I’m having trouble finding the right words for this episode, as the usual ones all feel inadequate. It seems too sad to call it beautiful, and too powerful for it to matter whether or not I can say I loved it – though all are true.
It’s not easy to pull off a well-done ‘issue’ story, for any show, as they often feel preachy and full of information dumps. This didn’t. It simply went for the heart, repeatedly gutting me with honest responses to a terrible reality.
There are a lot of victims here, each story more heartbreaking than the one before:
- Min Yung, who lost toes and then her life trying to get to the man she loved
- a roomful of women, separated from, and terrified for, their loved ones:
- Sung’s shattered, “Her death is my fault. Why would anyone hurt her? She was kind…she was my heart.”
- Tammy’s terrible choice, made in a bid to save her daughter: “She said she loved him. She had to find him. But we also love people. Our families. My daughter. I had to protect her.”
It almost feels like too much, but it’s not, because the point is to show how far-reaching, and devastating, human trafficking is.
Mission accomplished, show.
And beyond the victims – and I teared up when the women held out their photos to Booth, wept at Sung’s brokenness, and ugly cried when Tammy broke down – there’s what the team’s reactions brought to the story.
Aubrey: Aubrey screws up, and gets smacked down for it. But because he is the man Booth thinks he is, we see him apologize as he starts to come to terms with the consequences of the evil people do to one another. There’s no question of his sincerity, either, given his horrified response later to Sung’s interrogation.
It’s one thing to want to be the hero, to join the FBI out of a desire to be one of the good guys. It’s another to realize that the flip side of that is wading through the worst of what people do to one another.
Alex: Speaking of Alex…We’ve now encountered him three times, on each occasion seeing more of the man who lives inside the State Department suit. His expressions during both Sung’s and Tammy’s interrogations are of heartbreak, frustration, and not a little despair – which is all the more effective because we do know him from earlier cases.
Arastoo: While I generally love Arastoo, there have been a few times when he was written a bit too heavy-handed for me, but here? He rocked this, and this conversation with Brennan is going to remain a favorite for what it gives us about both of them:
“I remember the first morning I woke up as a citizen. It meant everything to me. But I never thought anything like this could happen here.”
“Anthropologically speaking, in any society, one group will always occupy a higher status and will exploit those who are more vulnerable.”
“Fifteen thousand people are year are brought into this country every year to be slaves. Are we just supposed to accept that?”
“No, Mr. Vaziri. We fight it. No matter what the anthropological reasons, we fight to make the world a better place.”
There’s nothing new here, really. We know of Brennan’s commitment to making a difference, and Arastoo’s frustration reminds me of his refusal to take the easy way out in The Patriot in Purgatory. But having it spelled out that way made me weepy. And his later decision to dedicate his dissertation to helping stop human rights abuses? I can only wish that somewhere, watching the show, was a forensic PhD student saying, ‘hey, I could do that.’ I want so much to believe that’s possible as a response to this episode.
That conversation is part of something else I loved: seeing the ways that both Brennan and Booth mentor. Brennan’s confidence in Arastoo, and her flat refusal to let him do other than take their profession in a different direction, was wonderful, the more so because we’ve seen the dynamic between them grow and change over the years.
Meanwhile, we’re getting something this season I’ve wanted to see more of since Agent Shaw in season six: Booth as mentor. He figuratively smacks Aubrey around when he’s selfish (‘no lunch for you!’), before later acknowledging the apology, noting it won’t be the last time the younger man screws up, and then letting him know things are back to normal in an exchange I love:
“One more thing. An apology, I guess. I was sort of ass-like.”
“Because you were looking at other people’s pain for what it could do for your own career.”
“Yeah. But once I saw those women, thought about Min Yung’s life, and how she died…”
“Yeah. It won’t happen again.”
“Right. Yes it will. But what you have here is a good start, so…good boy.” (Booth heads out the door.)
“Okay. That kind of sounded like you were treating me like a dog.”
“Aubrey. I don’t have a tennis ball I can throw out the front door here, so let’s go.”
“That’s very insulting, you know that? Even to an ass.”
We’ve seen in the past that Booth is the obnoxious older brother who’s always there when you need him (for anyone he considers family), and I love that in a million ways.
In terms of their personal responses to the case, Booth and Brennan are on the same page : “there but for the grace of God go I.”
She looks at Min Yung and Sung, two people who were, as Hodgins noted, so close to finding one another, and sees how easy it would have been for her and Booth to have missed their chance for a life together. Although it’s unlikely they would have been separated for the reasons Min Yung and Sung were, it’s not hard to imagine a universe where either one of them died prior to this point, or one where she never lost her imperviousness, and she knows that.
And Booth? In his ‘don’t ever let me take this for granted,’ we see awareness of the same thing. It also struck me that a man who can show that appreciation understands – and would now once more be capable of agreeing with – what Sweets said as he died: “The world’s a lot better than you think it is.”
After all, even here, when there’s so much sadness, there’s the silver lining Brennan pointed out in all the people who’d been saved as a result of Min Yung’s murder.
There’s evil and there’s horror, but also there’s love and joy, and good-hearted people who do their best to thwart the evil.
I’ll confess that while I’ve known trafficking was a problem – I’ve followed news reports about it – the number quoted by Arastoo shocked and horrified me, as it should. I feel helpless in response, and don’t know that’s there a damned thing I can do about it, but better awareness is a starting point.
Well done, show.
Not everything was about the case, though. Based on spoilers, I was expecting Cam and Arastoo to break up, and can I say how glad I am that they didn’t? It’s not that I don’t still have some issues with them as a couple, because I do, but this would have been a weak reason to end things.
Cam’s flaws always grow out of wanting to indulge and protect those she loves, whether by talking Booth into pretending to be her boyfriend for her father, the Michele-college fiasco, or here, where she leads with her heart on the matter of his dissertation proposal. While I can appreciate how embarrassing it was, bailing on the relationship solely over that would have been overkill as a response.
Her ‘if’ response to the topic of marriage is different, though. Either she doesn’t want to get married – ever – and they need to hash that out and see if he can live with it, or she’s afraid of marriage more than opposed to it, in which case, I’d like to know why. Whichever one it is, there’s a story there, and one I’m looking forward to seeing.
Leaving aside Audrey, Cam’s the one of the main cast we understand the least. She’s the most private, and, I think, the most uncertain of her standing with the others – witness her surprise to being invited to Brennan’s bachelorette party, and even here, her knee-jerk assumption that office gossip is behind Angela’s question, despite all Angela did for her when her identity was stolen.
Taken as a whole, then, it’s an episode that shifted my view of the world and broke my heart into pieces while giving me wonderful moments with these characters I love so much. This, folks, is why I love this show so much.
“Instead of bulldozing the field, you let goats loose on it, because they’ll eat anything.”
“Except human remains. Goats are not carnivorous.”
“Apparently the clothes were delicious though.” (Aubrey and Brennan)
“We can never accurately predict what results our efforts will generate, but as Tennyson said, ‘I follow up the quest, despite of day and night and death and hell.'” (Brennan)
“You’re with the State Dept?”
“Yeah. They need someone low to the ground to deal with the bottom feeders.” (Sandra Zins & Alex Radziwill)
“You know you’re just babbling now, right?” (Angela, in response to Brennan’s thinking out loud as she solves the case)
“Do you think that can wait until tomorrow?”
“I guess. Is something wrong?”
“No. I just want to go home and give Michael Vincent a hug.”
“Then this can definitely wait until tomorrow.” (Angela and Hodgins)