Genre, History, and Hope as a Fan of Bones

(No spoilers here if you’ve seen the most recent episode, but there is mild speculation.)

I’ve been waffling all week about this post. I’ve had discussions about some of this before, and apparently wind up seldom making sense about what I’m trying to say.

But I’m seeing so many freaked out fans right now that I keep finding myself trying to explain why I’m not worried about where this is going (my trepidation about last week’s The Murder in the Middle East before it aired notwithstanding.) But it’s hard to do in 140 characters or less on Twitter, so I’ll give it a go.

First, what I’m expecting from Bones over the next three episodes:

  • Tension between Booth and Brennan, with him staying elsewhere for part of the time
  • Scenes between them, including case discussions
  • Scenes where we see that both of them are hurting
  • Scenes where it’s quite clear that Booth has made a choice to fight the addiction because he loves her and their family
  • Scenes where it’s equally clear that Brennan loves him and wants him to beat the addiction; also where she’s trying to work out how she can best support him in doing so (which may not be letting him rush home)
  • Scenes where we see them reassuring Christine and trying to minimize the damage to her
  • That Booth and Brennan will be in a fairly solid place by the end of the finale – not necessarily the same as they were, but solid.

That’s what I expect to see because to me, those characters and those types of scenes are what Bones is, are what it’s always been. Booth and Brennan love one another, deeply and unreservedly, and that won’t suddenly be different here. Their bond didn’t cease in S6, nor did it change at either the end of S7, when she went on the run, or the end of S8, when he had to break the engagement.

On the other hand, I am not remotely worried about: Booth dying (yes, I’ve seen this one mentioned a couple of times by different people), Booth and Brennan getting divorced, or Booth moving out until sometime next season. I’m also not worried about the finale ending with them still not in a good place.

But why I’m so sure on those points is complicated, and has to do with my understanding of genre as well as my views of the story and characters.

Genre – what type of story it is – matters.  I’ve had conversations with fans who explain their fears of something happening on their show by saying, “Well, [show in a different genre] did it.” It doesn’t work that way. While there can be gray areas – sitcoms in particular often push the boundaries of genre, mining humor from tragedy – shows don’t simply switch genres overnight. They can’t.

Why? Because networks know that if viewers are expecting one thing, and turn the show on to find it’s become something else, they’ll stop watching. Genre is about audience expectation: I expect mysteries to be solved in mystery novels, villains to be defeated in action films, and comedies (of any kind) not to have too much angst.

Shows that are a mix of genres, as Bones is, have more leeway, but that actually makes it harder, because they still have audience expectations to meet, they just have more of them.  The show’s often been described as a ‘dramedy crime procedural,’ and that’s a lot of commitments to keep to the audience.

(Before I continue, it’s worth noting that meeting audience expectation is not the same thing as letting the audience determine what happens. If I read a crime novel, I expect a murder to be solved by the protagonist.  But I don’t get to stop in the middle of the story and tell the writer that the wrong victim just died.)

Anyway, Bones can have some drama, but if it goes too dark for too long, it will lose the viewers who watch for the humor; similarly, if it focuses for too long on the comedy, it will lose those who like the more serious stories. Rather than a mix of genres giving them endless freedom to do anything they want, it means they have to be careful about not leaning too far in any one direction for too long.

I tend to prefer the drama over the humor, but the difficulty they have in keeping that balance was brought home to me last fall when a co-worker told me after The Lance in the Heart aired that she wasn’t sure she’d continue with the show, because it’s ‘too sad now.’

That’s why the show began moving away from the tragedy of Sweets’ death in the next episode. They were aware of the need for balance.

Last September, Stephen said this:  “We’re not forsaking what makes Bones, Bones, which is all the humor, the romance, the oddities of our cases and the skewed comic nature of our show.” In the same interview, he later said, “We don’t want to mire the show in darkness.”

I think that quote’s not only important because of what he says about the balance, but also for what it reveals about his view of the nature of the show. Fans who watch primarily for Booth and Brennan, for example, may not realize that the humor and lighter tone are not an afterthought – they’re not something the show does when it runs out of problems to throw at the characters. Rather, they’re integral to the show itself.

