Essential Bones: The Woman in Limbo

I’ve gushed before about the season one finale – such is my love for it that it still fights with about three other eps for the title ‘favorite episode ever.’

In fact, because of that, I was a little concerned about this post. Could there be anything else left for me to say about the episode, as much as I love it?

As it turns out…yes. (Surprise!) Because here my focus in on making an argument for why it’s important enough to the story overall to be included in our list of essential episodes for someone just discovering Bones at the beginning of season ten.

It’s not difficult, as there’s a lot going on.

Brennan2A short just-the-facts summary would be that a set of unidentified remains at the Jeffersonian turns out to be Brennan’s long missing mother; solving her murder not only serves to reconcile Brennan with her brother, Russ, but also deepens the mystery about her father. But there’s so much more than that surface description gives us, in terms of both character and relationship development.

Throughout the first season, the show touched on the mystery of Brennan’s parents a number of times (including in the Pilot, The Man in the Fallout Shelter, and The Man on the Fairway) and here, it resolves part of it – what happened to her mother – while opening a lot of new questions about her father.  That’s a story the show returns to multiple times over the next two seasons, and while it’s eventually resolved, the background is important for understanding Brennan’s relationship with her father, even in season ten.

It also introduces us to Russ.  You could probably make the case that the Russ subplot isn’t essential given his absence from the story for the past six years, but he’s part of the season two and season three story that continues this arc, and more importantly, he’s part of Brennan’s story.

Part of who she is when we meet her in the pilot is due to her family’s abandonment, and part of her slow movement from that woman to the happily married wife and mother of season ten is reconciling with her brother. Whether or not he did the right thing, whether or not there was more he could have done when their parents vanished…he was only nineteen.  Not Superman, and not an adult with all the answers, particularly in respect to a messed up fifteen year old.

Whatever you make of Russ, three things are clear here: Brennan loves him, he loves her, and she comes to accept that part of their continuing estrangement was due to her refusal to talk to him. She didn’t have any control over his leaving, but what happened after that was her choice.

The fact that at the end, she reverses that decision is due at least in part to Booth, because he sees the love she has for Russ and gives her the opportunity to choose the relationship she longs for.

"I know who you are."

“I know who you are.”

There’s some nice symmetry at work here. Reconciling with Russ – acknowledging that she wants him in her life, wants family – is one of a thousand small steps that leads her down the aisle toward Booth eight years later, and that reconciliation is at least partially due to his knowledge of her and willingness to nudge her toward what she wants.

"We decided to tell you the truth. This is the truth."

“We decided to tell you the truth. This is the truth.”

He’s not the only one who knows her, nor is he the only one we see who loves her. The team – Hodgins, Angela, and Zach – work all night trying to find answers, and when they do, and it’s something that’s going to hurt her…they tell her the truth, anyway. Because they do know her, and love her enough to give her what she needs.

But as much as the episode gives us in terms of Brennan’s relationships with Russ, Booth, and the squints, it’s what it tells us about Brennan herself that guarantees it a spot on the list.

True story: I’ve introduced four people to the show with this episode, and three of them liked it enough to continue watching. (The fourth is just a hard case, and yeah, we’re still friends!)

It’s not that other episodes in season one aren’t important from a character perspective, but if you’re got one chance to convince someone to give the show a go, I think this is the one. Not only does it do a decent introduction to Booth and Brennan’s relationship and the overall team dynamics, it showcases all the facets of Temperance Brennan herself.  We see:

  • the rational scientist, coolly examining her own mother’s remains
  • the brokenhearted daughter remembering a dolphin belt buckle
  • the strong woman who, abandoned by her family at a young age, made herself into that scientist, possessing skills in demand all over the world
  • the unsteady, vulnerable partner who turns to Booth, trusting him to be there for her

All those sides are part of who she is, and while we don’t see every single one in each episode, they’re all displayed here, making this an excellent introduction to Brennan, and, along with all those other moments, to the show itself.

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