Much of my love for Bones comes from the serial story arcs. While I enjoy the standalone eps, I particularly like watching the long, involved stories unfold week after week. The Donor in the Drink continued a number of stories in some fashion, making this a very satisfying hour of television for me.
Last week, I said this, about how to keep a long story going:
The key, as far as I can tell, is to begin with very complex characters and then let them gradually grow. This allows you to never run out of new layers to peel back, new things to reveal.
The difficulty is that for characters to grow, the story itself has to change, as there’s no way to have dynamic characters in a static setting. At the same time, the heart of the story, why people fell in love with it in the first place, has to remain the same. That’s tricky.
Given that, what struck me while watching this episode was that balance of change/not-change.
On the ‘changed’ front, Booth’s choice to retire caused a ripple effect at the FBI, resulting in Aubrey’s growth and eventual promotion to Special Agent. Now that Booth is back, their situation has to reflect (and build on) that growth. My read on what we saw in this ep is that he and Booth will now be equals rather than mentor-mentoree, and that, of us seeing Booth regularly working with an equal at the bureau, is a new dynamic for the show. It will give them fresh story options, and that’s important in season eleven.
I don’t know exactly what that will be like, but I’m looking forward to it, because it’s going to give us a different side of Booth. He’s still going to be the man we know, with decades of experience over Aubrey and unique gifts and skills that Aubrey doesn’t have; we’re just going to see that play out slightly differently, and it should be interesting to watch.
What very clearly hasn’t changed is that Booth and Brennan, and their relationship, are still the heart of the show. There are a lot of subplots happening here (returning to work, Cam’s feelings about Arastoo, Angela’s photography) but the primary focus is Booth’s grief over Jared, manifested in the missing ashes. It not only drove most of the scenes between Booth and Brennan, but also several of those between Booth and Aubrey.
At the beginning of season eight, Hart Hanson said, “the gold in our show, as far as we’re concerned, is Booth and Brennan being together.” I’ve quoted that before, but it’s because as that truth informs everything the show does, the fact that I know they view it that way, informs everything I expect to see. And they’ve never let me down.
But if their relationship drives the engine of the show, it’s Booth and Brennan as individual characters who drive the relationship. The two of them together would not be nearly as effective emotionally, if they weren’t compelling as individuals. And we see all of that in this episode: while Booth’s grief is front and center, Brennan’s response is just as much a story priority.
One of the reasons the show continues to engage me is how multifaceted the characters are. That thing about Brennan being the brain and Booth the heart? It’s only true on the surface, and we continue to see exactly how much heart Brennan has, and how out of touch with his own heart that Booth can be.
I’m seeing comments to the effect that he should be over that by now, that character growth for him should dictate that it’s now easy (or at least easier) for him to open up to her at this point. But Booth is the child of an alcoholic, and leaving behind behaviors learned as a way of surviving in that environment is much more of a three-steps-forward-two-steps-back process than it is a linear growth experience.
One of the common characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics is difficulty accessing and expressing emotions. This can manifest in different ways, so the fact that Booth can be quite open about some things doesn’t mean it’s a simple matter to face every painful situation.
We also mourn differently depending on both our relationship with the deceased, and the circumstances of their death. We’ve seen Booth grieve for his father (or, perhaps more accurately, grieve for what could have been and never was); we’ve seen him cope with Sweets’ loss, who, in many ways, was more of a brother to him than was Jared, and now, we see him grieving for the man he spent his entire life rather hopelessly trying to protect. It’s three very different losses.
Fortunately, he has Brennan, and she’s made knowing him her true life’s work. (The same is true of him about her, by the way. He’s often more in tune with what she’s feeling than she is.) In The Male in the Mail, she asked Angela for advice on how to help him, and learned to follow her instincts (“figure out what you can give him that no one else can”); since then, we’ve seen her do exactly that a number of times.
Here, it means repeatedly confronting him with what she knows is true: that he’s grieving for Jared. However annoying it is on the surface, it reminds him that it’s safe for him to face those feelings with her. She is his refuge, as he is hers, and at the end, no longer able to deflect his feelings with the lost ashes, he lets her be just that: “This was about my brother being gone.”
Will we see a big meltdown from him at some point over Jared? Tears? I don’t think so, and honestly, I hope not. He loved Jared, and he’s going to miss him. But there are more ways to express that than an emotional storm, including the comfort he seems to take from seeing Christine’s love for Hank.
Something else which struck me in this episode was how finely nuanced the acting was by Boreanaz all through it. They’re both dealing with going back to work, and while that’s a source of pure joy for Brennan, Booth is off his stride for several reasons, and it shows in subtle ways. That sense of things not being quite right makes the entire story feel more authentic to me, and I look forward to seeing how next week is different from this in terms of returning to the status quo.
Meanwhile, Angela has found a new outlet for artistic expression, one that I like a lot. (Confession: While I’m unable to draw a straight line with a ruler, I enjoy photography as a not-very-serious hobby. I don’t know who actually took the photos attributed to Angela, but I loved what I saw.)
Ahem. Getting back to Angela, it feels like a good fit for her. Still, much of my interest here was that I was annoyed with Hodgins on her behalf, and that’s a rare thing. He’s the ‘least flawed’ of all the main characters, and we very seldom see him make mistakes of this magnitude. The fact that it turned out great for Angela doesn’t mean that he wasn’t wrong to ignore her wishes when she said she didn’t feel ready to show her work yet. Art is personal, and it should always be the choice of the artist to share it.
And yet…maybe he knows her better than we do. Maybe he did know that it was a confidence thing and, however presumptuous his action, he was seeking a way to give her what she needed – not unlike Brennan’s continuing to pick at Booth about his grief over Jared.
Still, it feels like it’s wrong, no matter how it turned out for her, and no matter to what degree he was acting out of knowledge of her. It’s an interesting way of setting up a new arc for them, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter in that story.
Finally, there’s Cam, and that lovely scene between her and Brennan. I adore what the show’s giving us in their friendship, and seeing Cam turn to Brennan for relationship advice makes me stupid happy. Not only does it emphasize how much Brennan has grown, but it also allows us to see someone else appreciating that growth.
I also like that they’re exploring something complicated and authentic in Cam and Arastoo’s relationship. Sometimes, you wind up breaking love if you sacrifice too much for it, and Cam’s career matters to her. I’m looking forward to watching her navigate that. (Also: I’m still rooting for them to get back together.)
The case suffered a bit here, I think, due to how much was going on. At least, I was a bit lost by the leap from the dark Web to Aubrey’s meeting with Nina Slocum, but that’s a minor quibble, particularly since I’ll always trade case details for character stuff. (It makes me feel bad to say that, because I can only imagine how much work the writers put into the cases, but…sorry/not sorry!)
It’s a good reminder, though, that not only do they have to balance what changes/what stays the same with the characters, but also the character stories and cases. The fact that they keep things as even as they do in that respect is a tribute to all of them.
“Doing the right thing is rarely the same as doing the easy thing.” (Nina Slocum.)
“Girl really loves her brother, doesn’t she?”
“Yes, she does.” (Booth and Brennan)