It’s difficult to unpack this one, because I’m responding to on it two levels: brain, and heart.
Intellectually, I think it was brilliantly plotted, written, and acted, particularly by David Boreanaz, Emily Deschanel, and John Boyd.
Emotionally, I’m a mess, and if I’m honest, I have to say I hated watching it. At times, I had to look away, and while I’m used to doing that when the bloody bits are on the screen, looking away when Booth is…well, I’m not sure that’s ever happened before.
Which circles back around to …brilliant.
In my post on the spoilers, I said that one of the reasons I’d not wanted them to do this story was because we’ve seen so many years of Booth not relapsing that I couldn’t wrap my head around it happening now.
But that was before I saw the man who walked out of that prison last September; before I saw him broken next to his best friend’s body; before I saw him come way too close to taking an innocent life in revenge.
Booth’s faced some hard things in the past, but what went down as a result of the conspiracy? Too much. He’s strong enough to face fifty kills on his conscience, strong enough to face a brain tumor, strong enough, even, to watch the woman he loves driving away with his daughter.
But even that man has limits, and somewhere along the line of being shot to pieces, of betrayal, of prison, of watching Sweets die…somewhere there, he broke.
And then tried desperately hard to keep anyone from knowing just how broken he was, because if they knew, he’d have to face it.
They showed it to us in The Puzzler in the Pit, though. In my review, I said this:
I don’t think Booth’s that close to falling off the wagon (though I did notice he was playing with his poker chip here, and seemed more animated about the site than we’ve seen him about gambling opportunities in the past.)
But it was really more that I didn’t want to think he was that close to falling, because, truth? I knew. It bothered me that he was that interested in the site Aubrey found, because it’s been a long time, if ever, since we’ve seen him look that animated over gambling.
Yeah, I knew.
What they’ve done over the course of ten years is show us a good man who’s an addict, but one who kept beating it, over and over, until life finally handed him more than he could cope with, and he fell.
I like that we’re seeing consequences of what happened last fall, because that feels real to me. There’s a point where the strongest person will break in the face of pain, and now we’re going to see how these people we love so much come back from that.
That’s the full context of this episode. The immediate context is something happy: they’re pregnant, and the contrast between the first scene and the last is stark.
We’re all reacting to this episode based on our own histories, and mine includes a background in psychology and a complicated relationship with addiction. As I mentioned in the earlier post, my father was an alcoholic and another close family member is a gambler. (This week, his car is in the shop, so he rented a car so he could get to the casino.)
Here are two things that background has taught me, which are influencing my responses to this episode:
1. Addicts are not all the same. As individuals, our biology and psychology are unique, and to expect everyone to respond the same way, even to addiction, does more harm than good. Don’t pigeonhole people. Even gamblers.
2. Gambling as an addiction is often the hardest one for people to understand because unlike with drugs or alcohol, there don’t appear to be chemicals involved…but there are. The short version is that the hormones that control our responses to pleasure, motivation, and reward are different in gamblers.
So say that a man traumatized by his role in war goes into a casino to relax, and wins big. That’s a good feeling for anyone, but this particular man’s brain goes a bit haywire, and that win, coming after the hideousness of war, feels more than really, really good. It feels good enough that he becomes a bit desperate to repeat that feeling.
Or maybe it’s more complicated than that. Maybe he convinced himself that the win was because he’s damned good at whatever the game was: pool, cards, whatever, and suddenly that good feeling feels like a reward for being good at something other than killing people. Or for being in control of something when life feels largely out of his control.
The point is not that I’m making excuses for a gambler. I’m not. All addicts have a choice – to pick up the bottle, or not; to walk into the casino, or not; to pick up the cigarette that is killing them, or not. But as humans, we’re hardwired to respond to what gives us pleasure, and for gamblers, the hormones that control that are out of whack in respect to risk and games of chance.
I know that not everyone shares that perspective, but it means that what I saw in this episode was Booth being Booth. This is important: he has always been a gambler, just one who wasn’t gambling, one who was strong enough to say no to the lure of that win-fueled high.
And here? That strength fails, but he’s still Booth.
1. He still loves Brennan, Christine, and Parker. He knows in his head that no gambling win is worth compromising what they have. (But oh, he’s so screwed up inside, and he remembers that feeling of a big win…)
2. He’s still concerned for those around him. No matter how messed up he is, he sees Aubrey’s pain, and makes a point of saying, “It was never you, all right? It’s never the fault of the people who are close to you. It was him. It’s me.”
3. He’s still the good, compassionate man Brennan believes him to be; it’s still important to him to be that man. We see this at several points, including that he’s sincerely pissed that someone killed a guy who was fighting to go straight.
This is where it gets tricky, because we can actually see him balancing on that line between wanting to be strong, and in wanting to gamble. But I believe both are present – and when push comes to shove the good man wins enough to turn down that huge win, and arrest the killer.
