Fan Review: The Nightmare within the Nightmare (Bones)

First, let me note that I thought this was brilliantly done. I love that all the way through it,  we have no idea what we can trust, what’s real, what’s isn’t. I don’t automatically like such stories, but as a change of pace, the puzzles-within-puzzles worked for me. Furthermore, that’s particularly noteworthy because I’m deeply conflicted about Zack as a straight-up villain.

One of the drawbacks to being so involved in the fandom is that it’s hard to be surprised. I noticed a while back that if I read three or four teaser posts on TV sites, I often wind up feeling pretty thoroughly spoiled by the time the episode airs because they all hint at different things which, when put together, equal too much information.

That was the case here, where sites were reporting that someone we know well from the past reappears and is the killer.  That was followed by several sites reporting that they were interviewing Eric Millegan this week, and those different pieces all added up to Zack being in the episode, most likely as the villain.

I spent the week trying to convince myself that maybe the twist was that he was a good guy, showing up to help, meaning that my tension went up a few notches when clues began pointing to him as the killer. And when Booth said, “I know who it is,” there were Bad Words in my room.

Booth

To be blunt, although I didn’t particularly need to see Zack again, I liked him. I didn’t mind him coming back, but really didn’t want him to be a villain.

But.

This is where trusting the writers to tell the story they want to tell comes in. I freely admit that I’ve been annoyed at times by fans who would take over every Q&A and every cast panel,  asking repeatedly when Zack was coming back. I’m fine with people asking questions even when it’s something I don’t personally care about.  But asking the same question repeatedly, often within a span of minutes, or at every opportunity, gets old.

It’s not my problem. I get that. But while on the surface the idea seemed to be to convince the writers that everyone in the fandom wanted Zack to come back more than anything else, at the heart of it, those kinds of demands feel like we’re treating the writers like baristas, where we put our order in, then sit back and wait for them to deliver exactly what we want.

Creativity doesn’t work that way. Fans saying, ‘we don’t care about the story you’re interested in telling, we want to see to this’  – how can anyone expect that to end well?

And, yes, well, but.

If I say, “I don’t mind Zack coming back, but really don’t want him to be a villain” – I need to be very careful that I’m not doing the same thing, looking at the writers and saying, ‘you can do such and such, but you have to do it in this specific way.’

There are reasons I feel that way about Zack, by the way, having to do both with how I think they’ve written the character in the past (weak, but not evil) and with fans I know who love him because he reminds them of people they care about who are on the autism spectrum.

Still…I don’t get to pick and choose what story the writers tell, or how they tell it.  I get to watch the story and then decide whether it worked for me or not. That’s the great power of the audience – not in determining where the story goes in the first place.

Also of enormous importance is that these writers (Hart, Stephen, Michael, Jonathan) have never let me down in a major way, so I trust them. When I look back at eleven seasons, I can only point to a couple of times where the story simply didn’t work for me. That’s a damned good track record, and has more than earned my trust. (Which I also said the last time they ventured into an area I’d have preferred they not go – the gambling relapse – and which I wound up absolutely loving. For the record.)

So. Have at it, guys, and I’ll just wait and see.

Now, getting to the specifics of what worked in this episode – which, for me, is pretty much everything:

I thought the writers (writing credit is to Michael Peterson) did a phenomenal job in terms of psychological suspense. All through the ep, we never knew whether something was a nightmare or was really happening, and even what appears to be hard evidence can’t be trusted.

David Boreanaz also brought it as director (as he usually does) contributing to that overall atmosphere of horror and suspense.  It was all incredibly well done.

What it’s not, what it’s not intended to be, is a complete story. Yes, that’s always true of cliffhangers, but here, where you don’t know what to trust in the narrative, it’s even more so. At Comic Con yesterday, they said the S12 premiere will pick up where this left off, so this really is very much the first half of a story where the goal was to put a lot of things in motion and set up a lot of things that will be paid off later.

Among other things, that means that apart from that sweet scene between Booth and Christine, there’s not a lot of the tender moments we’re used to. I know why people value them (I do, too!) but the kind of love that exists between Booth and Brennan can sometimes be a bit rough around the edges, particularly when one of the pair is having the kind of breakdown Brennan is.

