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.
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.
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.
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:
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?
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?
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?
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.
“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)
“New rule: serial killers don’t get cool or frightening nicknames.” (Booth)
“Okay, I’m nodding here and just pretending like I have some idea of what you’re talking about.” (Angela, to Hodgins)