I’m a mess of conflicts over this episode. It’s the kind I love (well, not necessarily while I’m watching it, because suspense and I are not friends, but after the fact, because we get so many great character moments) but it’s also so clearly part of the farewell the show’s setting up that I want to cover my eyes, stick my fingers in my ears and go, ‘la la la.’ Which, come to think of it, was what I was doing in actuality at one point while watching this. I told you, suspense and I are not friends.
But since it is ending, I’ll take a moment to be grateful that they were able to step back and ask, ‘what makes for a powerful and satisfying end to the show?’ and that part of the answer was apparently, ‘go back to the start; anchor the end in the beginning.’ (You see what I did there?)
To me, the first half of the show’s run was building Booth and Brennan’s relationship to where they were ready to be a couple; the last half has been letting us not only see them as a couple, but also see them overcoming things life throws at them. And because they are the people they are, with the complicated pasts that they have, it’s believable to me that there would be a lot for them to overcome.
They’ve taken more than a few blows along the way, from Booth watching Brennan drive away with Christine, to his imprisonment, to her fears that he was dead on the table in front of her. Every single time, we’ve seen them triumph, and those moments are some of my favorite scenes from a lifetime of TV.
And now, we have a challenge rooted in a story we first heard in season one, when Booth shared with her the kind of man he is: one who kills a man in front of his six-year-old son because doing so will save many other lives, but who never stops grieving over having done so.
I don’t really know how to organize my thoughts on this, so I’m going to wing it with comments about the moments that most moved me:
Booth and Caroline discuss the safe house:
Booth would never go himself, but it interests me that while he includes Max with the kids he doesn’t reference Brennan. There’s no ‘tuck Bones and the kids and Max away while I chase the bad guy.’ Maybe it’s because he knows she won’t go, anyway, and maybe it’s because he knows he needs her in order to catch the killer, but I liked what it said about their relationship.
Brennan and Max discuss the safe house:
Booth included Max as a given when discussing it with Caroline, and I think the reason for that is unpacked in the next scene. They could stack FBI agents seven deep around Christine and Hank, and Booth and Brennan would still want Max there, because he’s a badass who’s proven time and again that there’s nothing he won’t do to protect those he loves.
Max isn’t happy about the arrangement, but in the end, he agrees…and it’s a good thing. As the FBI agent at the site later says to Booth, ‘They weren’t expecting your father-in-law.’ (Random note: the press release identifies this guy as “FBI Deputy Field Director Tom Mordick.”)
Booth recalls the sniper shot:
I get that this didn’t work for everyone, but here’s why I’m okay with it (no matter how old Booth looks):
The story they’re telling isn’t about just some random event from Booth’s history that’s come back to bite them. It’s a defining moment in his life, one that he’s so conflicted over that even now, even with everything they’ve gone through, he can’t bring himself to tell Caroline the details of. Earlier, he’d acknowledged that he was the one who took the shot, but when he identifies Kovac to her and she asks how he knows, he hesitates and then says, ‘I just do.’
I’d bet money that the only person outside his unit who knows that he took that shot in the middle of a child’s birthday party is Brennan.
But that leads to a problem with structuring this story. They need casual viewers to understand what went down, but the one person he can discuss it with already knows. They’re not going to have him re-tell her, and Brennan wouldn’t betray Booth by sharing those details with someone else. Having him remember taking the shot solves those issues, while also setting up a different one: the story is complicated by lack of physical evidence tying Mark Kovac to Radik. Booth’s memory is the source of the information, but it’s not one he can share.
Booth and Aubrey visit Mark and his wife:
Not a big thing, really, but what struck me in this scene is that Aubrey takes the lead in the questioning. Booth lets him, and I think it’s because he’s focused on reconciling his memories of the innocent kid whose life he shattered with the man in front of him. Knowing Booth, I think he’s also trying to get a fix on whether Mark might possibly be the honorable man he appears, hoping that he didn’t completely destroy him with that one shot.
Scene at the gym:
This shouldn’t surprise anyone reading this, but I loved that at the gym, when they find Mike’s body, all three of the team members who are there say something to show their support of Booth. It’s the small things, folks.
Cam and Angela check on Brennan:
Similarly, Cam and Angela together take a report to Brennan so they can check on her. I liked that a great deal, but then Cam puts another check in the ‘how to be a good friend to Temperance Brennan’ column by gently challenging her about the lack of the kind of evidence Brennan usually insists on. That commitment to science matters, even if the best Brennan can do is acknowledge the situation’s not normal.