BB

We do still see different facets of their relationship, from Booth’s protective streak, to how they clash over what she needs, even to the fact that they’ve apparently gone together to visit Zack – often enough that the night nurse knows who he is.

And this? This is my favorite dialogue exchange:

“Don’t you even want to try and talk this out?”
“Why would I? You’re not an expert in this field.”
“Field? In what field? Listening to you? Cause trust me, no one has logged more hours.”

He does know her, but it’s not always the people who know us the best who can help us the most, which is the conclusion she’s reached. So she goes to a shrink, and Booth focuses on the work at hand.

With all that as context, then, here are random thoughts about the puzzles we’re given:

Brennan’s Nightmares

From the beginning, there are call backs to Zack in the dreams. In the first one, the burn victim is wearing what looks like a lab jump suit, and when Hodgins says that based on the smell, “the fire was caused by some kind of peroxide, possibly TCAP?” …The chemical that caused the explosion in The Pain the Heart was tricyclic acetone peroxide.

And when Dream!Wendell later says to her, “If you knew what I knew, you’d be proud of me.” – that’s what Zack said to her after they knew he was Gormogon’s apprentice: “If you knew what I know, you’d understand. You’d be proud of me.”

Plus? When she’s recalling that dream for Faulk, there’s a quick shot of Zack in the shadows, the way he appears at the end, right before he reveals himself to her.

All this seems to indicate that something in Brennan’s unconscious mind identified Zack as the puppeteer and has been flailing and waving its hands about (i.e., nightmares) in an effort to get her to see it ever since.

What I don’t get, though, if that’s so, is why all the differences between the first two murders, and this one? There are differences in victim type, body dump location, clothing choices, and with the first two, no defensive wounds.  Part of the evidence that points them to Zack is that Melissa fought back, indicating her killer was weak and has poor dexterity. But why wasn’t that true with the first two?

Something changed between the first two murders and this one, and based on the end of The Monster in the Closet, it was when the killer saw Brennan on the video feed. But if the murderer is Zack, why would seeing someone he knows so well trigger such changes in MO?

And if the killer selected this victim only because she had some physical similarities to Brennan, why not look for someone similar to her both physically and in terms of character? Surely it wouldn’t be difficult to find someone with Brennan’s general physical characteristics, who was also as admirable as the first two victims?

Title Musings

Does the title mean anything? The actual nightmare within a nightmare is the second one we see her have.  She’s asleep at home, and dreams she’s at her desk at work, and has a nightmare. She wakes from that nightmare – still within the first dream, which then turns out to be another nightmare.

So the literal nightmare within the nightmare is when she’s at her desk, looking at pictures of previous burn victims and the lab lights go out. Is there any special significance to that particular sequence, over, say, the one with Wendell’s burned hands?

Dr. Faulk

This guy disturbs me, but I don’t know whether it’s because I’d rather he be the killer than Zack (hey! I’m being honest), whether it’s because he’s a typically wacky Hollywood-style shrink, or if we are, indeed, supposed to regard him warily.

First, it bothers me (and Booth and Brennan, given their shared look) that there are similarities between Brennan and the victim (nightmares, paranoia) and that the victim didn’t manifest them until she’d been working with Faulk for a month. Why?

BBCollage

While not completely ruling it out, I’m not suggesting that he somehow caused her symptoms; even less am I suggesting that he was responsible for Brennan’s, since they began before she met him. But it’s something that I can’t explain.

Second, when Brennan is in his office, telling him about her dream, we see a series of images that includes Faulk standing in her office. Why? As Hodgins notes later, dreams can be symbolic, but what does his presence in her lab, where he’s never been, symbolize?

(And what’s up with the shoe thing?)

Third, the victim’s husband tells Booth and Aubrey that they were separated when she went missing, not because they’d decided to do so, but because Faulk had them take a timeout. The husband doesn’t sound entirely happy about it.

Abuse scenarios aside, I’ve never known a therapist to do that. Most of the mental health professionals I’ve known have taken the view that a couple needs to work together to resolve issues. And where addiction is concerned, they’d be looking at making sure the husband wasn’t an enabler.

