Fan Review: The Verdict in the Victims (Bones)

I’m a bit conflicted about this episode. It didn’t completely work for me on a couple of levels, but there’s a great deal here that I like, and some of it’s enormously important from a character perspective.

First, the nitpicks, just to get them out of the way:

The ticking-bomb plot:

As soon as the episode started, I knew how it would end: with them saving Rockwell with seconds to spare. This is just a personal preference sort of thing, but ‘defuse the ticking time bomb’ stories never really engage me, because I assume that of course they’ll be disarmed at the very last possible second.

To be fair to the show, though, the nephew I watch with – who’s seen every episode of Bones – actually thought they might fail, that they’d find the answer too late. The tension was real for him, so, just me, then, having that response. (Hey, I said it was a nitpick.)

The timing of the overall story:

I’m not talking about the mind-bending rearrangement of time and space where in the previous episode, Sweets has been dead six months, and in this one, it’s been over seven months since Rockwell was arrested – which was clearly after Sweets’ death. Oh, and Brennan is not noticeably more pregnant.

Though that sounds like a math story problem gone bad, I once spent a couple of hours trying to reconcile the time line between The Beginning in the End and The Bikini in the Soup, (hint: it can’t be done) and finally, for sanity’s sake, decided that Bones operates in a different universe than ours, on what I call BST: Bones Standard Time. In short, I take whatever they say in any episode that relates to time at face value and go with it.

But this feels a bit different, and I think it’s because, whatever is going on in the Bones universe, in this one, I had watched the events of The Baker in the Bits less than a month before, and that wasn’t enough time for me to relate completely to the time elements here – even apart from the idea that a capital murder trial/execution date could have happened so fast.

My initial reaction was that it might have worked better with more time between the two episodes, like, say, if Baker had aired last fall. But after thinking about it for a couple of days, I think I see the problem with that: as a standalone story, Baker is one where they failed. Not like in previous serial killer cases, where the team simply didn’t catch the villain right away, but one where they actually arrested the wrong guy. I can see why the show couldn’t wait too long to address that.

Tricky storytelling there, to show your characters making that kind of mistake, but doing it in such a way the audience doesn’t lose confidence in them. They did that very carefully, I think, by putting degrees of separation between the various bits of data Brennan needed to pull everything together, while emphasizing that she can’t see what isn’t there. Rather than discovering a single error that was made, we see her being given new information, and then pursuing it to find the truth.

And that gives us confirmation of what we already know: that they’re heroes not because they’re incapable of making errors, but because justice matters desperately to them, and they won’t give up. Still, in the conversation with Cam, what comes through is the toll the situation is taking on Brennan:

“Have you found anything yet?”
“No. I pride myself on my thoroughness, and not making mistakes, and yet I’ve made a mistake.”
“All the evidence pointed to Rockwell, including the knife they found in his car. This isn’t your fault.”
“Of course it is. It’s my work that put him on death row.”

Brennan knows that whatever the role the jury played, it was her evidence they were trusting, never mind that she didn’t have all the pieces at the same time. It reminded me a little of her reaction to finding out that her insistence that the jury follow the evidence in The Fury on the Jury had allowed the killer to go free. Other people make decisions, but she’s the one providing and interpreting the data for them.

Brennan’s not the only one feeling the burden of responsibility.  When Rockwell says this to Booth, my heart aches: “The truth is, once I’m dead? After a couple of days I won’t even cross your mind.” 

Because he’s wrong, and knowing he’d been responsible for an innocent man’s death is quite likely something Booth, like Brennan, would never have recovered from. Plus? I’m assuming that Booth is also viewing this through the lens of a man who spent three months in jail, awaiting trial for murders he didn’t commit. Yeah, that.

BBtag2

We see just how much it’s affecting him in the last scene:

“A society based on vengeance.”
“You don’t believe in the death penalty anymore?”
“No. Not after all this, no.”

The flat no is an important contrast to his words in season one’s The Man on Death Row:

“I have no problem with the death penalty.” (to Director Cullen)

“I think there are doubts, and when it comes to an execution, there shouldn’t be any doubts.” (to the judge)

(As an aside? I freaking love that this show gives us these moments, that we see them changing and growing.)

