As has become a personal tradition over the past several years, I watched the three Bones Christmas episodes this week, one right after the other.
I’m not really a big ‘Christmas ep’ person. I don’t automatically watch every holiday-themed show to grace my TV, and some of the ones I do watch wind up making my teeth hurt. But The Man in the Fallout Shelter, The Santa in the Slush, and The Goop on the Girl are all favorites of mine, not so much because of the Christmas theme, but because of the stories they tell.
Season one’s The Man in the Fallout Shelter is a team episode (team eps FTW!) and I’d love it for that if nothing else – the scenes where we see them making and exchanging gifts for each other simply rock. But I’m also deeply moved by the victim story, and Ivy’s response at the end always makes me weep, along with what we see in Brennan’s determination to give back to the woman what she can.
The victim in the The Santa in the Slush doesn’t have quite the same impact, and it took me until this year to realize that I can’t quite connect with him the way I do the victims in the other two eps, because we’re really not sure of who (or what!) he is. Everything we’re told about him says he’s Santa Claus, and we never learn anything else to distinguish him from the myth. But that’s okay, because the season three episode has other things in it to love, including Brennan’s interactions with her family, Parker’s determination to be with Booth, and the Christmas tree at the end.
Oh, and Caroline’s puckish side, which will not be denied.
If I had to choose one of the three as my favorite, though, it would probably be season five’s The Goop on the Girl. There’s no refined weeping on my part at the end of this one – when the radio guy does his speech while we see the team making sure the victim’s mom isn’t alone while burying him, I’m a sobbing mess. Every single time. Just thinking about the look of wonder that crosses her face when they walk up to her in the cemetery, when she realizes her son mattered to them, is enough to make my eyes well up.
Plus, shallow side, Goop has naked Booth.
But as much as I love the episodes individually, I also love them for what they show us when taken together as a whole. While I know the writers didn’t set out to tell a story-within-a-story with the Christmas episodes, they still do a beautiful job of illustrating Brennan’s growth across the first five seasons of the show. (I considered titling this ‘The Evolution of Brennan as revealed by the Christmas Episodes’ before deciding it was too pretentious and not a little ridiculous.)
Despite Fallout Shelter being a team episode, Brennan is very much alone in it, nearly starkly so. We see the others together, drawing names and later exchanging their gifts, and she’s not there. And at the end, they all run off in a mad dash, leaving her standing alone in the lab. Only Booth, bless him, turns back to let her know she doesn’t have to be alone if she wants company. And even though she goes to see him at Wong Foo’s to tell him about Ivy, the episode ends with her alone, a rarity for the show.
Things have changed for her by the time The Santa in the Slush comes along. She’s been reunited with her father and Russ, and is comfortable enough with the idea of gifts that we see her exchanging them with the other squints in the lab, and she tells Booth at the end that she has something for him, too. But despite this, and her willingness to go to some lengths to give Max what he wants for Christmas, she’s still not fully engaged with the idea of being with people who love her at Christmas.
We see her with her passport and ticket to Peru, and the sense of the scene is that it’s touch and go. She’s already told Russ that she won’t be there for their family party, that she’ll be on the flight. She’s not quite ready to give up that safety blanket that leaving town provides. After all, if she’s the one who leaves, who goes where there are no sparking trees, no garishly wrapped gifts, no Christmas music, she cannot be the one who is left behind.
But in the end, she risks it, and when Max says it’s the best Christmas he’s had in sixteen years, she’s able to say, ‘Me, too.’
It doesn’t seem to be enough to completely heal the damage done all those years earlier, though, as in The Goop on the Girl, she still talks about going to El Salvador, albeit in a somewhat half-hearted fashion prior to inviting Booth and the others to her place for Christmas dinner.
The focus then shifts a bit, from Brennan’s acceptance that she has people who want to spend the holiday with her, to the discovery that family get-togethers can be messy and awkward, and are worth it anyway. (Presumably, if there were to be another Christmas episode (and I understand why there might not be) it would build on that, on her continuing to learn how complicated and rewarding family can be.)
With all three episodes, I think it’s the last scene that’s the most revealing in terms of Brennan’s character arc: from her being alone in her office (the lab being more truly her home than her apartment), to her celebrating Christmas with family, but in an impersonal trailer attached to a jail, to finally, her hosting the holiday dinner at her home with her family and friends.
There are plenty of other moments in the show where we see how she’s grown, but there’s something special to me about the way these three episodes reveal those marvelous changes.