So Faulk doing so feels a lot like when he turns over Brennan’s phone so she won’t see Booth calling: making a decision for her that separates her in some way from her husband/support.  And that feels very controlling.

On the other hand, pal Frankie made an observation the other night in chat that I keep circling back to: they know the killer is manipulative and yet, in order to manipulate people, you have to understand both them and social settings, neither of which describe Zack.

All of which causes me to look the episode and wonder which clues are real, and which are planted by the killer. Is Zack really the killer? Of all three victims? Was he framed? (If so, why?)

The more I think about it, the more appropriate the title seems: there are clues within clues that might not be clues at all, and ‘trust nothing’ would probably be a good tagline.

Brennan2

Bonus Quotes:

“Apparently the whole building’s being torn down and turned into a charter school focused on math and science.”
“Did you hear that? They’re turning it into a squint school.” (Cam, Booth)

B&B

“New rule: serial killers don’t get cool or frightening nicknames.” (Booth)

B&B

“Okay, I’m nodding here and just pretending like I have some idea of what you’re talking about.” (Angela, to Hodgins)

 

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16 thoughts on “Fan Review: The Nightmare within the Nightmare (Bones)

  1. I enjoyed so many things about this episode. The story was excellent as was the acting. I think it must be difficult to show Brennan, who’s become a confident person, as still being strong and yet uncertain about what’s going on. She’s trying to understand, using science, but science doesn’t seem to apply. Trying to be logical in dreams doesn’t always work, does it?

    I thought DB’s direction was spectacular. It’s a beautiful episode to watch, even the creepy parts. I noticed two motifs. One was the rain, which to me added to the feeling of dread. The other has to do with all the camera shots where it appears that the viewer is on the outside of a place, looking in. I especially noticed this at the scene where the team is at the Founding Fathers, waiting for Brennan. To me it was like someone watching them to see what their reactions would be.

    I think this may be my new favorite season finale. I’m looking forward to watching the next half of the story.

    • The next time I watch, I’ll pay attention to what you mean about the viewer on the outside, looking in. I did notice it with the Founding Fathers scene, but not elsewhere.

      It’s not my favorite finale, but I think in terms of plot and direction, it’s absolutely one of the best.

      We’ll see what the second half is like in a few months!

      • Or maybe not – I remembered noticing it at FF when you mentioned it. I’ll pay attention to it on my next watch.

      • I honestly think the thing with shooting through the windows is just an effect they like doing.

        I remember at the end of The Corpse in the Canopy they pulled back through the window to look into The Might Hut 1.0 from the outside. It caused people to think they were being watched and to speculate that Pelant had an assistant since it then cut to him stitching up his own face. I think when it happens at a time like that it feel ominous, like they’re being watched.

        But then when it happens at times like the end of the Finder episode with B&B in the Founding Fathers and Booth puts the medal around Brennan’s neck, the camera then pulls back through the window and we’re watching them from the outside and that time it didn’t seem at all like they were being stalked.

  2. Very excellent review! I always very much enjoy reading your comments about an episode. I was wondering what your thoughts were on the tension I picked up from Booth and Brennan this episode? I am assuming it was done on purpose to amp up the drama of her being kidnapped. But, I was wondering if you had more thoughts on that and why Brennan seemed to be shutting Booth out more? Like wanting to speak with a Psychologist instead of him? I am my suspicions and theories about it like maybe being manipulated by Dr. Faulk or something. Just was totally curious your take on it.

    Also, I’m not a Zack fan and have been watching the show from the beginning. I didn’t need him to be brought back and for me I will more enjoy this arc with him if someone please states the obvious. That just because Zack didn’t wield the knife to kill anybody does not make him innocent. He aided and abetted a Serial Killer. He helped a killer to plant a bomb that almost killed Booth and Brennan. So, I just hope that someone out of the Jeffersonian gang gets to drive that point across to the team. I hope it’s not all, “oh Zack is totally innocent, he’s not really a killer.” because in the eyes of the law that is totally false. I’m fine with conflicting emotions because I know that Brennan, Hodgins, and Angela loved him but I also want them to be pissed that they were royally betrayed by him as well. Thoughts?