Another scene where that toll is clear is the one in their bed. They’re sleeping, but Brennan was apparently overtaken by exhaustion while reviewing case notes, and Booth is actually dreaming about it – either that, or is sleeping so lightly that his subconscious mind breaks through with an important piece of the puzzle.

I think this might actually be my favorite scene in the episode (and hey, that’s even with Booth wearing a t-shirt – did they not get the memo that David Boreanaz should be bare-chested whenever possible?)

Ahem. *Slaps shallow mind down.*

BBBed

What struck me here is that their work partnership extends even to their marriage bed. There’s been a lot of discussion of what it means for them to be partners this year, and I know for a lot of people, they’re somehow not. I respect that, but as I’ve said before, for me, it’s the two of them, together, at the head of this team charged with catching killers. They work together to lead the team, tossing ideas back and forth, each keeping up with what the other one is doing.

They focus on their own areas of specialty, but they’re very much a unit when it comes to catching killers, and that’s never clearer than when they’re discussing a case in the middle of the night, in their bed.  Once upon a time, they tried to establish a no-murder-talk rule for home, but that’s gone by the wayside. Murder is entwined in every area of their lives, and at one point, I would have said that was okay, that it was just who they are. But I’m thinking that what we’re seeing this season build to is…maybe not.

They’re not the only ones showing murder-fatigue. Hodgins and Angela are both revealing that they, too, bear some scars from the last year.  It’s particularly telling, I think, that it’s not only Angela, who’ve we seen struggle before with a life focused on murder, but also Hodgins.

“I just started imagining what our lives would be like without all this death and shadow governments and serial killers. What a life would be like without my best friend’s house getting shot up. Where you could maybe teach at the Sorbonne, and I could paint stuff. Doesn’t that sound nice?” (Angela, when he finds her Paris research)

“If it were me, I’d vow not to put off any dreams until later, because later is not a guarantee… If you’d talked to me, I would have told you I thought you were dreaming a little too small. After ten years, I think we deserve to let life surprise us, don’t you?” (His later response to her, when he shows her his findings)

AH3

I’m tiptoeing here, because I don’t want to get too far into spoilers or speculation, but what we’re seeing is that all of them are damaged and tired, and that was before they nearly sent a man to his execution.

Writing on the wall, folks.

Finally, to end on a more cheerful note – how great was that scene between Aubrey and Christine? It’s a measure of the overall darkness of this one that the only humor was there, at the very beginning, but it was fun, and when I watched it the second time I was struck, again, by how happy I am to have another season getting to know these two. Whoo-hoo on season eleven!

Christine2

“Can I see those gummy bears again?”

Bonus Quotes:

 “I’m starving. If I don’t eat soon, I’ll die.”
“What if I sneak you a snack?”
“Seriously? You carry snacks in your pocket?”
“Uh, yeah, in case of emergencies, like this one.” (Christine and Aubrey)

***

“I trust these two, your honor. If they say something’s hinky, then it’s hinky.”
“The last time I looked, hinky was not a legal strategy.” (Caroline and Judge Edwards)

***

“If it was Michelle on this table, I’d want the person who killed her to pay in kind. And so would you, if it was Michael Vincent.”
“I’d like to think that I’m better than that.”
“And I’d feel fine knowing justice was served.”
“And I’m grateful to finally be in a country where we can debate about this. But not right now.” (Cam, Hodgins, Fuentes)

***

“I’m not hungry.”
“Maybe you’re not, but that little person inside must be starving. It’s an eggless tofu omelet. Booth said it’s your favorite, which is upsetting, but eat, please.” (Brennan and Cam)

***

“Harbor no ill will.
Forgive those who might hurt and betray you.
Expect nothing, but give everything.
What others say is not who you are.
The love you hold inside is who you are.
Trust in the Lord for there is no other justice than in him.” (Rockwell’s final letter to his son)

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16 thoughts on “Fan Review: The Verdict in the Victims (Bones)

  1. I adore that you always break down the ephemera and get right to the heart of each episode.

    Someone should hire you to write their recaps. Because it would be nice to read intelligent break downs once in awhile.

