Fan Review: The Recluse in the Recliner (Bones)

Whoa. That was an intense hour of TV.

Confession: I have a love-hate relationship with suspense. I like seeing my heroes going up against bad guys, love seeing them win, but I don’t enjoy feeling anxious while I’m waiting to see how they’re going to pull it off. (I don’t enjoy being scared, either, so there’s a greater chance of seeing Booth in a pink tutu than seeing a fan review of a horror film on this blog.)

And yet…I really do like seeing characters I love win over their circumstances. For me, a large part of why the wedding was so powerful was because it did take so long to get to those moments. In fact, many of my favorite scenes from the show have been the result of something bad happening.

True to that, there’s plenty of bad here…and some amazing character moments in the midst of them.

I’m not normally wild about flash forward plots (where we see something happen, then go back in time to find out how it came about), I think because it ups those feelings of anxiety. But this? I liked this opening, and I believe it’s because, with no idea what’s going on, it’s easier to focus on Brennan’s panic. We only know Booth is down, and Brennan…Brennan is a mess of palpable, terrified fear.

Then we jump back in time, to a German lesson and a phone call, and we’re off to the races.

It’s when everything goes pear-shaped in the worst possible way that we learn what others are made of… and here, we see what Booth is made of: hero material.

Years ago, long before Bones, I had a conversation with sci-fi/fantasy author Karen Miller about heroes. I posited that fantasy heroes are different from heroes in contemporary storytelling, but I couldn’t put my finger on why.  And Karen responded with something along the lines that it’s because traditional adventure fantasy deals with old-fashioned ideals that don’t mesh well with modern-day living, and because of that, Homo Sapiens Fantasticus – her term for the heroes of fantasy literature – can’t survive in the 21st century.

We’re a cynical bunch, by and large. Honor, nobility, duty, patriotism…they’re not qualities we ascribe to now as a culture. We’re grateful to servicemen and women when we see them (as we should be); we admire courage. But we seldom talk about our honor, or what it means to live a  noble life. And yet…I yearn for those traits to have meaning for us. I want to see them in action around me, want to imagine them in the 21st century.

And so, one of the reasons I fell in love with the show in the first place is that Booth is Homo Sapiens Fantasticus.  (My devotion to Brennan, and a love of the family theme in the show, came later.) Justice, duty, and doing the right thing, no matter the cost, are the core of who he is.

We see those traits more clearly than ever in this episode. He could have backed down, could have walked away, and he didn’t. He won’t let killers go free, and he won’t let the bad guys take over the government he’s devoted his life to.

Sweets suggests going public with what they’re finding, which is a reasonable first thought for how to stop it: expose it. But Booth vetoes that: the blackmailer’s victims were “caught with their pants down;. they don’t deserve to have their lives ruined.” That compassion? It’s another mark of the hero.

During the confirmation hearing, we see a man blindsided and betrayed as that government for which he’s killed turns on him. And he can say nothing to defend himself. Classified is classified. That’s part of his code, too: He has to play fair, his enemy does not.

As the episode progresses and they realize how widespread the conspiracy is – congressmen, judges, big business – he knows that they’ll try to eliminate him, because they’re FBI and so is he. Booth’s the link there, not Brennan, or Cam. Plus, taking him out as a warning will shut down the rest of the team.

And he wants that. He wants them to come after him. He says to Brennan, ‘this is my fight,’ partly, I think, because it’s the FBI, and partly because it’s his nature to protect his people, including by putting himself in the line of fire.

He wants them to come after him, and that willingness to take responsibility for the battle is another thing that sets him apart.  His past kills have either been sanctioned by above, by someone he trusted to make that call, or have been split-second decisions to save someone else.  But here? He provokes them into coming after him and then booby-traps his own house with freaking C-4 he keeps in the garage because it’s the only way to keep his family safe.

We spent last summer debating whether he’d kill Pelant in cold blood, and while he came into the power plant in The Sense in the Sacrifice armed to do so, the show sort of dodged the question by taking away his choice. Here, though, it’s answered, at least for me. While it’s not exactly ‘in cold blood’ when three Delta Force guys are on their way to your house…he engineered the confrontation. On his own, because someone needed to do so, and there’s no one left to trust in authority over him.

He knew when he climbed into Hadley’s car that people would die that night, and he didn’t intend for it to be him. And he was damn sure it wasn’t going to be any of his family.

