A Look Back: The Woman in Limbo (Bones)

There’s no new Bones this week.

(Pause for fandom-wide sulk.)

Okay, that’s all the sulking time we get. (Because, really, when you think about the hiatus between the end of season 6 and the beginning of season 7, which went on long enough for universes to be born, age, and die…what’s a single week?)

I’d not planned to post anything Bones-related this week, and, in fact, thought I might finish one of the other posts I’ve got started, since this blog really isn’t intended to be just about Bones. But I’ve been having so much fun thinking through the new episodes that I don’t want to stop. So I’m going to go back and look at old episodes  in the same way during hiatus weeks.  Deal?

It will surprise no one who knows me that the first look back is The Woman in Limbo.  Where ‘top ‘X’ episodes’ is concerned, I benefit from being bad at math, as at last count, there were about 35 episodes in my top 10. But The Woman in Limbo held onto the number one spot for years, only finally being dislodged by The Patriot in Purgatory. (Though I just re-watched TWIL for this post, and it’s fighting to reclaim its spot.)

For me, the season one finale is about relationships: among the team, between Brennan and Russ, and between Booth and Brennan.

Team Eps FTW

It occurred to me a few days ago that I keep referencing ‘team episodes’ without really explaining what I mean by the term. Isn’t every episode about the team? Well, yes. And no. They’re all about a group of people combining their strengths to solve murders, but the episodes I tend to like best are those where we see that the love they feel for one another extends beyond the romantic pairs.

We see the connection between Booth and Sweets pretty frequently, ditto Brennan and Angela. But the moments where we see the affection between Booth and Cam, or Angela and Sweets, or Brennan and Hodgins…those are some of my very favorite scenes. The episodes where we see the ‘more than one type of family’ on display, in other words.

There are several scenes from this episode that stand out for me in that sense, but the one that touches me the most deeply (and yet which I see few comments about) is when Hodgins realizes what the movie ticket means. He shows it to Angela, mostly, I think because he doesn’t want to do something he knows is going to hurt Brennan without getting input from her best friend, but also because he’s well on his way to falling in love with her at this point.

We don’t see the moment when they decide what to do, but I think it’s worth pausing and thinking about their choice. We know that both of them are capable of hiding evidence if they feel it’s justified, and on some level, doesn’t this feel justified? To save someone you care about from facing the fact that her mom was out having a good time two years after abandoning her?

I have to tell you – I’m a straight up type of person, but I’d be tempted.

They don’t do it. Even Angela, who often leads with her heart, knows that the kind choice here isn’t the loving one.

“We decided to tell you the truth. This is the truth.”

Casual friends might take the easy road.  Family, real family, will walk the rough road with you. And that’s what Angela and Hodgins do here.

Brennan and Russ

If you want to know, early on in the episode, what Brennan really thinks about Russ, look at her expression when she sees him for the first time. It’s more than shock, more than anger:


There’s disbelief, yes, but also yearning, I think. (Which the episode supports, I believe, by showing her flashback to a happy moment between them.)

Russ doesn’t see that.  He sees only that she appears to despise him for doing what he believed was best at the age of nineteen. Later, in a tone that sounds close to despair, he asks Angela, ‘does Tempe really hate me that much?’ And Angela nails the conflict for him: “She loves you. It’d be easier if she hated you. Hate is a lot easier to deal with than love. Especially disappointed love.”

I don’t know how important what Angela says there is, in the big scheme of things. I don’t know if Russ would have kept trying to get her to see his side of things or not, without those words from Angela to encourage him. But he does keep trying:, “You still wouldn’t be talking to me if mom’s bones hadn’t shown up. And I kept trying. Every year. Every year on your birthday. You’re the one that gave up! You turned your back on me and you made yourself a new family.”

There’s so much going on in that scene. The first is Russ forcing her to really think about what it meant to be a nineteen year old in that situation (clearly something she’d never considered before) followed by his confronting her with the efforts he’s continued to make to reach out to her.

Their relationship is broken, but it’s not solely because Brennan is the person always being abandoned. Much of the fandom sees her that way, and Brennan herself seems to…but there’s another side of the story here. Just to be clear, I’m not discounting the trauma of finding herself alone and in foster care, but I do wonder if she’d have stayed in foster care for all those years if she’d actually answered one of his birthday calls.

But Russ makes another observation, there, too. Did you catch it? “You turned your back on me and made yourself a new family.” In the short time he’s been there, he’s seen Booth, he’s seen Angela. And he knows. He knows that she’s no longer alone, that there is more than friendship here. That there is family.

(Not-completely-random observation: David the boyfriend is at the beginning of the episode, but not only is he not seen while all this is going down about Brennan’s mom, he’s never seen again.)

The ‘more than one type of family’ line wouldn’t come until mid-season two, but Hart makes it clear here what story he’s telling.