    Thanks again always for your great reviews!

    • I can’t promise that my answer on either point will make sense or be satisfying, but I’ll take a stab at them.

      With B&B, I think they’re trying to portray them honestly. Love, even when it’s like theirs, isn’t always easy, particularly when this kind of stress is going on.

      (We’ve seen them react in the past in ways that seemed less than loving at the time, like in Lance to the Heart.)

      While they’re very alike in some ways, they’re also quite different, with different ways of approaching problems, and that means they’re going to clash.

      I think what’s different here is that we wanted her to turn to him, and for him to be able to help her. But realistically, they might run into things that the other person can’t help with. Brennan’s having a breakdown, and Booth doesn’t know how to help. His knee-jerk response is to remind her that they’re not to blame for these deaths, but even though I believe that’s completely true, it’s somehow not helping her to hear it. And that’s before her subconscious mind takes over with the Zack nightmares.

      Would it have been nice for us if she’d been more affectionate when telling him, ‘I’m going to see Dr Faulk because this isn’t your area of expertise’? Yes. Would it have been realistic for a woman who’s in the middle of a breakdown? Not in my opinion, no.

      And then they have more conflict when he arrests the doctor. That felt more normal to me for them – a difference of opinion about the guilt/innocence of a suspect – but still, he’s driven by fear for her, while she’s driven by her fears/the nightmares. They’re in two incompatible places at the moment, but there’s no question that they still love each other, and when we see the second half of this episode (which is how I’m thinking of it structurally) I suspect we’ll see them behaving differently with each other.

      • I actually appreciate that the writer of the episode showed them realistically. People can love each other intensely, be married or together for a while, and they can still argue and be annoyed with each other. I think it might’ve bothered me if Booth and Brennan didn’t argue when they are under a lot of stress, because real people do just that.

        Just my opinion….

    • As to Zack…that’s complicated.

      Fans had different views of him, even before what happened at the end of S3, and I think that drives what came later. Some people see him as weak more than evil, someone who was preyed upon by a stronger, evil, personality but who still did good things in the middle of it (sacrificing his hands to save Hodgins); others see his involvement with a killer and the bomb intended to kill B&B, and see him as evil.

      In my opinion, the show has steered much more toward the first than the second, seeing him as weak, a victim in his own right who did something wrong and is paying for it, rather than someone who got away with something.

      Before this episode, in the times we’ve seen him since PitH aired, he’s never been portrayed as a villain. He helped him them in Perfect Pieces, and his character in the End in the Beginning was the same Zack we know. (IMO.)

      I’m not saying that to justify anything he’s done, but to note that I don’t think Hart viewed him as a straight-up villain even after S3. Hart’s no longer calling the shots, but I suspect they won’t go completely in a different direction with it.

      As to what happens next and whether they’re honest about what it all means and what really happened…I don’t know. If he’s not the killer, but has been framed, and kidnapped Brennan to protect her (my theory at the moment), they may see that – that he saved her – rather than ‘you lied to us for all these years.’

      Plus? Marisa Roffman made a comment this week that I’d never considered before, which is that he is where he is because he knew he was guilty. It’s not prison, no, and you can make an argument that he should have been sent to prison for his involvement with a serial killer, even if he didn’t actually kill anyone. But if he’d done so, it would have been a life sentence, because I think he would have died within weeks in a prison. He doesn’t have the social skills to survive. So instead, he let the lie stand, even knowing it meant a different kind of life sentence – loss of his freedom – because he did know he was guilty.

      Will the team view it that way? I don’t know. But if he saves Brennan’s life with what he’s done, I wouldn’t count on their being angry with him, even if he deserves it.

      (If he really is the killer, then all bets are off.)

      • It doesn’t have to be either weak or evil. He is guilty. He helped a serial killer, not only to kill the lobbyist by giving away his location, but also by aiding in his attempt to blow up Booth and Brennan; so accessory to murder, and accessory to attempted murder? I don’t see how he gets off on that by saying he’s weak, but I don’t think it means he’s inherently evil.

