Today, I’m turning to Brennan, and for those keeping score, no, I don’t know how to say goodbye to her, either.
I remember the scenes – the exact moments – I fell in love with them. Booth edged her out by about six episodes: he owned me when he rescues her in Two Bodies in the Lab; my heart was hers when she turns to him in the barn in The Woman in Limbo. It’s not that I didn’t like her before that (I did!) but that’s the point when I became
fully committed to them and obsessed with their story.
The problem is that I don’t even know how to approach a farewell post for her. I’ve spent most of the day tracing through her character arc, thinking about how we saw her change over the years (which is one of my favorite parts of the show) only to realize that even if I split the post into two days, it was going to give War and Peace a run for its money on the word front. Seriously, I know I get wordy, but four thousand words for only part of Brennan’s story is just silly.
So I’m starting over, hoping to cover the gist of it without getting carried away. (Yeah, I hear you laughing from way over here.)
One more comment before I dig in: I don’t think there’s another character on TV who’s viewed in so many different ways by the audience. In fact, I’ve had discussions with fans over the years where it felt like we were talking about two wholly different people. This is due to our own histories, I’d say, and what we bring of ourselves to interpretation, but it guarantees that what I say here in terms of how I saw her probably isn’t going to work for everyone. That’s fine – you’re not wrong. This is just what I see, and why.
My big picture view of Brennan is that she’s a woman who feels deeply (or, as Angela says in the pilot, she ‘connects too much,’) but has some trouble processing those feelings. Due to a tragic childhood, she’d found it largely easier not to even try to understand emotions, instead taking refuge in reason. When we first meet her, she values friendship, but is distrustful of love, and her difficulties with processing emotions mean that while she’s deeply compassionate, she doesn’t always know how to express it.
In other words, she’s an incredibly complex character. I think it’s easy to point to one thing and say, ‘this is Temperance Brennan,’ while wholly missing all the other facets of who she is. Case in point: I think three separate issues stood between her and a happily ever after with Booth:
- She’s not sure love exists. Like emotions in general, she finds it largely inexplicable, and thus much easier to ascribe to chemistry.
- If it does exist, she’s not sure she wants to take a personal chance on it. Abandoned at an early age by people who loved her, she figures if she never risks love, she’ll never face that kind of loss again.
- She doesn’t trust her own ability to love. When we first meet her, she’s managing friendship with Angela, and cares about Zack and Hodgins. But her ‘most meaningful relationships are with dead people,’ and she’s not convinced she’s got anything else to offer. She’s wrong, but it’s a deeply held belief.
So…three different areas requiring growth. When the show begins, she knows she wants to experience life outside the lab, but wants to do so on her own terms, careful not to take emotional risks.
What I see in the first three seasons are that she resolves her past by reconciling with Max and Russ at the same time she’s forming an emotionally intimate bond with Booth, in the context of their made-from-scratch family. But I don’t think she has a clue that what she’s experiencing is intimacy.
You know that lovely letter she writes to him in Aliens in a Spaceship? Although during their wedding, she described it as something she wrote to someone she loved, I think when she actually wrote it, she didn’t view it as love. (Mostly because that was two full seasons prior to telling Booth that she wanted to believe love was transcendent and eternal.)
Then there was this exchange with Angela, in The Hero in the Hold:
“Somebody you love is buried alive. You’re allowed to save them no matter how irrational.
“I don’t love Booth.”
“Yes you do. So do I. So do all of us.”
I think that moment gave her more to think about, and led to her deciding to have Booth’s baby. She wanted love, wanted a family, but didn’t want to risk the real thing, and that was the way to do it. The fact that she dropped the idea as fast as she did when he changed his mind supports that, I think.
So what about the coma dream?
I’ve always viewed it as a shared experience, and while not actually real for the characters, it was every bit as revealing as if the two of them had sat down and told one another a fantasy story about a life together outside their normal routine. (Unlike The 200th in the 10th, which, while I also loved it, was wholly an alternate reality.)
Brennan, crime novelist, creates the structure of the story, builds the characters out of the people they know; Booth runs with it, filling in the details and fully imagining what it would be like to be married to her, to make love to her, to experience that moment when she tells him she’s pregnant.
I think the point for Brennan was that she was ‘trying on a relationship with Booth.’ She gave herself permission to imagine what it would be like – including his reassuring her imaginary self of his love. And the result? It frightens her. In the context of having a bad scare about losing him, she could imagine it too well, so she deleted the whole thing.
But for Booth? Dreams can feel very real. The whole point is that when you’re in them, the nonsensical often makes sense, and he wakes up feeling like he’s lost something precious. For a little while, he had what he wanted most – a full life with Brennan – and coming back to the reality where she was still running from those feelings was hard.
But however it happened, by the time The Dentist in the Ditch came along, she’d become convinced that love was real…but not for her. That third part of the puzzle that is Brennan – her faulty view of self where she thought she didn’t have sufficient capacity to love – was still in play, and that’s why she turns him down in The Parts in the Sum of the Whole.