  2. I actually thought for a while during the episode that they might fail to get the evidence in time to save Rockwell. With the say they had it going, with what we suspect might be the finale they’re heading to, I really started thinking that they might be just that tiny bit too late and they wouldn’t save him.

    I think you hit all the same quotes I did. LOL

    And hey the end of the episode ended on a laugh too. Booth calling the baby Tiger. Tigers are always hungry.

    Oh and yeah on the timeline. I just really wish that in the previous episode they’d have just said that Sweets had been dead for less than a year if they wanted to give some kind of time frame for that. It would have worked better both for that episode and this one, but like you said 7 months would be some kind of warp speed record.

    • It’s interesting to me that you and my nephew both thought they might really fail to save him. I honestly couldn’t imagine a genre show, particularly not Bones, allowing the heroes to fail so spectacularly that they were responsible for an innocent man’s death. Really not sure how they’d have come back from that, but you’re right – I can see how, given all the other dark things they’re flirting with right now, it would have been the capstone on the end of season they’re setting up.

  3. I saw this episode as more telling about how off Booth has been this season because of all he has gone through. You are right that Brennan did the best she could with the evidence available when Rockwell was arrested and tried. IF Booth’s gut had been working as usual he would have been the one to say “Hey this feels a little too convenient.” “What serial killer leaves the murder weapon in plain sight in his car?” I thought it showed just how off his game he is right now. The timeline bothered me too, but like you said sometimes we have to overlook things like that. This is what did bother me – Booth wakes up realizing there must be another victim because the killer killed someone every 3 months. Then when the real killer is revealed it is stated that he killed those he felt were going against his purpose or sliding back into crime. What, did someone conveniently go against him every 3 months? To be inconsistent from season to season or episode to episode is one thing. To be inconsistent in the same episode is just poor writing and or editing.

    • Flender didn’t kill because someone went against him every three months – that was just his justification for it. He killed because he was a psychopath with an obsession to kill, and every 3-4 months, that compulsion would become strong enough that he’d find someone who he could justify needing to die.

      In that sense, I think it was telling that the last victim wasn’t one of his ex-cons. Whereas the previous victim (the guy from Baker) was one of his guys who’d gone astray, none of his bakers were misbehaving when the compulsion came back, so he had to go outside his environment and find someone else.

  4. Did anyone else notice the look the guard escorting Rockwell to the death chamber gave him? Usually those bit parts are just set dressing, but I thought that was a terrific small piece of acting, done without words in that scene.

    • I did notice that! Even the scenes when he was talking to him in the cell- he seemed compassionate and sad. Great job by the actor! And yay Bones casting for caring about getting the best even for the small parts.

    • Yep, I noticed from the very first scene with Rockwell and the guard how the guard was conveying things with just a look, and that’s when we were seeing just a part of his face through that slot.

    • I noticed it, too, and meant to comment on it, and then ran out of time. They did a great job in showing the effects on Rockwell, and that includes how the guards were written and portrayed. Just excellent storytelling there.

  5. I really liked a lot about this episode. I know the time line is off but I think we can all agree that Bones Universe Time is magic and not to be understood by us mortals.

    I also thought that they wouldn’t stop the execution in time to be the final kick in the gut. I knew most likely they would be successful, but there was just enough of an edge to make me wonder for a second or two…and it made me wonder how that would affect Brennan. How would she be able to bear that situation?

    I thought it was interesting that Booth woke up dreaming (?) about the case and remembered what Sweets had said. I often come up with solutions to problems through dreams so to me this was fairly realistic. (Although I also think the no shirt look would have been better, also…)

    Oh…where was I….I was most impressed by Booth’s change of heart about the death penalty. It almost seemed that Brennan was surprised. But I think what we have here is the change that takes place as one grows older. Young people are often sure they know all the answers, but as they grow older they realize that not only do they not know the answers, they have more questions.

