I know the different voices in the fandom well enough to know that not everyone is going to agree with me here, and that’s fine. For what it’s worth, I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind; I’m just sharing what I see.
I liked this episode a great deal. There wasn’t much of a surprise in respect to the killer (though Ahn Nee’s freak out when Sweets beat her did have me questioning a bit) but the interrogation scenes (including the chess game between Sweets and Tim) ranks as one of my all-time favorite interrogations.
But there was plenty of character stuff going on, too, and team moments, and Booth and Brennan.
Here’s a secret about me and this show: I love both Brennan and Booth. But there are times when I don’t like either of them. (In fact, I found him very unlikable in parts of this episode.) And you know what? That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
In my opinion? Love isn’t love at all if the object of the love is perfect and without flaws.
Brennan is beautiful, compassionate, empathetic, loyal, confident, persistent, brilliant, and very, very competitive. The last three combine to make her incredibly successful. She also has a blind spot – as many of us do – when it comes to evaluating herself in respect to others. For her, it’s not enough to be brilliant and successful, she has to be first in her field. Always. And she needs to share that on a regular basis with everyone around her.
I love Brennan. But that’s because I see her through the eyes of those who love her, who see all those sides of her. This is why, most of the time, we don’t even blink (or even acknowledge, really) when she says, “But I’m better!” or “But I’m the best!”
Every once in a while, though, the show lets us see her through the eyes of someone who doesn’t see all those other facets of her, who doesn’t love her, and instead of being a minor flaw that pales in comparison to the total of all that is Temperance Brennan, it’s a problem.
Whether Dr. Fillmore is irritating or not is irrelevant. Brennan’s not being rude to him because he’s annoying. She’s putting him in his place because she feels like he’s a threat to her profession – that someone who is only an expert on 25% of the bones in the human body could still think to contribute something important to forensic science.
She backs down, if rather ungraciously, when confronted with his new PhD. (And yes, I’m aware of the silliness inherent in a two-year PhD, even for someone who already had a medical degree and other graduate classes. I take it with the same large grain of salt I take DNA analyses that happen in minutes.)
It’s not that Brennan’s not often saying the same kinds of things to others that she is here; it’s just that it doesn’t matter to us if it doesn’t matter to the other person. Clark, for example, loves her, and thus he rolls his eyes and makes wry comments about her ability to reduce him to an intern in two minutes, but there’s no heat to it.
And that’s what we see here with Cam. She comes to Angela when the magazine calls her, at a loss, and Angela gets it immediately: “[Brennan] thinks all awards should go to her.” There’s not a hint of resentment from either of them. They both love Brennan. They get her. And that’s real love.
I would much rather be loved by people who do so in spite of my flaws than by someone pretending I don’t have any, but there’s even more here: Angela not only loves Brennan in that way, she also knows her well enough to know that at the heart of it, Brennan will be happy for Cam. She tells her so when she comes to let them know about the honor:
“And you’re happy for her, too, Brennan. Very happy. Because she’s your friend.”
“Yes. It’s just that the descriptor is ‘outstanding’.”
Brennan’s blind spot is focused on one word in the award, and that’s blocking her from seeing that it’s about women, plural, and scientists in general, and that it’s no slight to her for a different woman, in a different scientific field, to be acknowledged. And that’s what Booth points out, at the same time he’s reminding her that he loves all those sides of her:
“Are you a worse scientist because Cam’s getting the award?”
“Of course not.”
“See? You’re just being petty because you want to win.”
“I thought you would take my side.”
“I am on your side, okay? I’m on your better side.”
But Brennan isn’t the only one here with flaws on display. I do get that the show often finds it easier to make a story out of her blind spot than the others’ flaws, but they’re no less present, and in this case, Booth is front and center in the last part of the episode.
Although it’s never been explained, Sweets is clearly an agent. He carries a weapon, has fired it while apprehending a suspect, and has been doing interrogations on his own for years. And Booth trusts him. Except when he doesn’t, and he suddenly goes off on him for no reason:
“You arrested this kid because he beat you at chess?”
“He could have won much earlier in the game but wouldn’t sacrifice his queen.”
“Do you know how crazy you sound right now?”
“He’s guilty, Booth. I know it.”
“Fine, let me go talk to him.”
“No, let me.”
“You’re a shrink, I’m a trained interrogator.”
No, Booth is being an ass here. Plain and simple. If Sweets hadn’t been doing interrogations for years, if he was only a shrink (i.e, no weapons certification), then Booth might have a leg to stand on in dressing him down. Maybe.
