It sounds like a bizarre logic problem: I do not expect to love every episode of Bones, but the fact that there is always something I like about it is why I love the show as a whole.
(Need more coffee after reading that? No problem. I’ll wait. *evil grin*)
This episode is a perfect example. Being completely candid, it’s never going to be a favorite, but there were a couple of moments I loved, enough that I enjoyed spending the hour with these characters. Also? I’m not sure that the show can do much about the things that I didn’t like, but I’ll get to those in a moment.
First, what worked.
- It’s a minor thing, but I enjoyed Max’s comments in the first scene about Christine being dressed and ready to go, because it supports the theory I’ve had that he’s the reason Booth and Brennan are as free as they are to do things like be at crime scenes late at night, etc. The truth is, a toddler complicates life, and twenty-four hour day cares are rare.
- I think my favorite scene was the one between Booth and Sweets where Sweets revealed he’s never had a party, either, and Booth says, ‘you, too?’ I like those moments where we see beneath the surface of their friendship, and that’s what we got here – not just in Booth’s response to a truth about Sweets’ childhood, but also what Booth then revealed about his.
- I actually liked Brennan and Max’s conversation at the coffee cart, though some of what they said fell into the ‘disappointment’ column I’ll get to in a moment. Still, contrasting the conversations they had in S3 when he was in prison with this one, I think we see character growth for both of them. When Max says, “after all I’ve done, I don’t want to hurt anyone else” – that’s the most we’ve seen from him, I think, in terms of taking responsibility for the life he’s lead, its effect on others, and in expressing regret for it. And Brennan seems to be at peace with the dichotomy of loving him/needing him in her life/knowing she’ll never completely trust him.
- Meanwhile, my curiosity button was poked by “I can’t tell you, not yet. Certain people are still alive.” Does that mean that there is another story out there about Max and his past that we’re likely to bump into at some point?
- I loved Booth and Brennan in the diner, discussing playing tag. The competitiveness and bickering, set within the context of last week’s “we’re bound together” is why I love their relationship so much.
- I think I enjoyed the fact that the killer was a ‘Twitter freak’ far more than I was supposed to. Having so often been horrified by some of the things so-called fans of the show say on Twitter to the writers and cast, I laughed an inappropriate amount at what I saw as them getting a bit of payback. (Quoting Caroline, “Does that make me a bad person?”) (Also, can I say if the Crazy Twitter Freak only sent 50 tweets in 48 hours, she’s a slacker?)
- I loved Brennan’s congratulations to Clark about his book. Finishing a novel is a huge deal, even if it’s terrible (most first books are), even if no one else ever sees it, even if the writer puts it away and says, ‘no, that’s not for me.’ Brennan’s acknowledgement of that accomplishment was the best part of the book subplot for me.
- The last scene, from seeing Angela and Hodgins there with Michael Vincent, to Booth doing the one-man band thing because he knew his daughter would love it, to watching them play tag, was simply lovely. Not every moment with these characters needs to be profound, and this wasn’t, particularly. But it was sweet, an intentionally happy moment, I think, prior to the buildup towards what will no doubt be a darker series of eps heading into the finale.
Now for the bits that didn’t work for me, most of which I attribute to what I call the ‘Bones’ Writers Conundrum.’ That I know not to expect to love all the eps isn’t so much a reflection on the writers, actors, or showrunners as it about the nature of the show. It’s a genre-bending romantic dramedy procedural, and something with that many different things going on isn’t going to work for everyone equally well every week. It’s simply not. (I thought it interesting that one of the comments someone made to me on Twitter last night was that she laughed from start to finish, so I think it’s safe to say it was a complete win for her.)
If every episode told the heavier, more dramatic stories that I love, the people who watch for the comedy would wander away. (And yes, I know some of those people in real life, who’ve said things to me like the co-worker who noted after watching Big in the Philippines, “I loved it, but I’m glad they’re not all like that.”)
But if they did this kind of lighter episode (hello, people running around in carrot costumes) every week, they’d eventually lose those of us who want the meatier stories. Meanwhile, they have another tension to balance, too, between those of us who know the complete story, and those who are just tuning in.