    There seemed to be a shadow passing through this episode, like all of our characters are restless or uncomfortable. It will be interesting to see how this carries over into the next set of episodes.

    • I do the same thing, making connections while I’m asleep, or half asleep, at least. I just love that scene of the two of them so much. There’s intimacy there.

      And yeah, I think we’re building to the end of the season. I think this might be the longest setup they’ve done before for a finale. Last year had quite a few eps, but this, it’s one after the other. And I love it.

  6. Thanks for this excellent review. I largely agree with you on both the episode’s flaws and strengths.

    I actually thought they might not save him in time – which I realize is ridiculous for a long running network show. It’s just we learned this recently http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/fbi-overstated-forensic-hair-matches-in-nearly-all-criminal-trials-for-decades/2015/04/18/39c8d8c6-e515-11e4-b510-962fcfabc310_story.html and it would be nice for a show to tell a hard truth once in a while – that errors (intentional or not) can lead to innocent people being either put to death or serve long sentences. Network TV procedurals do give the viewer an air of certainty on forensic evidence that rarely exists in real life. That’s not what Bones is about, I realize, but if it aired on FX, I think they would have gone there.

    My favorite scenes were Aubrey/Christine, any of the Rockwell ones, and Brennan and Cam (when Cam brought her food). I would say the two episodes that aired last Thursday were good solid episodes but not my favorites of the spring season. But I find every episode has something in it that is vital to the show.

    • I’m not morally opposed to the death penalty, but I do think we’ve executed innocents – statistically, I don’t see how it couldn’t have happened given the exonerations – and I’d rather not risk it.

      As to Bones having him actually die, I’ve been thinking about this the last day or two. It really does interest me that so many thought it might happen, when it was always off the table for me. Not because it’s a broadcast network show (as opposed to FX, for example) but because I think the tone of the show itself would prevent. Law and Order? Yeah, I could buy one of those types of shows exploring the consequences to the show’s leads being instrumental in the death of an innocent man. But Bones? I don’t know how you come back from that to be as light in tone as it needs to be.

      But I also know that there are always ways to play things, to make them more bearable. For example, I remember being surprised that Booth didn’t struggle with guilt at all when Vincent died. He died in Booth’s place, but Booth understood immediately that he wasn’t his fault, so..end of story. And maybe the could have played it the same way here, with the emphasis being that Brennan couldn’t adequately investigate what no one knew she needed, so it wasn’t *really* their fault at all (which is what Cam said, in fact.)

      Interesting to think about, though I’m glad they didn’t go there. Going somewhere that feels it should be that dark, and then just having your characters not react the way it seems they should (to avoid darkening the tone too much) feels like a cop-out.

      But the humor on the show is important. I know people who watch for the lighter tone, and Fox has made it clear in the past that they know that. That’s why I think even the fallout from the gambling arc is going to be less than people expect.

  7. I think it is a compliment to the writer of this episode that even though we “know” how the story is supposed to end we are still not sure that’s what’s going to happen. Allowing a little bit of feeling the unexpected is part of the thrill ride. I agree that it would not match the overall tone of the show, which was another reason it was unexpected to feel that way. I am so happy that I can still be surprised by what happens on this program after so many years.

    • That’s a very good point. Although it really didn’t occur to me that he would die, I thought they did such a good job of balancing all the information coming through, the emotions vs. the science/legal. And the scenes of him in prison were particularly well-done.

  8. The Angela/Paris story here intrigued me here. We know that Angela has long been ambivalent about the work they do. She’s come close to quitting at least once. However, when Angela & Hodgins tell Cam about Hodgins’ financial windfall, Angela agrees (if unenthusiastically) that they love their jobs. And when Brennan confided to Angela that she was indeed wrong about the new baby’s gestational age, Angela called the risk to their families the price they pay for “doing what [they] love.” But Angela looked somewhat thoughtful as she said that. I hypothesize that that conversation served as a catalyst to her decision to actively look into Paris homes. She re-examined the risk/benefit ratio and decided she didn’t like the balance after all.

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