Whoo-hoo! Bones returns tonight! At 8PM, my butt will be plopped in front of the TV for the beginning of season ten.
Season. Ten. Can you believe it?
One of the things I’ve been thinking about since May is some way of celebrating that, all season long. It’s a big deal, reaching that milestone, and deserves a party. And fireworks. (And a season eleven, but that’s out of my control.)
But I wasn’t coming up with anything that really hooked me. And then, early last week, I saw a reference somewhere to a post celebrating another show’s tenth season with ten essential episodes for that series. I was doing something fairly mindless at the time, and so occupied myself by musing on what ten episodes of Bones would be absolutely essential to say, someone who’d never seen the show before and wanted to start watching with the premiere of S10.
Believe it or not, I came up with ten episodes – just ten – that would give my hypothetical new viewer an overview of the characters and relationships sufficient to understand the premiere. Maybe.
It was really, really hard. I didn’t just include my favorite episodes (though there were several in there) but also considered which ones would serve a dual (or triple!) purpose. I wasn’t just looking for Booth and Brennan’s story, but also Hodgins and Angela, and how and when and why Cam and Sweets came into the picture, as well as the setup for the conspiracy that they’re dealing with in the premiere.
This is not that list.
You see, I took the list to Natesmama and some other pals, and they pointed out that while my choices did, indeed, cover the absolute essentials, and would certainly help someone put the big pieces in place, it was painting the story in too broad of strokes. Too much of what’s unique about the show is in its depth, the thousand quiet moments that have made the story.
So Natesmama and I put our heads together and came up with about twenty episodes (give or take another five because neither of us are mathematical geniuses) that set the stage for where things are as season ten begins – relationships, character growth, history, context. Because with this show, the details, those small moments, matter.
We were going to post it today, with comments on each episode (some by me, some by her), explaining why each was essential. And then we got it mostly written, and it was insanely long (even for a post on this blog!) — and that was when we were both already frustrated by trying to keep the comments short.
So we’re not posting the list this week. Instead, I’m going to post thoughts on the pilot and then early next week, we’ll share Natesmama’s thoughts on The Man in the SUV. Every week after that, we’ll post an analysis of another episode on the list – because it finally occurred to me that looking back at the essential moments of the first nine seasons was a good way of celebrating the tenth.
Unlike some pilots, where characters, setup, and even plot basics may change before the series airs, the Bones pilot provides a solid intro to the story as a whole. By the time the opening credits roll, we’ve learned that Brennan’s a way smart bad ass who’s capable of taking down the guy following her and that Booth’s a cocky Federal agent, willing to stoop to some questionable levels to accomplish his goal of persuading the area’s only forensic anthropologist to help him solve a murder. We’ve also learned that the reason he has to stoop to those levels is because the woman who’s willing to travel to Guatemala to help identify victims of genocide won’t take his calls. Why? Because there’s history between them, and it’s not happy history.
Although it takes a few years before we find out the details of that history, the first episode begins with what he’s willing to do to secure her help (having Homeland Security nab her at the airport), before it switches midstream to him trying to renege on their deal while she pleads to remain involved. When that fails, she blackmails him. Oh, yeah, these two are evenly matched. But by the end of the episode, they’ve circled around to where they both want to be: working together to catch killers.
The episode establishes them as both likable and flawed. He’s a jerk in the beginning, but when, acting on her own, she gets them thrown off the case, he responds with an unexpected graciousness and protectiveness toward her. (I’m thinking of when he asks, ‘you okay?’ as they leave Cullen’s office.)
In turn, while we see that she’s aware of her own social shortcomings (“My most meaningful relationships are with dead people”) she proves she’s figured him out well enough to challenge him on why he’s not going after Senator Bethlehem. (“If Bethlehem wasn’t a Senator, you’d be right there in his basement looking for that killing floor.”) Even though he insists she’s only partially right, it’s significant that the woman who’s better at reading bones than people gets that about him, even at this early stage of their relationship.
At heart, they both want the same thing: justice for the victim. And that recognition that despite their differences – he’s the heart person, she’s the brain person – they have the same goal, and that, together, they accomplish more than they can apart, allows them to commit to working together by the end of the episode. It’s a commitment that neither ever walks away from, even when things get complicated between them.
But there’s a personal note, there, too, in that both of them have mined dark pasts for something good: he wants to balance his score sheet in terms of sniper kills; she not only wants to help him, she believes she can make a difference as an advocate for the victims, both in her ability to hear what the victim is saying through their bones, and as her (missing) parents’ daughter.
That complicated dynamic of two people who could not be more alike in their significant differences continues through the start of season ten – and is a large part of why the show is still going strong.
There’s not time in the pilot to delve much into the other characters, but it does establish that there is a team there, in the best sense of the word, as well as what they all do, and how they interact: Hodgins is the bug-and-slime guy who’s also the resident paranoid conspiracy theorist, Zach is the Jack-of-all-trades, way smart intern with some social shortcomings of his own, and Angela is introduced as not only the artist/tech normal person of the group, but also Brennan’s best friend. Dr. Goodman, while shown to be a capable manager of the menagerie, doesn’t have much to do beyond manage, which is why he only lasted a season.
The pilot, then, does everything a good first episode should do: it introduces the players and sets the stage for what comes next, while resisting the lure of trying to pack too much into one hour of television.
Check back tomorrow for my fan review of the season ten premiere, and next Tuesday for Natesmama’s write-up of why The Man in the SUV is an essential episode.