front yard. You know it’s bad when the only person Norma can probably trust is a brother who raped her—the one who, just a few episodes ago, she had a seething hatred for.
At this point, it seems like the whole world is against Norma, which isn’t a good place for her to be in, considering that we know how her story ends. She really doesn’t have any one to protect her, or maybe more accurately, for her to manipulate. Her heart is usually in the right place when she does use people for her own means, like using Romero to protect Norman or lying to Norman to protect him from himself, but at this point it’s all coming crashing down on her. Bob is still threatening her and Romero has given the flash drive Bob wants so badly to the proper authorities. At this point, Bob is willing to threaten Norma and possibly use Norman to get to her—who’s hiding out anyway—there’s no one to help her with her dire situation.
With Norma struggling to stay afloat, standing on the top of dirt piles and screaming into the void, the real problem here is with Norman and the revelation that Bradley is back in town. With the exception of a lot of the drug-related business in the first two seasons, much of which has been reigned in and made interesting again this season, Bradley is Bates Motel’s biggest problem. At first she represented the growing rift between Norman and Norma, with Bradley pulling Norman away from his mother for the first time in their lives.
But without Bradley in the picture this entire season, this rift has grown without her help. Now there are bigger problems between Norman and Norma, and a disagreement over an old crush seems completely insignificant at this point. And honestly, Bradley is just the worst. She’s more blatant in her using of Norman to get what she wants, even though she doesn’t seem to realize how she manipulates him. She convinces Norman to tell her mother that she’s actually still alive and for some reason, watching Norman clean up Bradley’s room at the motel was unbearably sad to me.
When Norman and Bradley go to Bradley’s house, she’s pissed off at her mother for trying to live her life and push forward from the loss of her husband and her daughter. I’m not exactly sure what Bradley wanted. Did she want her mom to be some dark shell of a human being who can’t move on without these two? I imagine so, since Bradley is horribly self-centered, and just a huge problem in general.
It’s a shame, since this third season of Bates Motel has been far more focused, and has also been smart about leaving behind Norman at high school and the people there. Next week’s season finale seems to be building up to some very exciting explosions, so it doesn’t feel like we really need Bradley back for any reason other than to increase the divide between Norman and his mother even more. Already at the end of this season, we’ve got the rivalry between Norma and Bob, Norma and Romero and their sexual chemistry, Caleb and Dylan versus Chick and the budding relationship between Dylan and Emma, which has surprisingly been one of the most exciting and interesting story developments to come about this season. To throw Bradley into the mix amongst all these other balls in the air just seems completely unnecessary. To Norman, Bradley coming back only means trouble, but as for Bates Motel, Bradley appearances never really help this show either.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.