After last week’s search for missing prostitute Annika, Bates Motel is very smart to start this week by questioning what we assumed: that Norman killed her, or at the very least that she’s dead already. Last season, we had the investigation over the death of Blair Watson, which was Norman’s fault, and with Annika missing, the show risked taking similar steps (almost as if every season would have a new dead woman on Norman’s conscience).
What “Persuasion” does though is takes us through the steps of this search, but it take opposite approach from we saw last season. Norman now has more power than Norma and he’s able to lie to himself enough so that answering some questions from Sheriff Romero is no big deal, even if it is because he doesn’t have quite as much to hide as we originally thought. “Persuasion” gives us a Norman that is no longer under the control of his mother, and that’s a terrifying concept.
In “Persuasion,” Norma worries that her son might have killed another woman who wrongly trusted Norman too much. Even after going to the morgue and seeing that the body the police found last week isn’t Annika’s she still looks at her son with a nervous, uncertain glare. While she loves her son—maybe too much—she now knows that he’s capable of murder, as well as something that may be even worse for her—lying to his mother.
Freddie Highmore is particularly fantastic in this episode as we see him trying to deal with his mother’s distrust. But we see his reaction to this not as a murderer who might be losing his mind, but as a confused teenager that doesn’t know what to do when the person he loves the most doesn’t trust him. He can’t control his rage, but once again, not in the same way as Norman when he is about to murder someone. That side of Norman is terrifyingly calm and collected; this Norman can’t control his actions in any way.
Norma does have it pretty rough this week, especially since we see her at her happiest when she identifies a dead girl at the morgue, confirming that she’s not Annika. This episode give us Norma puking on herself (offscreen thankfully), getting in a huge fight with her son, making a fool of herself on her first day at school and eventually finding a dying Annika.
On her first day at school, Norma goes to the wrong class and is accidentally a jerk to the teacher. James Finnigan—played by Joshua Leonard—is a psychology teacher that sees Norma as a member of the Secret Club of the Damaged, of which he is also a member. He sees in Norma that she probably had a crappy upbringing like himself and as a therapist, wants to help her out. Considering that Norma has always pushed her feelings down as far as they possibly could go and ignore them, getting them out in the air could really do her some good, especially at this moment of high stress for her. But it also could potentially bring to light some of the Bates family secrets.
Sheriff Romero is also finally getting his own series of drama that doesn’t revolve around the Bates family, with elections coming up. Romero’s competition for the office is Marcus Young, who barely even lives in White Pine Bay, but is gunning hard for the position. In addition to the fun casting of Joshua Leonard, this new plot line also gives us Kevin Rahm—Ted from Mad Men!—as Bob Harris, member of the Arcanum Club, wealthy member of the White Pine Bay community, and big fan of a good sex party. Rahm as Bob allows him to be a pretty big creep and I’m guessing, the person who actually killed Annika.
Unfortunately “Persuasion” also reminds that the usual deadweight in this show is the Dylan storyline. Dylan is trying to avoid taking charity from his father for the new weed business, but when one of their buildings needs a different type of wood, Caleb goes behind Dylan’s back and pays for the changes anyways. When your major plot focuses on a discussion of different wood types, you can’t expect it to be that compelling. At the very least, Dylan’s story allows for the great image of watching Emma deliver a car full of weed to Dylan’s land.
As mentioned earlier, “Persuasion” does end with a twist, albeit a predictable one, where Annika shows up, with a gunshot wound, and looks like she likely dies, giving Norma a flash drive that should help her family. Of course this raises so many questions, but, most importantly, proves that Norma’s suspicions against her son were unfounded (for once).
?“Persuasion” feels like an episode that exists in order to pave the way for the rest of this season. So far most of these installments have been strong, but c’mon—less talk about wood please.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.