(And damn it, I wish Hollywood would notice how subtle Boreanaz was with his facial expressions as he teetered back and forth across that line.)
Anyway…but the damage has been done, Pandora’s box re-opened. He remembers what it feels like now, to take that chance, make that win, and in the end, he lies to Brennan, and crosses the line.
It’s a given that he’s lying to himself as well: I was strong enough to turn down that pot in order to arrest Mid-life. I can do it again. There’s no harm in one $200 bet.
But why now? Why the juxtaposition of this with finding out that she’s pregnant? Doesn’t that mean that on some level, he doesn’t view the baby as a good thing?
No. Absolutely not. Counselors know that change can be hard, even good change. On the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, happy things rank quite high (getting married is seventh on the list of forty-three life events; pregnancy is twelfth.)
In this case, I think it’s also quite possible that however happy he is about the new baby – and he is literally turning somersaults in joy – there may be some anxiety as well. Can he keep another child safe in a world where the good guys aren’t always good, and where he had to destroy their home for a chance at living to see the next day? A world where he couldn’t keep Sweets safe?
Not his fault, no. But this is still Booth.
So I can appreciate all of that from an intellectual point of view. It’s a delicate balance of showing him gradually sliding into disaster, in a completely believable way.
But emotionally? It broke my heart. Repeatedly.
While I can be both clear-sighted about the reality of what gambling addiction is, and compassionate toward the mess this very good man is making of his life, it’s Brennan who I grieve for, Brennan who I identify with.
Sitting up all night, waiting for the addict to come home, desperately hoping he’ll be sober? Been there, done that.
Trying to figure out how to help him? Yeah, been there, too. If she pushes too hard against him playing in the game, is she saying she doesn’t trust him? Doesn’t believe in his strength? Could his feeling like she doesn’t have faith in him actually then push him to gamble? At the same time, doesn’t he need people in his corner, saying, ‘it’s okay to protect yourself; please stop now’? It’s impossible to know which he needs more – her belief in him, or her tough love saying, ‘no, don’t go there.’
The worst scene for me in the entire episode is at the end, when she’s so afraid for him, for them, and her voice is so full of despair when she says, “he’s an addict.”
That’s bad enough, but it’s worse that it’s followed by pride moments later when he chooses to make the arrest…because even watching it the first time, I knew it was misplaced, that he’s going to let her down.
(And Boreanaz isn’t the only under-appreciated actor on the show.)
So yeah, he broke, but the question is whether he stands back up. He can – he’s not the first addict to stumble and fall, and then get back up.
But he’s going to need her.
She can’t be his whole reason for staying sober – that’s not fair to either of them. But when he hits that bottom, he’s going to need to know that she still sees him as a good man, but that she also knows that he’s the only one who can decide whether he’s going to be a hero who just happens to be a recovering gambler, or if he’s going to sacrifice everything they have together for that rush.
I’m not a gambler, but my money is on him. It’s on them. Every time. Because he knows that this is true, and he’ll remember it:
“Because what we have here, this life, it’s better than any hand I could ever be dealt.”
“The safety system is being a little dramatic. It’s not that toxic.” (Hodgins.)
“So you came to tell me something?”
“Yes. We have to dig remains out of an industrial shredder.”
“Oh, good! I thought it was going to be something bad,” (Hodgins & Cam)
“I’ve got to say I’m getting a little freaked out by all the compliments.” (Hodgins, about Booth’s giddiness)
“I knew it!”
“You knew what?”
“Sore boobs. You’re pregnant.” (Angela & Brennan)
— (Ryn note: No time to discuss it in the review, but I loved Angela figuring it out.)
“Oh my God! That’s it!”
“I could…I should be able to…Oh my God.”
“Yeah, that didn’t clarify much.” (Hodgins & Jessica)
“Oooh, twenty-eight grand. That has got to feel good.”
“Yeah, until he was beaten to death for it.” (Booth & Aubrey)
“Relapse, okay, now you think I’m gonna become a gambler again, because we’re having a child. That’s how much faith you have in me?”
“No. No, Booth, that’s how much I love you.” (Booth & Brennan)
“What are you, my sponsor now?”
“No, I’m just some guy who’d take a bullet for you in the field, the same way you’d take one for me.” (Booth & Aubrey)
— (Ryn: I also loved Aubrey, all the way through this. Booth can’t really see it right now, but he’s a damned lucky man.)
“If the guy takes off, we might never find him – ask Aubrey.”
“Yeah, but what are you going to do? Go in there and ask the killer to raise his hand?” (Booth & Aubrey, with Brennan)
“I know you try so hard to let me in
But I can’t tempt you anymore with reassurance
well I felt daylight disappear with each explosion in my ear
this heart of mine might break and tear
but honey you’re not going anywhere.” (lyrics to ‘Anywhere,’ playing at the end)