In 2012, Hart went into some detail about how aware they are of that balance of humor and drama, not only in respect to the order of episodes, but even of scenes within them. They never stop being aware of whether they’re hitting that target of both humor and drama.

But the question isn’t just one of dark vs. light. Bones is also a romance. Or, as Hart told a roomful of writers in 2010, a romantic comedy.

(So yes, for those keeping score, it’s a romantic comedy-dramatic-crime-procedural. And, IMO, that’s both why it has such a loyal audience, and why it doesn’t appeal to everyone…though that’s a separate post.)

The thing about genres is that they have requirements. In the publishing world, for example, a romance-genre book has to have a happily-ever-after, where the couple is in some form of committed relationship by the end of the story. It’s non-negotiable. But! Not every book with a couple in a romantic relationship is considered a romance novel n terms of genre. (Confused? Here’s an example: Nicholas Sparks’ novels are not considered romance novels by the publishing industry – or by their author.)

Admittedly part of the problem with all of this is the issue of whether a genre designation has any objective meaning. I’d say it’s like most questions about language: there are gray areas and nuance, but if the terms have no objective meaning at all, then neither does language. And the reality is that writers mean something very specific by genres – whether the audience does or not.

It’s true that I’m not as familiar with how screenwriters and Hollywood define the terms, but if we assume that by ‘romantic comedy’ Hart was comparing Booth and Brennan’s story in some way to the films that are marketed as rom-coms, the takeaway is that, A) their relationship is central to the story, and B) it has limits as to its angst level (he didn’t call it a romantic tragedy, or even a romantic drama.)

That means that not only will neither of them die (even leaving aside the contracts that Emily and David just signed), they’ll remain the focus of the story – as they have always been.

About season 8, Hart said: “…One [question] was how long Brennan was going to be on the run. It took about 10 minutes for us to discuss alternatives, but the gold in our show, as far as we’re concerned, is Booth and Brennan being together. So, it’s not a good plan to start out a season with them apart, for any length of time.”

But since they were separated during previous hiatuses, doesn’t that mean that the show could separate them from now until S11? Sure. But there are two reasons why I don’t think that’s going to happen:

First, if we say that the last light(er) episode was The Big Beef at the Royal Diner, and they go from that through the end of the season and into next with unrelentingly grim stories, including where Booth and Brennan’s marriage is in trouble, then they’ve violated that need to balance the darker eps (girl bullied to suicide, innocent man on death row, Brennan telling Booth to leave) with lighter stories.

Second, there’s this quote, by Stephen Nathan, in Entertainment Weekly, in March. I’ve quoted it before, in a different post on the arc, but it’s important:

The finale’s gonna be a big game-changer for all of the characters. What we’re placed in the position of doing, since we didn’t get an official pickup for season 11—we fully expect that there will be a season 11. We could be deluded, but we hope there will be. But we couldn’t do the cliffhanger that we had planned. Because of this loyal and wonderful audience that we’ve had for 10 years, we couldn’t just end with a cliffhanger that wasn’t resolved. We had to resolve the series in some way, so we tried to resolve the series and keep it alive at the same time.

Do you see what he says there? “Because of this loyal and wonderful audience…we couldn’t end with a cliffhanger [in case it wound up as the series finale.]”

The show is Booth and Brennan’s love story. There’s no way on earth that they risk having the show end with them not together and solid, and no, it doesn’t remotely matter what other shows have done, because this is Bones, and they’re all about Booth and Brennan and love, and the same people who gave us TV’s best wedding are still telling this story.  And that’s even if Stephen hadn’t made it clear that they’d never betray the audience who’s followed them so loyally by risking ending the story that way.

It’s true that this is about trust – I trust the showrunners, writers, and the actors to continue telling the same kind of story they’ve been telling for ten seasons now, where hope is never completely lost, and love always wins – but it’s also about logic. They’ve got everything to lose and nothing to gain by suddenly becoming a show where people say, “It’s too sad now,” and stop watching. They can go a week or two like that, but not four weeks followed by a hiatus.