He’d tried backing off, had had Brennan file the false report, and it made no difference, so it’s time to be direct. He knows how they’ll respond, knows that all that’s left to them is violence, so he goes home, prepares for battle. There’s no hesitation here. He knows that his best chance of survival is to control where the fight goes down, to take it, literally, to his own turf. So he prepares to sacrifice their home. There’s never a moment where we see him reconsider.

But he will not risk his family. He and Brennan are partners, in every way, and what we’ve seen over nine years is that he respects her, trusts her to have his back, even while more than once pleading, “Let me be the gun.” But this? This is different. He knows they’re not going up against a single bad guy with a weapon, but that he’s brought a firefight to their home, and so orders her to leave.

And here’s what I love: she does. Angry and afraid (“I hate you for telling me to walk away”), she still goes. Maybe it’s for Christine, maybe it’s because she understands he’s setting up the kind of battle she truly has no experience with, but she turns to leave. And he calls her back. Time is short, but this might really be goodbye, so he takes a moment to tell her what she already knows: that he loves her.

From start to finish, the whole episode is Booth being who he is – the fleshed-out embodiment of the classic hero, committed to honor, justice, and the protection of those he loves, no matter the cost.

But what about Brennan? She’s not a classic heroine but rather a very modern one, focused on intelligence, rationalism, and independence rather than honor and duty.  Not only is she not Snow White awaiting her prince, she didn’t even believe in love at the beginning of the story. And yet, that makes her the perfect mate for Booth.

She’s angry when he tells her to leave, but still does so. But then Fisher calls her, with his analysis of the killers. (I love this bit, by the way. It reminds me of the scene from The Hole in the Heart when Brennan and Hodgins tell Booth about Broadsky’s broken hand, knowing it might make a difference.)

She’d left in good faith, honoring his wishes that she take Christine and go, but now, armed with knowledge that could help, she leaves their daughter with Max and goes back to the house.   And here’s why she’s perfect for him: she’s neither the hapless but courageous female blundering into battle and making things worse, nor is she suddenly a super soldier.

She saves him, he saves her…they save each other, as they’ve been doing in one way or another for nine years. (And I love that he doesn’t question her being there, just warns her that there’s still another enemy in the house.)

And then it’s over, and she realizes just how much damage he took.  It’s heartbreaking, both in the wreckage of the house, and later, when she’s alone at the hospital. Although you can’t see her face, I think that moment when she folds over on herself in the chair is one of the most effective pieces of acting I’ve ever seen.

You can feel her grief and terror, and it brought back three moments from previous episodes for me:

  • The tag from The Twist in the Plot, when Booth tells Christine that in the event of his death, she needs to “help your mom to be happy, because if she’s alone she’s gonna forget.”
  • The scene in The Spark in the Park, when she says, “If I lost you and Christine within a year of each other. the only way I’d survive is to do my work. I’m not even positive that would be successful.”
  • The car scene in The Repo Man in the Septic Tank : “You and I, we’re bound to one another. So much so that I don’t feel I could survive without you. You nurture me, you protect me. You’re my home.”

She needs him desperately, and even knowing he was going to survive, I felt her fear while she waited.

It’s not one-sided, though, and I was struck by what she tells the journalists: “No! He has not lied about anything. He’s a decorated veteran who has served his country with honor and an agent of the FBI who has one of the best conviction rates.” He may nurture and protect her, but she’s his pole star where his view of self is concerned. She’ll never lie to him, so when she says he’s a good man, a man of honor, despite the lives he’s taken, he knows it to be true.

Although Booth and Brennan are the major story here, the rest of the team is involved, too, from Hodgins figuring out how to retrieve all the data, to Angela knowing how to safeguard it, to all of them showing up in the hospital to be with Brennan. (I loved Boreanaz’ directing there, by the way. The slow motion, the music, the wordless hug…powerful stuff.)

But my favorite team story here? Fisher. I love that even in an episode like this one, we got growth in a minor character. His anger over the injustice of the murder made me want to cheer.

Are things bad for our guys? Yep. Really, really bad. Demolished house, Booth arrested, No one to trust. And yet, we know, more than ever, what these people are made of, and we know what’s between them. We know that none of them will give up until Booth is freed, and we know he’ll never give up until justice wins the day.

Is it September yet?