Caroline tells Booth about the hit on the safe house:
Actually, what I liked about this began before we see Caroline. I like that they show us the activity exploding in the bull pen. It struck me as a particularly clever way of putting us – the viewers – right in the middle of the scene.
Also, Booth’s running for the elevator before Caroline even finishes speaking stirs me up. (Is that inappropriate?)
Reunion at the Safe House
I love watching Booth and Brennan run to the kids. People have commented in the past on the Booth and Brennan reunion scenes where they’re racing toward one another: emotionally, this is like the next level of that.
And then there’s Max, and the dawning realization for us that their faith in him was justified: badass Max saved the kids – and all but one of the FBI agents.
Booth’s interrogations with Kovac:
Booth has two conversations with Kovac in the interrogation room, and both were quite powerful. There’s nearly an intimacy of sorts between them, where I think we’re meant to understand that Booth gets perfectly what Kovac is after. When he says, “To see the look on my face when they tell me my children are dead,” I think it’s because he understands that desire, and that’s both horrifying – that Booth is identifying with a sadistic murderer because he feels responsible for creating him – and sad.
Similarly, in the later scene (where Caroline and Kovac’s lawyer are present) that sense crops up again with this exchange:
“My father was a monster.”
“But he was still your dad.”
I don’t know if Kovac really agrees his father was a monster, or is just saying so as part of his continued denial of guilt. But Booth’s point is that we can be conflicted about our parents even when they’re less than ideal. Although his own father wasn’t a war criminal, he was a monster in some ways, one who Booth still had some good memories of – not unlike Kovac’s birthday party.
At the end, Kovac still seems to be searching for answers (“did you kill my father, Agent Booth?”) and Booth refuses to answer him. I’m not sure whether that’s due to the presence of the lawyer – someone not in on Booth’s classified past – or whether he simply can’t bring himself to confirm it, but it’s another moment that seems peculiarly intimate to me. Kovac’s life was shaped by Booth; Booth accepts that responsibility even while trying to protect those he loves. It’s an interesting dynamic.
Brennan and Max
It wasn’t a surprise when Max died, but it was still a blow, mostly because this was when the show irrevocably began ending for me. It’s not that I’ve not seen this whole season as one long farewell story, but until now, there’s not been anything that said, ‘the show will never again be the same.’ Max’s death does that.
During those moments when he and Brennan were talking in the hospital, dozens of scenes ran through my memory, from our first encounter with ‘Father Coulter’ to Brennan turning to him for help in finding Booth in The Killer in Concrete, to his watching her wistfully at the end of The Brain in the Bot. It’s a lot of history.
This will sound paradoxical, but I’ve not always liked Max, and I’m fine with that. I think one of the show’s strengths is the imperfect characters we come to care about in spite of ourselves, and he’s part of that. It didn’t matter whether I always liked him, because Brennan loved him (and I think Booth did, too) and whatever else he was, once he came back into her life, he was there for her.
In fact, I’m wondering if there’s ever been a recurring character on a show – any show – that had as powerful of a character arc as did Max Keenan. From a serial bank robber who abandoned his kids, to the heroic man in his seventies we see here, we watched him grow and change over eleven seasons. Other recurring characters on the show have grown, but Max’s redemption is in a class of its own.
And now he’s gone, and whatever comes next, the show will feel different – even the eps that don’t directly reference him. And that breaks my heart more than I expected.
Bones is about showing us how Booth and Brennan’s love overcomes what life throws at them, but how do they triumph over something he’s already struggled with for half his life blowing up in their faces and resulting in so many deaths, including Max’s?
Given that, I think the most heartbreaking moment of all was when Booth whispers “I”m sorry” to Brennan in the hospital hallway. I don’t think it’s the usual attempt to comfort but rather, an acknowledgement that she’s paying the price for something he did decades earlier. The fact that he had to do it, that lives were saved, that Radik was a monster doesn’t change that her father is dead.
I don’t know how they’ll get past it, but the beauty of the show for me is that I trust absolutely that they will. When it ends in a few weeks, they want us to know beyond question that these two will always triumph, and this story is part of showing us that.
“Donna, are you all right? Calm down…it’s never as bad as you think it is.” (Guy on phone to woman who’s just seen a raccoon steal a rib from human remains)
“He’s lucky to have a daughter like you.”
“He’ll be a little less lucky if he continues to withhold information about his health.” (Booth, Brennan)
“We’ve got a problem because we need more evidence to get a warrant, but we’re not getting a warrant without some evidence.”
“Yeah. It’s a paradox. Let me know when you’ve untangled it.” (Aubrey, Caroline.)