One of the things I most appreciate about Bones is the different types of stories they tell. Drama, humor, action, science…it’s all there, and I suspect that variety is one of the reasons for the show’s longevity. It’s hard for it to feel stale when any given week could give you a shoot-out, a tear-jerker, or a giggle.
Still, there is a constant on the show, and it’s the team, cemented around Booth and Brennan. The Mastodon in the Room aside, the two of them, together, are the true linchpin.
But even their relationship isn’t static. They’ve been together for three full seasons now (!!) and each one has felt different, deepening what’s between them and finding new ways to show us that they’re stronger together than they are as individuals.
We see them mentoring again here, and it’s interesting to compare this one to last week’s. No wonder all these geniuses want to work with Brennan: she’s not only the best in the field, she’s a great teacher, meeting each of her students where they are: with Arastoo, she’s quick to acknowledge his work as they progress through the case, even while pushing him to greater heights with his dissertation. But Oliver? His inability to grasp the difference between arrogance and confidence is his greatest weakness, and thus her greatest concern.
“How am I supposed to prove myself when you keep giving me orders that interfere with my investigative methods?”
“You have an IQ of 160. Figure it out.”
Her slap downs aren’t because he’s challenging her. Brennan’s competitive enough that if she felt he was a serious challenge, we’d see a different response. Rather, she knows that while he has potential, his own belief in his inability to be wrong gets in his way.
Given that, he doesn’t beat her – but he does recognize a defeat when he sees one:
“I guess you just officially handed me my ass, Dr. Brennan.”
“Yes. As long as you are here, I will consider it my obligation to continue trying to destroy you, Dr. Wells.”
“I guess I sort of asked for that, huh?”
“Yes, you did. The Spanish writer Baltasar Gracian once wrote, ‘a wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends.’ Don’t stop trying, Dr. Wells. Second best can be good enough for many people.’
A good teacher knows when to smack down, and when – and how – to encourage.
Meanwhile Booth, too, varies his response according to need. This week, as last, Aubrey screwed up, but note the difference in Booth’s reaction: Aubrey’s selfishness in The Lost Love in the Foreign Land earned him a hard slap, but here? Quiet support. Yeah, he shut him down in the conversation with the victim’s wife, but the follow-up had a different tone.
After hearing Aubrey’s back story, I can’t help but think that a consequence of being abandoned by his father when he was thirteen might mean that he’s particularly susceptible, even as an adult, confident and capable in his professional life, to needing an older brother. Fortunately for him (and those of us who love to watch male friendships) Booth’s got quite a bit of experience in that role:
“I’m really sorry, Booth. I was out of line. Normally I’m a good agent, but…”
“You *are* a good agent. So do you think you got it out of your system?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, you better figure it out because we just harpooned a big whale and I’m going to need some help reeling him in.”
“Maybe you should take Dr Brennan this time. I’ve been monopolizing you, anyway.”
“You’re the one who said we should be looking at Toby’s boss.”
“I’ve got a mountain of paperwork that should all be filed if you’re going to bring him in, right?”
“Okay, all right. Do your paperwork and I’ll take Bones.”
First, he makes clear that his faith in Aubrey as a good agent hasn’t been shaken by what happened. When he realizes that Aubrey’s faith has, to the point he doesn’t want to go after Toby’s boss, he allows it. He takes Brennan, but then he does something more: he sends her to talk to Aubrey, because who better to help him navigate the treacherous waters of parental abandonment?
What she says is gold. People often think that recovering from a life blow means getting to where you can pretend it never happened, where you can be the same person you were before it did.
It doesn’t work that way:
“My father was a criminal, too. I was fifteen when I was abandoned, and I was angry for years.”
“How did you get over it?”
“So this isn’t a comforting talk?”
“No. The pain is always there. The challenge is to not try to make it go away.”
“Really not comforting.”
“Fighting it is a problem. We fight to try and change the past, or push it away, but the pain is part of who we are. It’s like the discovery of the quark. It upended all of our theories about physics. There was fury, fighting. But it was true. And when it was finally accepted, it gave us a better understanding of life. If we had denied it, there would have been no progress.”
“What a really brainy analogy.”
“Because I’m very brainy. ..it’s not easy, Aubrey, but nothing of value is.”
That’s a lot of dialogue to include, but I love it too much not to do so. Aubrey doesn’t need to be coddled. He needs the truth: that some hurts never go away, you just learn to make a damned good life in spite of them. He needs to know that while it’s not easy, it’s possible to do so, and that’s what she gives him.
I have a confession: I’ve got a bit of a crush on Aubrey. I love his snark, but from the beginning have suspected there was something darker beneath it. He’s struck me as lonely, and now that I know the why of that, I want to pat him on the head and say, ‘Dude, you’ve just won the made-from-scratch family lottery. Congratulations!’
It’s not only in the mentoring that we see the team that Booth and Brennan built, though, and a theme running through this episode is loyalty. Even the killer, who clearly doesn’t understand it, references it: “Without loyalty, we’re nothing – right?”
It’s in Hodgins’ refusal to bet against Brennan in Oliver’s game:
“I still have a chance to take down Dr. Brennan.”
“Look, I like a good underdog story as much as the next guy, but my money is on Dr. B.”
“What the hell, Hodgins? I thought we were, you know, beard buddies.”
“Sorry, dude, but I’ve worked with this woman for over ten years and I’ve never, not once ever, seen anyone better.”
And it’s in Cam’s response to the same thing:
“Dr Brennan cursed you out?”
“She said I was a pain in her ass. Not a pain in the ass – a pain in her ass. Specifically her ass.”
“Way to go, Dr. Brennan.”
That that loyalty exists in juxtaposition with the earlier scene where Brennan and Cam play tug of war over the skull is one of the things I love most about their relationship. Conflict is the result of them both being strong women, but when it counts, they stand for one another.
But Booth and Brennan are more than partners in solving crime, more than leaders of their team. They’re also parents and lovers, and the final scene reminds us of that in a way that I adore more every time I watch.
Mostly, I love that Booth, who’s been over this parenting ground before, doesn’t use that experience to coerce Brennan. He states his position, but he trusts her as a mom and doesn’t insist on his way.
But having yielded to her on the ‘gateway swear word’ (which will always make me giggle), he’s also unsurprised when things don’t go quite as Brennan expected. Since she was the one who gave the permission, she needs to be the one to try to explain its use, but who can blame him for being amused by the whole thing?
What’s clear, though, is how much of a unit they are, even when they’re on opposing sides of an issue – as has always been the case.
“About the naughty words – are we clear? We don’t use them in this house.”
“Yes. But it’s not my fault. Bunny is a jackass.” (Booth and Christine)
“Dr. Wells, I often find you a pain in my ass.”
“Wow. If wasn’t so shocked, I might be offended.”
“The occasional curse word can serve as a healthy form of non-violent retribution.”
“So you swore to stop yourself from hitting me?”
“Given your personality, I’d imagine you’re quite used to that.” (Brennan and Oliver)
“I’m going to remember this conversation when I’m the one running things, and you’re looking for a job.”
“In the world where that scenario exists, I won’t need a job because I will be a power forward for the Lakers.” (Oliver and Hodgins)
“So it was the hooker in the bedroom with the candlestick. Tell me this case is not starting to sound like a game of Clue.” (Hodgins)