        I do think though he should not be welcomed back into the lab to work alongside of the rest of them, which is what some fans want. As for being welcomed back into their lives (which I’m not convinced he’s been completely gone from their lives…I think at least some, if not all have been visiting him)? I’d imagine if the speculation that he took Brennan to keep her safe proves to be true we will see some working through of any remaining issues between Zack the rest of the gang, but an official member of the team? I hope not because that would stretch credulity to the breaking point (for me anyway).

        I think part of what we’ll see is Zack trying to convince them (or someone) that he didn’t actually kill the lobbyist. I hope that then we do see discussion about what he actually did do and that he is still guilty of crimes; multiple crimes. So an acknowledgement that he is not an innocent, even if he’s not an evil being.

      • I feel like there’s a lot of either/or thinking about Zack in the fandom (either he’s guilty of accessory to murder and should be in prison, or he should be excused for what he did and be allowed to work with the team.)

        Predictably, I don’t fall into either group. Specifically, I don’t see the same either/or that you seem to here with guilty vs. weak/evil. Yes, he’s guilty. Not of murder, as the team believes, but of accessory to murder and attempted murder.

        But our justice system considers motive and capacity, and that’s where evil/weak comes into play for me. Was he an accessory because he wanted to kill? Because he doesn’t value human life? Not in my opinion.

        In fact, I’d go so far as to say that he was a victim, too, that Gormogon targeted him because he was weak and he knew he could manipulate him.

        When I say that, it’s important to note that I’m not excusing what he did or saying he’s innocent, because he’s not. He also knew that what he was doing would be considered wrong by society. (Which is why Sweets protests the deal, noting he’s ‘not actually insane.’)

        But on the other side of the coin, if he’d been sent to prison, the effective penalty for being an accessory, for being viewed as weak and easily manipulated would have been death – because they’re all correct. He wouldn’t have survived three weeks in a regular prison. He doesn’t have a social filter, and would have made one of his logical observations about one of the other inmates which they would have interpreted as an insult, and there he’d be.

        But we don’t generally punish accessory with death. So, instead, he lost his freedom in a different way, apparently willingly. Because he wanted what people view as an easier option? Because he knew he’d never survive in prison? Because he knew he was guilty and wanted to pay for that in some way? From what I can see, people’s view of that is tied to how they viewed Zack in the first place (i.e., whether they liked him or not.)

        The same character who was an accessory to the attempt on B&B’s life sacrificed his hands to save Hodgins and, in the end, helped them catch the serial killer. Does the latter justify the former? Nope. But should it be considered? I think so. But again, I think whether or not it is depends on overall view of the character.

        Should he be freed when it comes out that he didn’t kill the lobbyist? Well, that depends, doesn’t it? What’s a fair punishment for accessory to murder and attempted murder? He’s been locked up for eight years – and that’s after helping them catch Gormogon. If he was normal, and able to help with this own defense (which I’m not convinced he is) what kind of deal would have been cut for that? How many years incarceration in exchange for the information he provided, which included not only the location, but warnings to Booth of where particular dangers were?

        I’m not answering those questions, by the way, just laying out how I view it.

        Finally…should he be allowed to work with the team again? No. Certainly not in an official capacity. On the other hand, if something he knows/figures out helps them solve a murder in an unofficial capacity, should he be allowed to do so?

        I’ve got no problem with that, depending on how they present it. Since I don’t think the puppeteer story is going to ‘3 or 4’ episodes into the new season (could be wrong, but if so, it’s a change from what they were originally saying, and I don’t see how they do that and a new big bad for the season), I think what might happen is that whatever happens with puppeteer does bring the truth out what he did, and then there’s another case or arc that he winds up involved with (either springing from puppet guy, or perhaps from the psych hospital); I think he’ll wind up dying at the end of that arc.

        Not trying to convince anyone their views are wrong, just advocating for what I see as a middle ground in respect to his character.