Bonus Quotes:

“Why don’t you just go away, the way they want?”
“That’s not going to happen, Congressman. I’m sorry.” (Hadley and Booth)

***

“We’ve got a great life here. I mean, look how beautiful this home is. Except for the German lessons.” (Booth)

 

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9 thoughts on “Fan Review: The Recluse in the Recliner (Bones)

  1. Wonderful analysis of a wonderful episode. I love these characters, all of them. I love the sense of family and I love that this late in the game we’re getting such meaty stories and a cast that is as energized as ever to give us their best work.

    • I’m so psyched that we’re getting these kinds of stories, and that everyone (critics and fans alike) are excited by them, heading into S10. Our show rocks.

  2. Yesssss. I absolutely love your point that the disorienting flash forward at the start made it easier to feel Brennan’s disorientation, and to focus with her on Booth. It doesn’t matter how he got here. That’s not what she’s thinking about. She just needs to know that he’ll be ok. I loved that she never took her eyes off of him, even when she was talking to other people.
    This “Homo Sapiens Fantasticus” theory is great, and it reminds me of a great article by Alyssa Rosenberg from a few years ago (http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2011/10/03/333590/five-great-shows-about-masculinity%E2%80%94so-you-dont-have-to-watch-the-terrible-new-ones/) about the way Bones depicts masculinity. She writes, “The character is in many ways an incredible throw-back: a military man, a conscientious father, a devotee of American ideals. But he’s also a great illustration of the ways such a man functions in an environment where those aren’t the highest values, and about how to reconcile masculinity and feminism in a way that’s not adversarial.”
    It was so like Booth to be willing to throw himself in harm’s way like that. Caroline calling him a cowboy was great. He was being a martyr, but it was also logical, given that there’s no one to trust at the FBI. The fact that Brennan trusted Booth and went is perfect. The fact that she yelled at him for it is even more perfect. The fact that she then came BACK to save him is the most perfect of all. She knows what they’re capable of as a team.
    This is such a great review.

    • Thank you so much for Rosenberg link! I hadn’t seen that before, and love it. I also agree completely.

      My favorite finale has always been S1’s The Woman in Limbo, but I think this may wind up eclipsing that. I love what it shows about both of them, and their relationship.

      • I LOVE The Woman in Limbo. It’s probably still my top finale, but this one’s right up there. It’s so cool that they’re still topping themselves nine seasons in.

      • One of my favorite things is how much love the show is getting, from critics and fans alike, as it heads into S10. Love, love, love that.

  3. Your description of B&B’s relationship, (paraphrasing):

    “He and Brennan are partners, in every way and we’ve seen that he respects her, trusts her to have his back. But this is different and so he orders her to leave.

    And she goes. Angry and afraid, she still goes.

    She left him in good faith, but now armed with knowledge that could help, she goes back to the house. He doesn’t question her presence there, just warns her that there is still another enemy in the house.

    And she is neither the hapless but courageous female blundering into battle and making it worse, nor is she suddenly a super soldier.”

    reminds me of an article, “Being Shrewd About the Shrew”, that feminist author Germaine Greer wrote about Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”.

    She said that the play was set in the Middle Ages, when, as a landed nobleman, Petruchio was likely to spend years off in the Middle East fighting in the Crusades.

    He needed a wife who was intelligent and strong (emotionally/psychologically) enough to completely oversee the management of all his lands for possibly years, with little or no word from him.

    But he didn’t have B&B’s years of time in which to develop that relationship between the two of them. Thus Petruchio’s treatment of Kate, that brought about the ‘taming’ of the ‘shrew’, was in fact akin to the treatment of raw Army recruits by their drill Sargent during Basic Training during which time the drill Sargent tries to psychologically break them down and then build them back up again, to get rid of their bad habits and prepare them for what they need to become: fit soldiers.

    And Kate’s speech to the other noblewoman, chiding them for being rude and disrespectful to their husbands, should not be interpreted as a ‘Stepford Wives’ speech, but rather as analogous to Brennan’s Clownfish and Sea Anemone in the car scene in ‘The Repo Man in the Septic Tank’.

    Hah! I guess that I’m really showing my age, that your comments should remind me of something I’d read back in the early ’80s!

    • Well, okay, Kate’s speech to the other noblewomen should not be interpreted as a ‘Stepford Wives’ speech, but rather as analogous to the various Partnership / “we’re partners” speeches that B or B have made to one another over the years.

  4. The directing in this episode was fantastic. The scene where they leave the hearing and are overwhelmed by journalists gave me such a horrible feeling of claustrophobia, just as if I had been standing there. The fight in the house was so well orchestrated. Everything came together to make a great episode.

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