Even in the toughest situations, Norma Bates seems to know what to do. When a person in the Bates family just happens to die in her vicinity, she knows exactly how to cover it up, even if it usually comes back to bite her. “The Arcanum Club” takes the power out of Norma’s hands and she loses it. Her world is falling apart around her and there’s nothing she can do about it.
Norma is Bates Motel’s tragic hero, as we know that eventually she’s going to become a skeleton in Norman’s hotel. What Bates Motel has excellently done is turn Norma from an overbearing, overprotective mother into a mother that is basically about as protective as she needs to be, given the circumstances. I mean, if your son starts killing mysterious women in town, you’re gonna want to keep an eye on that.
With their new tenant Annika almost immediately missing, Norma’s mind arrives at the logical conclusion: Norman probably had something to do with it. This feeling isn’t alleviated when Emma states that Norman had just been with her the day that she went missing, so Detective Norma goes on the case! She and Emma find an invitation to The Arcanum Club, a tantalizing clue, yet when Norma tries to get in, she doesn’t have the password and is forced to creep around the back of the club and stare into the sexy windows, just like her son. She finds rich men in what looks like a sex club, but no signs of Annika.
Norma is desperate and looking for anything to alleviate that stress. Not only has her son probably killed one of their only customers, but Sheriff Romero has finally left their hotel, giving her the most awkward goodbye possible. When Norma speeds away from the club, frustrated and scared, she sees a sign for the upcoming bypass that will likely make her lose her business. So she loses it and drives her car right into the sign. Vera Farmiga usually has to be restrained and focused on her son on this show, so getting to see her comedically take on her enemy—a gigantic sign—well, it’s a welcome change for her character.
Meanwhile, Norman is pretty much over the disappearance of Annika, and is starting his relationship with Emma. There’s definitely a connection between them, but it also feels like there’s a much greater distance between the two than there might have been had they started dating years ago. They’ve both grown so much, to the point where they can discuss their past sexual conquests on the first date. Norman states that sex has made him feel overwhelmed, which might explain why his favorite post-coital routine seems to be murder, whereas Emma finds the experience magical. This is a relationship that seems like it’s definitely going to end up being more overwhelming than magical.
Whenever a mysterious new woman comes into town or pays any interest in Norman, she quickly disappears, as Norma states. While at this point, all signs seem to lead to Norman being the murderer of Annika, it would be great if the show was setting us up to think that, only to pull the rug out from under us. My hope is that this will be some trick, and that someone from The Arcanum Club has actually killed Annika.
I’ve also found that the whole Dylan side of things this season has been increasingly interesting, now that the overwhelming drug business in town has been wiped out. His relationship with his father/uncle is becoming much more uneasy, as he’s quick to bring his gun out and shoot a dog this week. There’s an anger brewing underneath that he’s desperately trying to hide from his son, but it’s clear it’s going to burst out soon. This also introduces us to their neighbor Chick, a man who is very mysterious and wants his new neighbors to respect the rules so they can coexist, which Caleb doesn’t seem to have any interest in.
“The Arcanum Club” is a fascinating episode in the way that it takes the power away from characters who are accustomed to having it. Norma is thrown off her game, Caleb is overwhelmed by the two men that could ruin his business, and even Sheriff Romero can’t say goodbye without acting like an uncomfortable teenager. With Annika now confirmed dead, it’ll be very interesting to see how this show proceeds with the power shifting away from these characters.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.