      • Just for the record. I actually liked Zack. When he was revealed to be Gormorgon’s apprentice I was sick with disbelief. No way! I’ll tell you I didn’t get any sleep the night of the S3 finale. But the fact is, he did assist in the crimes, and not just in the murder/attempted murder, but in falsifying evidence, and in stealing evidence. That said, I’ve never said he should be in jail instead of a mental institution. I’ve never understood why, okay he committed murder so we’ll place in him a mental institute,but oh, he’s only an accessory? Then we have to put him in jail. Why wouldn’t the mental defense work for accessory too? I know Zack’s logic for letting them think he’d killed the lobbyist was that he wouldn’t survive jail, but even then I was yelling at my TV, why would the lesser crime mean jail instead of mental institute? It makes now sense to me.

        None of it is an either/or for me. Not the guilty to go jail, innocent return him to the lab, not the evil/weak. I unequivocally do not think Zack is evil. Which is why I never seriously contemplated Zack being the Puppeteer; because, in my opinion It would be a huge swing from the Zack to assisted Gormogon, to a serial killer who turns his victims into marionettes. But I honestly don’t view him as weak. I know it’s what Caroline said at the end of ‘The Pain in the Heart’, but I didn’t buy it then, and I’m not buying it now. Gormogon played on Zack’s complete reliance on logic, but I don’t think that’s the same as someone who is weak. Maybe I’m just using weak in a different way than others with my thinking there. But I just don’t see it.

      • I was speaking generally of what I feel like I see (often two extremes, with people who seem to want to pretend he never did anything wrong on one end, and people who won’t be satisfied with anything less than imprisonment and the team utterly rejecting him for what he did, and neither position really makes much sense to me in terms of the story and the characters. But yeah, wasn’t necessarily lumping you into either group (though it did feel to me like you were setting up the either/or in terms of guilty or weak/evil, whereas I see him as guilty and weak.)

        Whether he’s weak or not depends on your view of what that means, I guess. To me, he wasn’t strong enough to realize he was being manipulated into participating in murder.

        Thinking about that, I have to admit that I never did track the supposed logic he was following and eventually gave up. But I agree with you about why it required the belief he’d killed for him to get the psych ward rather than prison. The best I could ever come up with was that they reserved that kind of option for the most serious of offenders, but no, it never really made sense to me.

      • Actually what I was setting up was that I don’t see it as an either or with weak/evil. I say neither and not with guilty as the alternative because you can have guilty along side of either of those or neither of those. I don’t view any of that as an either or, so many more possibilities. Lots of gray in there.

  3. Every writer seems to have their own version of Brennan so you don’t know what you get from week to week.Brennan’s lack of faith in Booth was appalling and the easy way she was manipulated by the doctor was equally disturbing.I thought Brennan had evolved but in this episode she reverted back to her season 1 form.The reveal of Zach at the end was pretty anti climatic considering the spoilers.If season 12 is the same and it’s been said that one of their exes is coming back then what’s the purpose,I hope they burn the last 12 episodes off and get it over with.Bones is past it’s prime and needs to go.

    • I’ve long thought (and said, though I don’t know if I’ve done so here) that every fan has their own version of Brennan, so perhaps that’s the other side to what you see.

      I don’t see S1 Brennan; I see a woman we’ve seen twice before, in S6 (The Doctor in the Photo) and S9 (The Ghost in the Killer) – one having a breakdown. This is more similar to the second one, in that she’s having dreams due to guilt, but far worse.

      I don’t know why Booth pointing out that she’s not responsible for these deaths isn’t helping, but I do know that where the mind is concerned, logic doesn’t always apply. So she turns to therapy, which, for the record, I can’t conceive of S1 Brennan doing.

      I don’t see a lack of faith in him, only fear and sleep deprivation and a desperation to make it stop. We come into the middle of the story, and it’s clear that he’s been trying to help, and it’s getting worse.

      As to the rest of your comments, well, we’ll just disagree like usual. I’m very much looking forward to S12, which sounds like it’s going to be very character-focused.

      And an ex? That’s a no-win for the writers. It’s like Zack: people have been asking for Sully to come back for years; some have even asked for Hannah (though mostly I think it’s that because they want to see Brennan gloating to her, which would never happen, so…) Others, of course, react the way you do.

      Why people watch and what they like is too different to please everyone, which is why, more than anything else, I simply want them to tell stories that interest them. I’ve been lucky enough so far to enjoy those stories, and trust that that will continue for the final twelve.

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