As one would expect from an episode titled “The Truth,” we learn some things on this week’s episode of Bates Motel. We also get payoffs to long-brewing conflicts, some low-key action, and we effectively close the book on the series’ first story arc. And yet, there’s something majorly perfunctory, empty, and ugly about all of it. It feels a little like an episode that’s artificially engineered to provide climax to an arc, not one that grows organically out of what comes before. It’s hard to cheer for plotting that forces characters to behave like idiots in order to justify itself, and that’s something that “The Truth” does way too often.
We pick up exactly where we left off, with Norma now facing the truth about Deputy Shelby thanks to Norman and Emma’s rescue of the deputy’s Chinese sex slave (Diana Bang). Norma is shell-shocked and disillusioned, even though I’m not positive their relationship was ever depicted in such terms that we can empathize with here. Shelby was so frequently a presence of creepy menace in his relationship with Norman, and his affair with Norma was shakily built on lust, not anything that felt like genuine affection. This episode sees the final conclusion of their relationship, and in retrospect it did its job as a plot point, but never really seemed informed by what the two characters involved actually thought of each other.
Emma thinks they should go to the police, and of course Norma nods in agreement and then sends Emma home, her job in the plot now completed (Emma’s role is particularly thankless here, appearing only because she was around in the final scene last week). Dylan and Norman leave the distraught Norma at the hotel as they return to the scene of the deputy’s boat, in an attempt to recover Mr. Summers’ belt and destroy any leverage the deputy has over Norma. Dylan picks now to suggest to Norman that Norma perhaps killed his father, a mystery that’s been so under-developed over these six episodes that I legitimately forgot about it. What’s more, Dylan’s finally leveling with Norman is apropos of absolutely nothing, shoehorned into the episode simply because the script knows it’s going to be tying up some things, so, hey, why not this, too?
The boys do recover the belt and throw it in the lake, just as, back at the motel, the Deputy shows up for some quick sex from out of nowhere, because the loss of a sex slave is felt just that quickly for some. Norma, who could very plausibly rebuff the deputy’s advances, inexplicably gives in and drags him down to the motel, just a few doors down from where the Chinese sex slave is still recovering from her ordeal. Shelby, who is not an idiot, begins to suspect someone else is here, and Norma is baffling inept at covering. And so the Chinese woman panics at the sight of her torturer and runs into the woods.
Now follow me on this. Norman and Dylan immediately return. The three of them, knowing full well that a corrupt psycho cop is running around the property…decide to stand in the parking lot for five minutes and argue loudly, giving the deputy ample opportunity to backtrack and then take the entire family hostage. Because they’re fools. What happened to the Chinese girl, by the way? None of our business, apparently, which is a gesture more disturbing to me than any of the murders committed on the show by far. By virtue of the omission, my only conclusion is that the Chinese girl is a plot device, and we’re actually not meant to care what happens to her. Is it just me, or is that more than a little repellant?
As the deputy, who is panicking at a near-comic level, begins to hit Norma, Norman regresses to a fugue state and attacks the guy, who then gets into a gun battle with Dylan inside the mansion, and since Dylan is Dylan, this contest only makes sense if you allow that Shelby is perhaps an awful marksman. An ensuing suspense sequence has Norman and mother trying to escape, and their plan is foiled until shots ring out, the Deputy stumbles out of the mansion, and then falls to his bloody death. Of all of the family members, Dylan was the one who had the least amount of contact with Shelby. So Dylan being the one to finish him off feels rather anticlimactic. And lame.
More intriguing is the episode’s concluding sequence, which retells the opening of the pilot (Norman finding his father’s body) from Norma’s point of view, establishing once and for all that Norman himself killed his father for roughing up mother, and that Norma staged a death scene in order to support Norman’s ensuing blackout. This step is a good one in that it finally puts us on some firm footing with Norma, and also allows for the fact that we’ve come to like Norman enough in order to put up with some horrific revelations of his backstory. But now that we’re fully aware that Norman is, essentially, tainted goods, and since we know he will not ultimately improve, I’m uncertain where we can go from here.
I truly wish we had been delayed these payoffs another week, so that we could get more character and suspense leading up to this. Instead, this crucial episode feels plot-driven to the point of inanity, and thematically dead (there’s a tiny thread of a theme in the unlikely parental figures that some characters have, but that’s dropped early on). I’m not going to say “The Truth” is Bates Motel’s worst episode so far, but it is the most disappointing.