Is it possible to restart a series once you’ve credibly ended it? Is it possible to convince an audience that there are still stories to tell, tens seasons in?
As it turns out, yes, it is, and Bones did that in spades with this episode.
They begin by giving us a quick look into Booth and Brennan’s lives since leaving their jobs: Brennan’s being an overachiever on the writing front and teaching Christine to catalog artifacts in her spare time; Booth’s being the hands-on dad we know him to be with Hank, playing with him and changing his diaper. (And getting peed on, in what’s the funniest bit of the episode.)
They discuss having dinner with Angela and Hodgins, which I love, because it seems like it’s not a rare thing. (Plus? The fact that in the next scene, we see Hodgins making beer for Booth added to it for me. I get why we don’t have a lot of scenes between the two, but I love when the show finds ways to say, ‘yeah, as different as they are, they’re brothers, too.’)
So, domestic bliss. And yet, even in the midst of the happy shine, there are shadows, hints of things not being as sunny as they appear. Despite telling Christine that being free-lance means he’s on his own schedule, Booth’s not sure he can make dinner, and when Brennan presses him on it, we learn there have been a lot of late nights. And when he hesitates for a moment after kissing them goodbye, just watching them, we know something is up.
In the following scene, we see life in the lab, post-Brennan, which is …not exactly post-Brennan, since Cam’s had no joy in getting Brennan’s stamp of approval on a replacement. (And, indeed, how do you replace the world’s best?)
Based on spoilers, I’d been concerned that the question of Arastoo replacing Brennan would feel too forced, with Cam putting his name forward when she clearly shouldn’t. Instead, this works well for me: He’s been filling in and apparently doing a good job; it’s been six months and Cam’s no closer to finding someone who’ll earn Brennan’s stamp of approval. That makes it reasonable for her to ask, ‘maybe he’s the answer?’ – while also being aware that she has to tread carefully.
In turn, that leads to the conversation with Angela and Hodgins, allowing us to not only see her concerns, but also her respect for them, as colleagues and as friends who’ll understand her dilemma.
They’re still discussing it when things suddenly go quite pear-shaped. Aubrey calls about a messy body find, and the life they’ve all known since Booth and Brennan’s departure comes to an abrupt halt.
One of the things that struck me while watching Brennan examine the bones was how difficult it can be for an episodic drama to tell a story like this. It helps to some degree that shows do kill off main characters – the family member I watch with kept saying, “are you sure Boreanaz is still with the show?” – but the reality is that there are characters who simply can’t be killed in a way that would allow a show to continue in anything approaching its same form, and for this one, at a minimum, that’s Booth and Brennan.
But if the audience is sitting there going, ‘yeah, no way that’s Booth,’ then you risk them not being as emotionally engaged as you want them to be. Here, though, while I knew it wasn’t Booth, it was still a gut wrenching scene for me. Two things contributed to that, I think, and both were brilliant.
First, although his name is never mentioned, the shadow of Sweets’ death is felt, with parallels between Brennan’s understanding that Daisy needed to be present for the autopsy, to Cam’s support here of Brennan examining the bones by herself, as well as to the similarities between Brennan and Daisy examining Sweets’ bones as a farewell, and in what we see in the montage.
It’s not quite the same, because Sweets was unquestionably dead, and Booth’s not. But there was still a resonance between those moments that helped bump up the emotional authenticity of the scene for me.
The second thing the show did was not to waste that emotion. You think someone’s dead, you feel bad, you find out they’re not dead, you feel relief…but where drama is concerned, there can also be a bit of resentment that we expended that emotion needlessly – even if we’re happy the character isn’t dead.
Here, that effect is less because Booth is still in danger, and…because it turns out that while the bones aren’t his, they belong to someone we have a history with, someone Booth, at least, loves. Instead of feeling emotionally manipulated, there’s a sense that our emotional response was justified. Things aren’t as bad as they could have been, but they’re still very bad, indeed.