Psychological truth: if we have a wrong view of ourselves, we don’t change that view just because someone we love disagrees with us. It takes work to internalize a new understanding of ourselves. In other words, there is nothing Booth could have said or done here that would have changed this outcome.
So she tells him no. But because she does love him, much more than she understands, she asks if they can still work together. And Booth says yes. I think that’s possibly the single most important thing he ever says, and while the show never explicitly said so, I think it’s rooted in a promise he made to himself years earlier that he would never walk away from her. That no matter what, he would never be the next person in her life to abandon her.
But he warns her that he has to move on in the sense of trying to find someone who will love him, and honestly, I’ve always thought her ready agreement was because she truly doesn’t understand what’s already between them. I think she’s been telling herself (and everyone else who’d listen) that they were partners, by which she meant friends for so long because she wholly believes it.
The following weeks are stressful and awkward, and Brennan finally does what we’ve seen her do before: she runs. But this time, Booth does, too, in an opposite direction. They both needed time and space, not just away from one another, but from the life they’d been living together.
And while they’re gone, everything changes.
I’ve written reams on Hannah in the past, but for this post, I’m going to bottom-line it: I think the primary thing Hannah did was allow Brennan to realize she was capable of loving Booth, of being good for him. While season six was airing, I noticed three moments that I thought important:
- In The Maggots in the Meathead, she – not the woman he’s in a relationship with – knows the perfect gift to give him; she then warns Hannah, ‘to be sure, as Booth will give himself to you completely and it would be very painful for him if you’re not as serious as he is.’
- In The Bones that Weren’t, she suggests Hannah should be careful about the stories she pursues in the future, due to how her death would affect Booth. This is a tricky one, admittedly, because Brennan would probably not take her own advice. But still: the woman concerned about how Hannah’s career affects him is not Hannah. (Booth, of course, would not be surprised by that at all. It was Brennan who needed to see it.)
- In The Daredevil in the Mold, the woman who’s always run in the past, stays. What’s going on in Booth would be a different post [spoiler: I believe it’s possible to love more than one person at a time] but at the heart of it, he dares her to leave, and she refuses to go.
It’s been a while since I’ve watched S6, but my memory is that there were other, similar moments, and they all added up to the same thing: the woman who didn’t think she had an open heart was more concerned about him than was the woman he proposed to. That’s not a slam against Hannah, who cared enough about Booth to break her personal rule about returning to the U.S., But it was something Brennan needed to see and understand.
You can’t be in a relationship with someone if you don’t think you’re capable of giving them what they need.
There’s a lot of “three steps forward, two steps back” for her, all through the series, causing people to puzzle over her saying, ‘I don’t want to have any regrets’ in The Doctor in the Photo, and then indicating she’s still not completely ready in The Blackout in the Blizzard. I never minded that, though. I thought it realistic with how we change (slowly!) in real life, and the point has always been steady movement forward.
I’ve always viewed the scene at the end of The Blackout in the Blizzard is the moment they ‘got together,’ by the way. They made a commitment to each other and even included a ritual. And the episodes between that and The Hole in the Heart all felt to me like relationship moments. (Might be just me on that one, but if you watch those eps from the perspective of a couple who are exploring what it means to be a couple, it’s a different dynamic than prior to Blackout.)
And all of that was a framework for what happened in The Hole in the Heart. They were already a couple in every way but the physical, and both understood that that was the case. So when they did make love in the midst of grief, it didn’t change everything – because everything had already changed.
Then came the pregnancy, and more growth for Brennan. The Memories in the Shallow Grave is one of my favorites of season seven, because we see her struggling so hard to reconcile the love she feels for him with her fears. (See? Still with the Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back, and I love it.)
(Don’t get me wrong: there were changes there for Booth, too, but this post is mostly about Brennan. Mostly.)
Over the next three seasons, we see her continue to work that out within the context of their love. They navigate the consequences of her going on the run with Christine; a year later, she chooses to trust him, despite the broken engagement. Then they marry, and, lucky, lucky fandom are we, we get three years’ worth of ‘everything that happens next.’
Some of that isn’t so good, and that’s when we see the beautiful strength that is Temperance Brennan:
- The woman who blackmails a federal prosecutor to save him
- The woman who makes love to him, post-jail
- The woman who gives Cam the strength to autopsy Sweets
- The woman who prevents Booth from killing an innocent man
- The woman who never gives up on him when he has the gambling relapse
- The woman who understands before he does that they’d made a mistake in leaving their jobs
She is all of those women, and I think it’s because of what we saw in seasons 1-9 (which, in the way we give and take with people we love, influencing and being influenced by them, means Booth was instrumental in helping her become the woman who then figured so centrally in saving him in S10.)
By the way…that, too, is one of the things I love about the show: they rescue each other. In the retrospective, Hart talks about promising Emily that Booth would not always be rescuing Brennan, and yeah, when it comes down to it, I think she’s rescued him just as often as he has her, and in just as many ways.
One of the things I’m most curious about is what the finale will add to the story of Brennan’s journey. I may have to post the actual long version of this, after all. 😉
Tomorrow: Scenes from a Life Shared