Part of the point of this blog is to give me a place to pull all my thoughts together about stories I love (in a more organized fashion than what I do over at Bonesology). But I didn’t want my posts to be reviews in the traditional sense, mostly because there are a number of people I respect writing those kinds of reviews. Why re-invent the wheel?
So rather than trying to be unbiased, or even particularly fair, I decided just to go with the emotion, focusing mostly on where the stories touch me, on where and how and when and why they make me feel.
Knowing the topic, and trusting both the writers and the actors, I expected to love this episode, and I knew it would generate strong emotions. How could it not?
But as wordy (or as pal Mar says, ‘thorough’) as I can be, I’m somewhat at a loss to articulate my response to this, beyond that it was both beautiful and brutal to watch.
I’ve known for several years now that a large part of the appeal of Bones to me is the team, the idea that people who aren’t related to one another can become a family, supporting one another through the messy, ugly things the world throws at them. (Recently, I’ve realized that nearly every book, film, or show that I love has at its heart the same idea. (And hey, isn’t that even what romance is, broken down? Two unrelated people becoming a family?) …that might be a post for another day.)
Anyway, knowing that we were going to see Brennan and Booth reacting to, and caring for, someone in their family who’d just been handed one of the ugliest things life tosses out…yeah, I was always going to love this.
Even so, I wasn’t prepared for the sorrow I felt.
It sounds hokey, and a bit stupid, but I think it’s because …they’re my family, too. I know they’re fictional people. I do get that. But on some level, the reason we like stories in the first place is that because we relate to them as if they’re real, or could be.
For nine seasons, we’ve watched these characters, connected with them, felt for them, and that adds a layer of realism to the emotional punch.
We understand Brennan well enough to know immediately that she’s not just seeing a hockey game on Booth’s phone, and watching how hard she finds it later to maintain her professional reserve, we know it’s bad, even before she spells it out.
And Wendell? He’s been part of our lives for over five years. We have all these memories associated with him, from his early beliefs that Brennan was hitting on him, to his hockey-based friendship with Booth, to his complicated relationship with Angela and Hodgins, to his financial problems, to his helping Booth remodel the house, to his uncle’s death in WTC on 9/11. We know him.
And so when he says, ‘We were becoming a good team, weren’t we?’ my heart just shatters.
They couldn’t have told this story as effectively in season five, I don’t think. Nor could they have told it now about one of the newer interns. I like Finn, and I think I’m the only person on the planet who actually likes Oliver, but this wouldn’t have had nearly the impact with either of them.
We know Wendell. And we know the relationship he has with the team.
The episode isn’t all sadness, though, in the emotional journey it takes us on. One of the things I love is what it gives us about Booth and Brennan, as they give and take comfort from one another.
In the scene where she tells him what she’s seen on the x-rays, they slip back and forth between Booth reassuring her that she can’t maintain her usual reserve because she cares, to her placing her hand on his back in comfort. (And how much more weight does that scene carry because it’s not one of their usual spots? They’re not having this conversation in the SUV, or the diner, or even at home, but some place unfamiliar to us.)
And in the diner scene, when they tell Wendell? It’s similar. Booth and Brennan are a unit. She’s the one who understands the disease, and discovered it, so she starts out trying to tell Wendell, but even with Booth’s guidance, she can’t get the words out. So he does, and then Brennan takes over again with the specifics.
Later, at home, when they discuss Wendell’s decision not to take treatment, we see again how they mesh as a couple, despite some pretty significant philosophical differences:
“It’s not fair. Wendell’s a good kid.”
“I thought your belief in God gave you the sense that the universe has some kind of loving plan.”
“Well God tests us to see what we’re made of, so we can appreciate what we have.”
“I can appreciate the universe without cancer.”
(I am so getting that last line on a t-shirt.)
Another dynamic that’s present all through the episode is one of parents/child. While neither of them are old enough to be Wendell’s parents, Brennan nevertheless says “Mr. Bray is my charge” – she feels responsible for him, enough to violate ethical codes when she knows something is wrong, and Wendell makes the maternal aspect explicit when he says, “I’m fine. You really have become a good mom.”