The show hasn’t given us the details about Sweets becoming an agent (let’s just pretend he went through Quantico at some point, okay?) but even if it hasn’t, Booth doesn’t get to have it both ways: either he trusts Sweets, and Sweets has the right the make an arrest, etc., or he doesn’t. Deciding that he doesn’t because Booth has made it clear he’s uninterested in chess (and therefore, Sweets could not possibly have seen something there that Booth should trust) doesn’t work.
Plus? This is a repeat of the scene in El Carnicero en el Coche, where Sweets, who, as noted, often does interrogations on his own, had to argue for the right to do one in a situation where he knew he had the advantage. How many times are they going to have this conversation?
Booth is just being an ass, which happens just as regularly as does Brennan commenting on her superiority.
So why doesn’t the show ‘teach him a lesson,’ and have someone call him on it? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because we mostly see jerk-Booth around suspects or with the team, and they love him enough to overlook it the same way they do Brennan’s blind spot. Maybe because a brilliant scientist touting her own genius is thought to be funny, whereas Booth being a jerk isn’t.
Either way, though, it doesn’t change the fact that all of them have been shown to have flaws at one point or another.
Plus? I don’t really see this episode as being about Brennan learning a lesson. In fact, I see growth here, from the first scene, where the woman who was obsessed with her daughter mastering peek-a-boo on schedule is more bothered by the school’s rewarding last place than she is needing to prove Christine can roll an egg with the best of them, to the scene at the end with Cam and Angela.
Another thing that struck me here is that while it’s tempting to look at the episode and see only that Fillmore highlights Brennan’s flaw, I think it’s also important to note how she’s changed him. Being a forensic podiatrist may not be quite the waste Brennan believed it to be (hey, did you know there’s a real life organization supporting forensic podiatry?) but he earned a PhD in forensic anthropology, and I think it’s safe to assume her influence was a factor.
And yeah, at the end, we see that he’s been influenced in a few other ways, but that’s quite often the way things work:
“Did you finish cleaning the bone room already?”
“I won’t be cleaning the bone room, and I thank you for that.”
“That makes no sense.”
“I’m asserting myself, something I learned from you and which I intend to share with all my Canadian colleagues. I’ve decided, like you, I’m too extraordinary to clean. You’ve been an excellent example to me, Dr. Brennan. Be confident, be stubborn, and shout down the opposition, eh? I must go now, and you’re welcome for my outstanding expertise.”
While I think it’s humorous that he’s emulating her in more ways than just getting his PhD, I also believe that it says something important about Brennan and her influence on him, blind spot or not.
But there’s one more thing to explore in this episode, something more important to me than flaws, blind spots, and bad Canadian jokes: It’s the theme of the episode, first expressed by Cam when she says, “We’re nothing without each other, Angela, and that’s a fact.”
She later says it to both Brennan and Angela, and Brennan immediately agrees with her. The fact that she does so demonstrates to me that Brennan does get it, regardless of those moments of superiority, and Angela was right when told her, “you’re happy for her, too, because she’s your friend.”
The same theme pops up over in the FBI building at about the same time. Booth may have been a jerk initially, but as he and Brennan watch the interrogation, they see what Sweets saw, and that’s enough for them to come up with the move that will take Tim down. But it’s not Sweets on his own, as brilliant as he’s been in identifying the killer through chess moves.
No, it’s all of them:
“He wouldn’t see that coming. How did you know that?” (Sweets)
“I play, too. Not like you, of course. I’ve been trying to teach Booth, but he keeps referring to the knights as horsies.” (Brennan)
“That’s great. Can we just move this along? Chess is a one-on-one game, but in a real war, you need a platoon, and that’s what we are right now, okay? so let’s move out.” (Booth)
They’re nothing without each other, and they all know it.
(Oh, and that calendar? I believe it’s silly, but I don’t think it’s a contradiction of what Brennan said about not wanting to be a sexy scientist. I took that only to mean she didn’t want her sexiness to matter more than her science. But I can’t see a woman who once stripped for research being hung up over a swimsuit calendar.)
“Don’t move, Dr. Fillmore! You’re covered in evidence.”
“No problem. Just like being back on the farm.” (Brennan and Fillmore)
“When I get stressed, I eat. You’re accusing me of killing Albert, so I’m stressed. I want to eat.” – Tiffin Owen
“So you’re saying that I’m the lead on the case?”
“No, you’re the chess nerd on the case.”
“Lead chess nerd. Good enough for me.” (Sweets and Booth)