I’ve now finished my re-watch of this, and I have Thoughts.
First, while I understand why people who watch only for Booth and Brennan didn’t care for this, that doesn’t make it a filler episode. (A comment I’ve seen bounced around.) By any logical definition, ‘filler’ would be one that doesn’t further any plot arcs, or show any character development. While I think there have been a few standalone eps (as the show seems to prefer to call them) in the show’s twelve season run, there haven’t been any this season. Every episode has either been a farewell for one of the characters, been about Zack’s situation, or been part of the plot leading to the finale.
Both the stories here were important as part of wrapping up the show, and in terms of Brennan/Wendell, I’m still not convinced that was as cut and dried as it appeared. We spent most of the episode thinking that the passion for work issue was about Brennan rather than Wendell, which actually made a little sense to me. Loss of interest in a job or hobbies is often a symptom of grief, so I thought it might be something she was still coming back from in terms of Max’s death.
She not only discussed the topic with Dr. Mayer, but also with Angela, and hmm… Although it didn’t turn out to be about Max’s death, given what we’ve seen from promos about the finale, I’m wondering if it’s possible that some of this may yet turn out to be pertinent to Brennan. It will be interesting to see if that’s so.
Meanwhile, the conversation with Angela gave me something to think about in respect to my own life, which happens more often than seems reasonable for a crime procedural.
But as to Wendell…it occurred to me a few weeks ago that he’s the only one from the original group of squinterns who had not been shown as having made progress on his PhD. We saw Arastoo choose his dissertation topic in The Lost Love in the Foreign Land, and knew he graduated by the beginning of S11; season 9’s The Source in the Sludge told the story of Daisy failing her oral exams, but she’s now graduated and taken a job as lead forensic anthropologist at the National Forensic Lab.
Wendell hasn’t even started his dissertation yet. The assumption (well, on my part, anyway) is that he essentially took a year or so to fight cancer, and while that’s reasonable, he’s been cancer free since the beginning of S10.
Whether that lack of progression was mostly because they couldn’t figure out what story to tell that wouldn’t effectively write him off the show, or whether they’ve always had this one in the back of their minds, I don’t know. But when Brennan helped him see that maybe anthropology isn’t his passion, or, at least isn’t so now, my mind jumped back to Big in the Philippines. Question: If Brennan were handed a cancer diagnosis with a low chance of survival, what would she do?
She’d go to work. She’d research options, and drive her doctors crazy, but she’d deal with the fear and thoughts about mortality by going to work – exactly what she said she’d need most if Booth died in The Brother in the Basement.
We’ve seen a similar work-is-the-answer response to life crises from some of the others, as well: for a while after he was paralyzed, work was the only thing Hodgins seemed to be living for, and even Clark, when Nora broke up with him, saw it as giving him more time to work the Ghost Killer case.
But Wendell? He was going to go to South America and have sex with as many women as possible.
I am NOT criticizing his choices there. In fact, if I knew I had a year to live and the money to do so, travel would hit much higher (by a thousandfold or so) on my bucket list than going back to work. But I think it illustrates that while he likes his job, it’s not his passion.
Plus? That kind of cancer diagnosis is life-changing, even if you survive it. I don’t know if they’re going to tell us where he winds up, but if they don’t? I’m going to imagine Wendell decides to go to med school and eventually become an oncologist. It’s not anthropology, and yeah, he’d be starting over, but he clearly has the science for it, not to mention an understanding of anatomy (and physiology, thanks to working as much with Cam as Brennan).
A couple of responses to comments I’ve seen in the wild:
Brennan didn’t fire him, and didn’t force him to quit. He explicitly asks if she’s firing him and she rushes to reassure him. Anyone who thinks she wouldn’t have simply said ‘Yes’ if that had been the case hasn’t actually met Temperance Brennan. This wasn’t a slap at him, but rather Brennan freeing him to find what will be his passion, all the while saying, ‘we’re still your family.’
(You already know how happy that reassurance made me, right?)
With Wendell, more than any of the other interns, we’ve seen her maternal side, and that’s what this was. There’s no question that he’d be a damned good forensic anthropologist, because she’s trained him. But she wants more than that for him – she wants him to be as happy in his work as she is in hers.
I’m also a little mystified by fans who feel like what happened here betrayed the community who funded his education. He’s still got the education, and if Brennan has anything to say about it – and she will – he’ll wind up making use of it in some way he’ll be even better at.