In my opinion, one of the miracles of the show is that new people are still finding it – on Netflix, or because they caught eps on Friday night, or whatever. But the drawback to that is the writers have to be careful not to reference too many past things that they don’t have time to explain within the episode, and character growth has to happen in a way so as not to confuse people who haven’t caught the show in a while.
Here are some examples of what I mean:
- Booth and Brennan go to tell the victim’s brother he’s dead, and Brennan, appearing frustrated by the whole idea of people dressing up as vegetables, simply blurts it out. Being sensitive to family members being told of a death is something she and Booth covered in season one, so is it character regression? Or prioritizing humor (that someone dressed as a vegetable isn’t likely to generate sympathy from the audience, so it’s okay to look for laughs from Brennan ‘being Brennan’?) or simply the assumption that the audience will understand that Brother Vegetable and his wife are both suspect from the very beginning, and therefore compassion isn’t necessary?
- Max and Brennan talk about her childhood, Booth and Sweets talk about Booth’s childhood, and in neither case are siblings referenced. I get this, actually, because if Max had said something like ‘you kids’ when talking about the effects of their lifestyle, the part of the audience who’s been watching for a couple of years but never seen the first few seasons would be going, ‘wait, she’s an only child, isn’t she?’ Ditto Booth not referencing Jared by talking about his father throwing parties for them, rather than him. The writers can’t risk confusing new audience members by mentioning siblings who aren’t part of the show…and yet, for those of us who do know neither of them are only children, it takes us out of the story when they never reference those siblings when talking about their childhood.
- Similarly, when Max talks about her childhood, he frames it as being solely about them being criminals on the run from the law, which is a shift (IMO) from the way the story is presented in The Woman in Limbo. There, it was as much, or more, that they were running from the gang they’d been part of (when Russ describes having his name changed, it’s not the cops that Max taught him to fear) than the cops. Is that important? In one sense, no, because they were criminals. And new viewers to the show last night would come away knowing that Brennan had a dysfunctional childhood due to her parents’ being criminals, which would not be untrue. But the point of last night’s story – that they wouldn’t give her a birthday party because it might draw attention to them – doesn’t fit well for me with the couple who were masquerading as a science teacher and an accountant.
(The snarky part of me, which has seen The Woman in Limbo waaaay too many times, wanted to say, ‘wow – if a birthday party was too risky on the attention-drawing front, mom must have been really freaked at having to testify in court as an accountant.’)
See what I mean about the writers’ conundrum? They can’t repeat history from season one here, can’t risk confusing new viewers who may not have that history, but the compromise they come up with (Max IS a criminal, and Brennan definitely had a dysfunctional childhood because of it) doesn’t completely work for those of us who do know and appreciate the whole story.
Similarly, the last time Brennan and Clark worked together, she told him to call her Temperance. Did I really expect him to do so here? No, and his own discomfort at the idea was obvious, even then. But at the same time, having loved that moment between them, the fact that the show can’t reference that history without confusing viewers who didn’t see The Ghost in the Killer takes me out of the moment we’re currently in.
I don’t see a way around that, really, and thus, as a fan, yes, I cut them slack for doing the best they can to balance the needs of both the long-time fans and new viewers on one front, and the needs of those who want a comedy with those of us who’d be perfectly happy with the heavier episodes every week on the other.
Not every episode can squeeze into the top ten, but they don’t need to for me to still enjoy them, for me to still love the show.
“What was that?”
“It’s still growing, feeding off the remaining tissue.”
“I’ve seen this movie. It doesn’t end well for humanity.” (Cam, Hodgins)
“No, no. That sounds awful.”
“It’s educational and poignant. What’s awful about that?”
“The words educational and poignant.” (Booth and Brennan)
“We’re here to inform you that your brother has been murdered. And that corn is not a vegetable.” (Brennan)
“She photoshopped herself into that?”
“It’s crazy, right?”
“A grown woman obsessed with a giant orange phallic symbol…yeah, I’m comfortable calling her crazy.” (Sweets and Angela)
“But you know what happens online…you’re anonymous, so you say things you wouldn’t face to face.” (Debra Ann Volker)