Bottom line? The show is about finding humor and love in the midst of murder and death; it’s about how they love one another. Brennan began her confrontation with him about the gambling by telling him that she was proud of him. I loved that, because it shows us where her heart is, and how much she loves him. That’s not going to have changed between last week and next week.

The whole point of the show is what these two mean to each other, and how they overcome things that life throws at them. That’s not just wishful thinking on my part – it’s ten years’ worth of story. And because of that, I’m expecting to see the same thing in the next three episodes. I don’t know the details, but I don’t need to. I know the story so far, I know the characters, and I know how much they love one another.

11 thoughts on “Genre, History, and Hope as a Fan of Bones

  1. Well written, and mostly I agree. I do worry there was a move to shock-for-shock sake with the death of Sweets. That has left me with an almost constant feeling of dread. I like the idea of the good guys win. Not without angst and character development, but an unspoken promise of we’ll be alright.

    • I understand why people feel that way (about Sweets’ death) but I think why it doesn’t feel like shock-for-shock’s sake to me is that the alternative would have felt much less …unfinished (I’m struggling for the right word there) and therefore less satisfying…to *me.*

      They could have just had said Sweets was at Quantico, or went somewhere to teach or do post-doctoral work, but if they were hoping he’d come back, then they would have been trying to fill his role on the show in a different way every week, and that feels …unstable in terms of the characters that already rotate.

      And honestly, I don’t think JFD would ever have come back. Filming on Vacation continued through October, but he was doing post-filming work well past that, and there wouldn’t be a guarantee of him being back next season (since the consensus from the film industry seems to be that he’ll be in demand as a director even more after Vacation comes out.)

      So if they just wrote him off the show (never coming back, but not dead) there’s no real closure there, and people would be asking every week if he was coming back (as some still do seven years later about Zach.)

      Also? What they do is dangerous, and yeah, they’d already lost Vincent to a serial killer, but somehow, asking them to really face that any one of them could die at any time seems fair, and if JFD was leaving the show anyway, having that come via the death of someone even closer to them than a squintern seems valid to me. (But I do get that that’s my take on all of it.)

  2. Well said. All the reasons I’m not worried either. Regardless of what some people seem to believe (across all shows from what it looks like to me) showrunners really don’t set out to totally ruin the show for its fans.

  3. Why can every fan not see it this way?. You hit on every one of the reasons I have been trying to get across to fellow fans who are sure all is going to be doom and gloom. Sometimes when I read their comments I wonder if they have been watching the same show I have.

  4. Your essays are always informative, and so well written. The insights and prospectives are intelligent and “spot-on”. I couldn’t agree with you more on the analysis of this program and the closing episodes. Please continue to provide us intelligent fans articles to stimulate thought as well as entertain. Go Bones 11!

  5. One of the reasons I have always liked this show is that the folks in charge assume that the audience is intelligent enough to understand deep stories with many layers in addition to the lighter stories. I like both kinds of stories, but prefer the ones with a little more depth. We definitely have gotten more depth in the last few episodes, and I have really enjoyed them.

    I understand why people are upset with the current story arc ( even though I am not) because they care deeply about these characters in this series, and even though they are fictional, all of us want them to be happy in the story of their lives. I don’t always have a good grasp of genre, but I think we would all agree that the course of truth love never does run smooth, and no matter how much we love someone there will be issues that come between us. This is realistic material even for a romantic comedy/crime drama/whatever we call it, and I appreciate that we get to be privy to how these characters deal with these issues so I can learn from a different point of view.

    Thanks for your essay.

  6. How eloquent and wonderful this article is. The paragraph about how Bones is Brennan and Booth’s love story really resonates with me. Collectively, the fans of Bones have been truly blessed with the gem of a show and I can’t wait to see how season 10 concludes and how season 11 will play out.

  7. The Genre,History and Hope post was very good and informative . I agree with your view.
    BONES is and always has been about murder
    and Love . Brennan and Booths love for each other . As I posted before on another post .
    No relationship is all Sunshine but two people can share one Umbrella and survive the storm together . Booth and Bones will do this .

  8. Pingback: What if…(Bones Season/Show finale musings) | Lunatic Worlds

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