Although Brennan’s journey is the primary story in the Bones S9 premiere, Booth has a story, too, or part of one.
When the spoiler broke early in the summer that we’d meet an old friend of Booth’s, a former priest who becomes his confidant, there was some puzzlement (and yeah, some grumbling, because hey, it’s the Bones fandom.) Why not Sweets? Or Cam? Or Hodgins? (A more-wistful-than-not wish expressed by some of us who love Booth and Hodgins together.)
But having now seen the episode, I get it. I get why it’s Aldo rather than anyone on the team.
One of the first things we learned about Booth is that balancing the moral aspects of being a sniper with his devout Catholicism isn’t easy. He knows exactly how many lives he’s taken, and feels their weight. Even believing that there’s a reason for their deaths, that other lives were saved by his actions, there’s a cost to him.
Given that, it’s important that he be only the executioner, pulling the trigger, never the judge or jury, never the one who decides a life must end, and that he be able to trust those who order the trigger pulled. It’s a theme the show has explored a number of times, and his comments in the bedroom in The Corpse on the Canopy show that nothing has changed in that respect. Booth does not kill in cold blood. He does not take the law into his own hands. (Exceptions, obviously, are when someone’s life is in immediate jeopardy, but even that takes a toll on him.)
Being a good man is important to Booth. But good men don’t kill, and one of the things he’s best at is killing people. His black and white approach to when he does so – imminent, immediate jeopardy, or clear battlefield decisions made by someone higher up the chain of command, someone he trusts – is part of what allows him to see himself as a good man, despite the kills.
That’s worked for him, more or less, for many years. (I say ‘more or less’ because if it worked perfectly, I don’t think we’d have seen the response we did to Epps’ death, nor would we have had what Brennan called the cosmic balance sheet.)
But now, there’s Pelant.
They stopped him once in the ‘good guy’ way, by arresting him, only to watch him waltz out a few hours later. Since that point, he’s killed four more people, nearly killed Flynn, and tried to kill both Sweets and a school full of children (and the collateral damage from reprisal attacks from that would probably have been staggering.)
Is there any way of stopping him apart from killing him? I don’t think so. They’ve convinced me of that. I have every confidence that if they manage to arrest him again, the same thing will happen as happened the last time, and he’ll walk out. So he has to die to stop the carnage. (Or, to quote Max, ‘he needs killing.’)
In our world, a guy doing even half of what Pelant has done (hijacking missiles, shutting down the DC cell grid/traffic system…) would have our entire government after him, not to mention some very ticked off mercenaries.
But in the Bones universe, the responsibility for stopping him appears to rest solely on the shoulders of one lone FBI agent/sniper and his team of scientists, meaning there’s no one to in a position over Booth, no one he trusts to take the role of judge/jury.
He has to take that burden on himself. He has to decide whether or not to kill Pelant, whether it’s as justified as it looks or if there is some way of arresting him that would guarantee he’d never kill again.
The others are part of the larger discussion – part of why I think this is one of the stories the show is telling is the conversation Hodgins and Sweets had in The Future in the Past. For Sweets, it was cut and dried: if Hodgins had killed Pelant in the cemetery, it would have been cold-blooded murder. But Hodgins didn’t see it that way, and nothing he’s said since then shows a change of heart. People are dead who would still be alive if Hodgins had finished strangling him that day, and thus he regrets not doing so.
Could Hodgins kill Pelant? Absolutely. And there would be a cost to it for him, because Hodgins is a good man, too. But he doesn’t already have the weight of all those other kills on him.
But Booth is the one with the skills and expertise, the one who, on some level, gets up every morning prepared to end some lives in order to save others. Sweets has learned to shoot, is certified to do so, and while I think that he, too, could and would kill if necessary to save someone, it’s not his natural mindset any more than it is Hodgins’.
Of them all, if someone on the team is going to consciously set out to kill Pelant, it’s going to be the one who’s one of the world’s best snipers. But no one on the team can make that decision for Booth, because they’re not the ones carrying the burden of all those other kills, the one who, as he believes, will give an accounting to God some day.
But complicating it further is that Booth now has personal reasons for wanting Pelant dead. It’s not a clean kill, it can’t be. First and foremost, Pelant needs to be killed to prevent more innocents from dying. But he also needs to die so that Booth can have his own life back, meaning Booth is about the worst person in the world to be charged with stopping him by whatever means necessary – and then living with the consequences.
And that’s why Aldo as confidant can give Booth something none of the team can. His authority is spiritual rather than military, but it’s clear Booth both trusts him (and still sees him somewhat as a priest.) He understands the burden Booth carries, and in fact, if I interpreted it correctly, sharing that burden drove Aldo out of the priesthood.
So when he says, ‘you have to kill him’ to Booth, Booth trusts him. He knows Aldo’s not saying it lightly, knows the other man is seeing the full picture, including both the necessity for Pelant to die, and the toll that doing so will take on Booth.
It’s still Booth’s responsibility, but Aldo brings something to the decision-making process that no one else can.
This is the story I believe they’re telling about Booth. If he sees himself as a good man despite the lives he’s taken due to never having made the decision on his own, how does he remain a good man if he does what it appears needs to be done, what apparently he alone can do, and kills Pelant outright? (This assumes, by the way, that Pelant won’t do something handy like point a gun at Booth or someone else, thus removing the moral ambiguity from the situation.)
His former priest is part of how that all resolves, I think, as is Brennan. I suspect her referring to him as a good man in the end scene of Secrets in the Proposal wasn’t a coincidence in that respect.
I don’t know if Booth is actually going to be the one to kill Pelant. It’s very possible that it will happen in some other way. But I think they want to explore that story for Booth, even if it winds up not being a burden he carries.