Booth and Brennan

One of my favorite scenes involving the two of them is at the beginning, when Booth comes back in looking for her, and realizes what’s happened. I can’t really explain why, but I like the way he simply calls and cancels her court appearance. No discussion, no fanfare…just him doing what’s necessary to take care of her.

Next, there’s the Marco Polo discussion with Angela. This sets the stage, I think, for Angela’s explanation to Russ about disappointed love, but it does more than that, given Booth’s timing. He’s never going to say Marco and wait for her Polo, but… “Bones! Bones! You up there?”

(Tell me that you don’t think of this scene in every other episode where we see him looking for her?)

But the big scene between them is in the bar, on McVickar’s farm. She starts with, ‘My name is Brennan.’ – last name only. Most of us think of ourselves with our given names first, but she doesn’t, and I believe the reason for that is found in the second thing she says: “I’m Dr. Temperance Brennan.” Even when she gives her first name, it’s wrapped in what she views as truly important: her academic credentials.  Her self-identity is very much tied to her profession.

This is further reinforced by what comes next: “I work at the Jeffersonian Institution. I’m a forensic anthropologist. I specialize in identifying people when nobody knows who they are.” These are, without question, the most important things about her from her perspective.  McVicar’s claims have rattled her, so she goes back to the basics, repeating the things she knows to be true about herself. Truths that can’t be touched by his accusations. No matter the reality about her family, on a completely fundamental level she is what she’s made herself to be.

This isn’t the first time Brennan’s self-identity has been challenged. The day before her parents disappeared, she had one set of beliefs about herself: she was the much-loved daughter of a science teacher and a bookkeeper, with a doting older brother. A month later, she was alone, that identity ripped from her,

How we view ourselves is critical. We not only need  to know who we are, but to be our most successful selves, we also need to know that others know us, that there are people in our lives who see us the way we see ourselves, and value that in us. As a child, Brennan had that. She may have been socially awkward and not had a lot of friends, but she was known and accepted for who she was by people who mattered to her – her parents and Russ.

She’s been largely without that kind of understanding and acceptance for nearly half her life at this point.  And Booth gives it back to her, when he says, “I know who you are.”

Everything that comes after this point references that, I think. He knows her. He values her for who and what she is. During the wedding, after she reads him her letter, she asks, ‘did I do that wrong?’ – we even see it there, in my opinion. She’s unsure of herself in a romantic, social situation, but because she trusts him, both to know her and to tell her the truth, she can ask, and trust the answer.

(If some of this last section sounds familiar, it’s because it’s an edited, shorter version of what I wrote for a Bones Theory post waaaay back in December, 2010. (Yikes!) The full post is here.)

Bonus quotes:

“I’m always right.” (Booth)
“No, you’re not.” (Brennan)


“We’re all here. No one’s leaving until we figure out what happened to your mother.” (Zach)


“Sometimes people need to explain things to me, I guess.” (Brennan)
“Then, you have to let them talk to you.” (Russ)


“To us.” (Booth)
“Whoever the hell we are.” (Russ)
“To what we’re becoming.” (Brennan)

3 thoughts on “A Look Back: The Woman in Limbo (Bones)

  1. I do love this episode too. While I can never pick just one episode as a number one favorite, I just can’t. I can say it’s my favorite season finale. 😉

    One thing with Russ though. His comment about trying and calling her every year on her birthday? It irks me. You abandon your 15 year old sister to foster care but you’re some kind of hero you call her every year on her birthday? Seriously?

    LOL sorry I just have to get that out of my system every time. I do agree with the rest of that whole conversation though, and that it’s the first time that she really considered that he was only 19 and suddenly had responsibility for a 15 year old… an emotionally devastated 15 year old.

    I also love team episodes and can agree with your definition of one. It’s what I love about another of my season one favorites; The Man in the Fallout Shelter. So much team goodness and so much revealed about the team members.

    We also got a conversation about co-workers, friends and what they all are to each other. Clark’s remarks to the squinterns in Woman in White reminded me of that. Kind of a second level of family, those younger cousins who want to tag along on the big kid adventures (which reminds me of the ST:TNG episode Below Decks, but that’s probably just me).

    Any way I do love your blog posts. Keep’em coming please

    • It’s a completely valid point about Russ not being a hero because he tried to call once a year, but I keep thinking about what it was like to be 19, for her to be blaming him for their parents leaving, and for the other adults to be saying she was better off. When she refused his calls…I don’t know. I guess I can see why it would be easy enough for him to believe that she was still blaming him and yeah, was better off without him. I wonder…if he’d shown up the following year at the foster home she was at, would she have been willing to talk to him? Or to go with him if he offered her a home?

  2. Pingback: Essential Bones: The Woman in Limbo | Lunatic Worlds

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