It’s Booth that Wendell goes to, though, for advice about what to do next, and Booth lays it out for him, in the way a father would, or an older brother at the very least:
“I’m okay with it. I could just take off. I’ve always wanted to see South America…kick back, drink, sleep with as many women as-‘
“No, you’re not going to do that. You’re going to get the treatment, you’re going to throw up, and you’re going to feel miserable, but none of that’s going to matter because you’re going to live to be a hundred.’
“You should be my doctor.”
“I’m serious. You’re going to fight this. You have to fight this.”
“Why? because there’s a life out there that you haven’t even lived yet. There’s a woman waiting to be your wife, there’s kids waiting to be born. Waiting to find out how great of a dad you’re going to be. Plus you have your friends. They need you. That’s why.”
Wendell’s thoughts about not taking the treatment are being driven by having watched his father die; Booth, as another role model, makes a powerful argument for why he should fight, and it’s beautiful.
Meanwhile, there’s a case going on, about a talented man who was murdered for a particularly stupid reason right when his life was about to turn around, and while his situation is different from Wendell’s, there is an overlapping theme, namely, who remembers us, and why?
Sweets makes a point of telling Kara the truth about Colin’s feelings for her, “because somebody has to mourn him. Somebody who’s more than just a fan, someone that will miss him.”
And that then transitions to Wendell coming to see Booth and Brennan, to tell them he’s decided to fight. There are plenty of people who will mourn him if he dies, but he wants to be remembered “in the right way, by the people that I care about. Maybe I want to be remembered as someone who fought back.”
(I love Booth’s slight smile at that point.)
Both scenes play out with Charlie Worsham’s Love Don’t Die Easy in the background, one verse of which goes:
I will stand in the thunder
And shiver in the rain
While I’m tied to the mast of a leaky boat in a hurricane
But I will find my way back to you
Even if it’s all in vain
Love don’t die easy.
All of that is why I expected to love the episode, because I knew there would be those kinds of moments. But even trusting the cast and crew the way I do, I wasn’t anticipating the authenticity they gave us here. I’ve lost my mom, my sister, three uncles, an aunt, and several friends to different kinds of cancer, and all the responses to this were familiar to me – from Booth’s insistence that ‘he’s going to be fine’ to Brennan and Wendell trying to take refuge in work, to Wendell’s struggle and choice.
For everyone currently fighting cancer (whether as a patient or a supporter), as well as the survivors who’ve been there, done that, I’m grateful the show took that route. That they didn’t blink, didn’t step back from the nightmare that’s a cancer diagnosis, that’s the gut punch of fear and hopelessness combined with the determination to fight, to believe we can beat the odds – or the question Wendell asks, when he’s weighing enjoying life now vs spending now fighting for more.
I want, rather desperately, for Wendell to win, (hello, Hart and Stephen – are you listening?) for him to beat it, despite their having set the odds against him by giving him a strain of cancer with high mortality rates. But I don’t mind them making it a hard fight, because anything else trivializes something that millions of people are going through, right this minute. (My numbers might be high. Sometimes it feels to me that cancer eventually gets everyone, even though I know that’s not true.)
We don’t know whether he’ll win or not, as no one does when they first start that journey into hell. We only know that Wendell’s decided to fight, and that he’s not alone. That choice, to face what he’s been handed and run with it, is something we all face, every day, whether it’s cancer or something else.
I love that the episode ends on that reminder: in response to Brennan’s earlier comment that the song wasn’t good music to dance to, Booth had said, ‘Sometimes you just have to dance to the music that’s given to you.” He repeats that after Wendell leaves, as they turn again to one another for comfort and support, slow dancing in a way that’s really just an excuse to hold one another.
They have each other, and Wendell has all of them:
(Wendell’s cast, where you can see part of a Flyers’ logo, and what Brennan wrote: “You’re much stronger than your radius was. You are not in this alone. Your friend, Dr. Brennan”.)
“My dad always said that was the saddest key of them all.” (Angela, quoting her father concerning the D minor chord.)