Bones finishes the first half of the season with a double-header, giving fans enough food for thought to spin all sorts of theories over the next indeterminate hiatus. The first hour sees Booth and Brennan spar Old West-style, while the second is eerily familiar for all the wrong reasons for our poor cast. I’ll give the show one thing, it definitely isn’t scared of ripping the rug out from under its characters this late in the game.
It is a little difficult to discuss both episodes at once, given their jarring contrast in tone, but perhaps that highlights the dichotomy of Bones– the light emerging from the dark, the absurd mixed with the tragic, the former used to put the latter into stark relief.
Firstly, in ‘Cowboy,’ Booth decides to go undercover because of, well, Reasons. The justification for his and Brennan’s sting ops over the years has always been tenuous at best (does the FBI really need to run away with the circus?), and obviously was really just an excuse to get out of their own heads for a little while. (Not that I’m complaining, because they’re always hilarious to watch.) Here, though, the writers go meta on us, through Aubrey, and admit that Booth (and Brennan) seek out these opportunities simply because they want to play. Given that we’ve been told that they’re the FBI’s winningest crime-solving duo, I guess letting them play dress-up every few years seems like a reasonable perk of the job. (Better than getting your house blown up, undoubtedly.)
One thing these undercover episodes highlight is how playful Booth and Brennan can be when the weight of the world isn’t on their shoulders. Considering the trauma they’ve been through in recent memory, I’d almost forgotten how wonderfully ridiculous they can be in these episodes. Brennan once accused Booth of being a cowboy, and here he embraced it — if maybe underplaying his prowess for the sake of the case. Though I didn’t quite believe Angela when she posited that Booth might be gunning (sorry) for adventure by joining a Wild West shootout, or wanting a motorcycle or Jet-Ski, I appreciate that she’s still acting as Brennan’s sounding board, while Brennan decides to figure out for herself what’s eating at her husband. (Any time Angela tries to help, it only reinforces that the true expert on Booth is Brennan.)
What I particularly enjoyed about this outing is that Brennan was “allowed” to be good at the task at hand. Unlike, say, the ballroom episode a few years ago, where Brennan’s lack of dancing skill was played for laughs, here Brennan out-shot everyone at this fantasy camp — even beating Booth on a technicality. Brennan’s always boasted about being a good shot, and we’ve seen her at target practice on multiple occasions over the years, so it was satisfying to see her put that training to use and wow the crowds as Wild Card Wanda. (I think Emily Deschanel proved she can play Annie Oakley whenever this series ends.)
Even more fun, perhaps, was watching Booth and Brennan get excited about each other over the course of the episode. Yes, Brennan was worried that she needed to spice things up to keep Booth from doing something stupid (like buying a motorcycle), but what was clear was that Booth and Brennan work best when they push each other. That competitive drive they both have in spades was on full display, and it was amusing watching them turn that against each other when it came to the contest.
That’s part of the old-school bickering that sustained the series in the beginning, and I believe the writers when they say that they made a conscious decision to return to that this year. Besides, it was all worth it for the movie-screen-worthy kiss in the middle of the saloon, because that is a thing they’re allowed to do now when they get fired up — no need for sublimating their feelings, all right. We even got a Feminist Sidebar about women not being anyone’s property, so three cheers for undercover work! (Also: has Brennan ever been in a bar on this show without unwittingly starting a brawl? The evidence points to no.)
Shifting gears for hour two, ‘Doom’ definitely lived up to its name. Admittedly, I was dreading this episode, because the lead-up was disturbingly reminiscent of the last time things went boom for one of our characters. As soon as Aubrey and Hodgins were wheeled into that hospital, and we got a musical montage of Serious Medical Work, I knew it was all a fake-out. While Aubrey’s life hung in the balance, Hodgins walked away seemingly scot-free, but that was obviously a red herring. Once he started complaining of back pain, I knew that was the Bones equivalent of a Dickensian Cough of Death. (Plus, who gets blown up and knocked out, yet gets out of the hospital an hour later on his own two feet? I smell malpractice suit!) Sure enough, the episode ended with Hodgins passing out at work, and the next trip to the hospital confirming that the swelling around his spine has now grown as to paralyze him, for the foreseeable future.
On the one hand, I should be annoyed at this story line. It is straight out of an 80s daytime drama, complete with Angela’s blood-curdling scream when Hodgins collapses. Combine that with the foreshadowing in the previous episodes of the two of them deciding whether or not to have another baby, and you’ve got a guaranteed roadblock to that happiness, temporarily. It’s about a dozen kinds of clichés rolled into one. To be fair, it definitely lacked subtlety (or medical accuracy), and I didn’t care for the execution in that regard.
Yet, I’m not irritated, at least not yet. This season has proven that the writers are fully aware of the history of their characters, and they’ve been using every opportunity available to remind us of that, from Brennan worrying about Booth relapsing or the effects of his loved ones’ deaths on him, to Cam and Arastoo’s merry-go-round of a relationship, to Hodgins’ concerns about bringing another child into his and Angela’s family, it all feels genuine, and I think is a mark of respect towards the fans that know this show inside out eleven years in. So I actually have full faith in the writers that they will honor Hodgins’ own history, a befuddling mix of deep-seated anger and wide-eyed optimism. Most importantly, it is finally going to give TJ Thyne and Michael Conlin some delicious material to work with, as the wonderful supporting cast on this show is so often underused. I can’t wait to see where Thyne in particular goes with this, because no one evokes bottled-up rage and grief quite like he does.
The two episodes weren’t directly connected, yet that didn’t stop the recurring themes of the season from carrying. We’ve been watching how Booth and Brennan deal with adversity as a family all year long, and now it’s Angela and Hodgins’ turn. I wouldn’t wish tragedy on anyone, but it’s nice that our leads get a little respite and get to act as support for their friends this time. We might not yet know just when Bones comes back on the schedule, but one thing’s for certain: it’s got its work cut out for it.
See you in 2016, folks!