Aubrey’s story, on the other hand, is a puzzle in many ways. At the end of S10, he plainly takes over Booth’s job; at the start of S11, he’s in Booth’s office. When he gives it back to Booth, instead of going to the bullpen, he says he’s got “a corner office upstairs, with a view of the Mall,” at which point Booth calls him a big shot.
Since then, they’ve been partners, with Booth taking the lead on the cases and Aubrey deferring to him. I reconciled that by assuming they worked together because they wanted to, and that Aubrey deferred to him out of respect and because no matter how qualified and competent he is, there was always more to learn from Booth. But this episode suggests that Aubrey either wasn’t an SSA while Booth was gone, never mind the office, he took a demotion when Booth came back, or they’re both SSAs.
The truth, though, is that this isn’t the first time that the FBI has flexed in contradictory ways to allow for story in the Bones universe. Sweets went through weapons certification and would do interrogations by himself all the time,…until they got to an episode where part of the tension was that Booth and Sweets had differing opinions about how to proceed, in which case he was suddenly just a shrink who had no business in the interrogation room.
So yeah, the actual plot of how Aubrey was sort of just newly tested for re-promotion into a position he held for a year and apparently gave up voluntarily doesn’t make a lick of sense to me, but after years of similar twists with Sweets, I’m going to go with…Booth gave Aubrey a way of proving to the powers that be that he’s a good candidate for promotion to a better job, up the ladder in LA.
While there’s no question that Booth believes Aubrey is qualified, I think the conversation at Founding Fathers indicates that he did it out of friendship, even to the point of being conflicted about it (“…their pizza’s really bad. You know what, you shouldn’t take the job.”)
There’s one thing more in that conversation I want to draw attention to, and it’s at the end: Aubrey thanks him, and Booth, very serious, says, ‘Thank you’ in response. That intrigues me. Why is Booth thanking Aubrey?
I’m going to wander waaay off of what the episode actually gave us now, but I think it’s for Aubrey’s friendship in general. Aubrey came into Booth’s life at the worst possible time – post-jail – and, since then, has walked through all kinds of nightmares with him (Sweets’ death, his gambling relapse, Jared’s death), never failing in his support.
In particular, the gambling relapse happened despite Aubrey’s best efforts to warn Booth, to protect him from scenarios where he might tempted. Aubrey’s response when it happened anyway? He simply worked to keep Brennan and Christine safe, including being the one to meet with Booth’s bookie with the payoff.
So I’m going to view that quiet ‘thank you’ as being for all of that: for being there for Brennan, for never once saying “I told you so,” for his support when Booth and Brennan were living apart, and for being there after Jared died.
I didn’t even know how much I needed to see something like that until they gave it to me. Thanks, show.
“Aw, come on, Bones. It’s too early for math. It’s too early.”
“It’s never too early for math.”
“Anything before 12:00 is too early, anything after 12:00 is too late.”
“That leaves no time for math.” (Booth, Brennan)
“Actually, they’re fascinating little creatures. Did you know their entire mating window is one hour a year?”
“By “fascinating” you mean “sad,” right?” (Dr. Mayer, Booth)
“How about ‘Hulk Bones: A study on the skeletal effects of incredible physical strength’?”
“That’s a great idea, Hodgins. Unfortunately, to write that paper, I would need Hulk’s bones. And since the Hulk doesn’t actually exist…”
“Trust me, your dissertation committee, they’re going to eat it up. It’s gonna prove that you can think outside the box.”
“Or, that you’ve completely lost your mind.” (Hodgins, Wendell, Cam)
“I’m sensing some annoyance.”
“That would be because I’m annoyed.” (Aubrey, Linda Martin)
“Oh dear God. This is like spring break on bath salts.” (Aubrey, in response to the film set)
“So people enjoy these movies because they don’t require them to think?”
“After a long day at work don’t you ever just want to go home and turn it off?”
“No. I enjoy using my mind, and so should you.” (Brennan, Wendell)
“How important do you think it is for us to love what we do?”
“Well, it’s important, but it’s not everything. Most people don’t love their jobs. They don’t even like them. They do them because they have to.” (Brennan, Angela)
(Bonus photo of Betty White, who is awesome, and loves Bones as much as I do:)