In the large scheme of things, Bates Motel is essentially about a relationship between a mother and son where, eventually, the mother will die. So it sort of makes sense that the story of Norma Bates is one filled with failures and disappointments, especially since we know that her own son will be the end of her, she’ll end up a skeleton looking over the motel, her son will pretend to be her and she has no idea. The story of Norma in Bates Motel has been tragic up until this point—the show even started with her husband dying and Norma being the victim of a rape soon after arriving at her new home. For all of this, it’s always good to see Norma get a victory, as she does in “The Deal,” even if it is incredibly short-lived.
“The Deal” is actually a victory for the whole family, as we see them slowly becoming a caring, understanding group. Norman realizes that even though he thought he told his mother about Caleb spending time with Dylan, it was actually another blackout. For the first time ever the blackout is a good thing, as Dylan and Norman decide to finally tell their mother about Caleb. When Norma tells Norman that he had a blackout, it doesn’t start a fight or stretch out the rift growing between the two of them, but rather we see the comforting Norma that they both need right now in their lives.
From a performance perspective, this is an incredible episode for the entire Bates family. Norman is coming to the realization that he really might be losing his mind, and is damn scared about it. Near the end of the episode, we get what is possibly Dylan’s best moment, as he explains to his mother why she should give the brother who raped her a chance. That’s an incredibly hard discussion to have, yet Dylan gives the conversation such perfect emotion and explanation that, for once, it allows the audience to see Caleb’s side.
But the real MVP in “The Deal” is Norma, who we see go from the height of victory, to the lowest depths of her pain. After getting run off the road by one of Bob Paris’ goons, she goes to Paris’ office with Sheriff Romero to discuss giving him the flash drive that he desperately wants. This is preceded by a wonderful scene between Norma and Romero, where she explains how this town has beaten her down and how she’s finally going to get something out of all the abuse. She also makes a great point about how people don’t think she can handle the problems that come to her because she’s a woman, but Norma has proven time and time again, she can take on anything.
Norma’s meeting with Bob Paris is the rare victory for Norma, as she finally tries to present herself as one of the town’s main badasses. She negotiates with Bob, saying that she’ll give the flash drive back, as long as he builds an offramp to her hotel, a giant billboard and a pool. Considering the flash drive has millions of dollars worth of information on it, she probably could’ve asked for more, but Norma gets what she wants, or at least she believes that Bob will pull through.
Upon returning home with that victory still fresh in her mind, Dylan and Norman set her down to discuss the Caleb problem. Norma silently listens, but Vera Farmiga’s performance gives us plenty of information with just those facial expressions, as she moves from surprise, to fear, to betrayal and disappointment—and finally to pure rage. She hastily packs her suitcase, throws in a trash can full of toiletries and a gun and leaves the house, telling Dylan to watch Norman for her. All this, just as the family was finally pulling together.
Norma leaving is basically the worst thing that could happen to the Bates family right now. Norma was getting so close to trusting Dylan in the way she trusted Norman, but now in her mind, he’s betrayed her in a horrifying way. Meanwhile, Norman is having those blackouts much more frequently, seeing a mother that doesn’t exist, and now he’s even stealing his favorite dresses that belong to her. It used to be that he was getting too much time with his mother, but right now, he needs her to be around. And poor Norma just can’t catch a break, and she’s had her last straw broken—and by her children no less.
“The Deal” is a fantastic episode of Bates Motel, one where we can understand Dylan’s heartfelt plea for a second chance and Norma’s outraged leave of absence with a gun. This season and last, Bates Motel has perfected the art of twisting a story arc and messing with expectations in a brilliant way. “The Deal” furthers the plot with some incredible, and possibly series-best performances from the entire Bates family.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.