As to the montage itself? Also very well-done. The flashbacks they chose, with Brennan examining specific bones while recalling related memories, were great choices, particularly to long-time fans. We see her examining the mandible while remembering their first kiss; studying the phalanges as she recalls a time she clasped Booth’s hand; and finally, examining the bones of the upper torso while flashing back to another time she believed him dead.
It’s not Booth, though, it’s Jared, and from there, the story alternates between the lab and the FBI.
At the Jeffersonian, we see Arastoo navigating the repercussions of his error. Brennan was fully justified in being angry, because forensic screw-ups don’t come much higher than telling Brennan Booth is dead when you don’t have absolute proof that that’s the case.
And yet – and this is something else I think very well done here – that failure didn’t cause me to lose confidence in Arastoo, which is important if I’m to continue to trust him in the future. More, it didn’t cause Brennan to lose confidence in him. Yes, she blasted him, and he deserved it, but later, we see them working together, see him discover cause of death and her acknowledge that.
Then, toward the end, it’s Arastoo who Brennan opens up to about her anger over Booth’s secrets, and it’s Arastoo who gives her a framework for understanding it, which I think will be key when she and Booth are united: “There’s a bond between brothers.”
I’m seeing speculation about how much damage Booth’s lies will do to their relationship, but my thought is, ‘not as much as people assume.’ I’ve noticed that Brennan does not always respond the way fans expect. When he broke the engagement, for example, I saw a lot of predictions that she would never be able to forgive him, and she not only did so, but fairly quickly.
Why? Because at the heart of it, she knows him. The fact that she knew he loved her gave her the faith to trust him until he could tell her the truth, and when he did, she acknowledged that she would have done the same thing. It’s hard to hold onto anger when those two things are true.
Here? I think something similar will happen. Motive matters, and whatever is going on, I think Brennan will come to understand why he got involved, and why he lied about it, and that will be the end of it. As to equating the lying here with the lying about the gambling, I’m not sure Brennan will see that the same way, either.
There’s no question that lying is bad, but the why does matter. With the gambling, his lying endangered her and Christine; it’s possible that his lies here are to protect her in some way. I could be wrong about that, and it still wouldn’t justify the lies, but I think the distinction will matter to Brennan.
Meanwhile, complicating everything is Agent Miller.
My initial response was to want to punch her in the face with a brick. And that made me uncomfortable, because I felt like we were supposed to believe that she was just doing her job, and that she was being an asshat about it because she’s surrounded by people who are obviously too biased to see the truth.
The problem is that as the story unfolds, it’s apparent that she’s just as biased. That was especially clear in the conversation with Brennan about Jared: either he fell in with his brother’s bad choices, or he killed him because of them. There are no options where he’s not a criminal to her.
Um, no. But still, I felt uneasy about not giving her the benefit of the doubt until it occurred to me that in the past, we’ve met characters who investigated one of the team while remaining neutral in the face of the team’s bias. Agent Flynn, for example, did his job of searching for Brennan-the-fugitive while remaining open to the truth – something Miller isn’t doing.
That sense that something is up with her was proven justified when Caroline told Aubrey about Miller’s partner, and now, rather than feeling like I should be cutting her some slack, I can simply look forward to the comeuppance that’s heading her direction.
(This doesn’t mean she’s a villain, by the way. She may not be guilty of anything more than trying to deflect attention from her partner’s situation by keeping everyone focused on Booth. Still, she’s a bad agent, and one who fully deserves that flattening I sincerely hope is coming from Temperance Brennan or Caroline Julian.)
But first they have to save Booth, and was that last scene in the lab, where Angela runs the mock-up of the battle, highlighting his injuries, followed by the scene in the basement, terrifying or what? Ouch.
I said the other day that I had full confidence in Jonathan Collier and Michael Peterson, and this episode more than rewarded that faith. The characters all felt spot-on to me in their responses, both to the situation and toward one another, and the story was well-paced, plotted, and emotional.
Roll on next Thursday!
“I’m not leaving until these bones lead me to wherever the hell my husband is.” (Brennan)
“I have many little birds in many little trees that owe me many big, fat favors.” (Caroline)