I've been pretty swamped with some work stuff, so I'm a bit behind in my Bones watching. Thought I'd check out this episode over my lunch break and write up some thoughts.
I'm usually conflicted about this type of episode. Its premise is that a film crew follows around the characters for the whole of the episode, capturing their behaviors and - in lovely moments - their emotions or innermost thoughts. I'm sure we can all name shows where we've seen the characters being followed around by a camera crew. For example, I've seen them use the idea on The West Wing, when a camera crew followed CJ Cregg to see a "day in the life" of the White House press secretary.
An episode like this can feel self-conscious and sometimes even self-serving. It can feel like the show is putting on an act, trying to be funny, trying to be cute, trying to "tell" rather than "show" their storylines. Sometimes it works anyway, because the characters come off as trying too hard or acting awkwardly in front of the camera, unused to being followed around, unused to having to be careful about what they say.
It can also be an interesting new lens for viewing our beloved characters. And this episode caught many of those moments:
We got to see a really adorable moment shared between Booth and his daughter, as he bundled her in protective gear and tied a pillow to the front of her and then taught her how to play hockey.
We got to see a moment at the end when Booth and Brennan played "car salesperson" with Christine, who - earlier in the episode - had declared over dinner that she neither wanted to be a hockey player nor a forensic anthropologist; she wanted to sell cars like her friend's dad. Just seeing Booth and Brennan using toy money to outbid one another over the rights to own one of Christine's toy cars (all laid out like a car lot with appropriate "Christine's Cars" sign) was pretty sweet.
And it was great to see how a case has many parts and that it takes many people examining the evidence in many different ways in order to find the answers and capture "whodunnit." This is particularly interesting because it reflects all the way back to the "gut versus science" arguments made by Booth and Brennan way back in the pilot episode:
BOOTH: You know, homicides, they're not solved by scientists. They're solved by guys like me asking a thousand questions a thousand times, catching people telling lies every time. You're great at what you do, Bones, but you don't solve murders... cops do.
It would seem neither of them has learned anything since the pilot because they kept arguing all the way to the final scene in this episode, about which is better - gut or science - but in actuality they're both right and wrong. In the end, the episode showed us that it takes more than one or the other. It's both. Both are equally important in getting to the heart of the case. As we learned back in season two with Aliens in a Spaceship, it's not just one person: "It was all of us. Every. Single. One. You take one of us away, and you and Hodgins are in that hole forever." Each person is crucial to the process, to the saving of a life, and to the resolution of a case.
We also got to see intimate moments:
- A drained and frustrated Booth taking a moment after having to carefully question a father about whether or not he possibly killed his own son
- A hand squeezed between Booth and Brennan as they talked about Sweets and about how sometimes the job they do is a particularly tough one
- Hodgins' thrown, dazed, sorrow-filled reaction when the camera crew asked him about Zack Addy (this was a fascinating moment because it showed a great contrast to how Hodgins is throughout the rest of the episode, where he's filled with boundless energy and enthusiasm)
- The look on Brennan's face after she catches Arastoo telling the camera crew about intern Vincent's death and how hard she took it (even though he conceded that she rarely shows them such emotional struggle)
- Angela talking about the conflicts between her forensic job and the job she always wanted to have (not as a computer nerd or a face reconstructor but as an artist, one who reveals the beauty in the world rather than the ugliness of it), and how she had considered her job at the Jeffersonian to be temporary until she had enough money to go to Paris and paint
- Booth emotionally bonding with the father of the story, his gut telling him the father did not kill his own son (glad to see he was right)
- Brennan talking about how she always knew what she wanted to be, and how she didn't let cruel classmates get her down or dissuade her from her goals, even as they called her names like "Morticia" and "Jenny Dahmer"
- Arastoo getting embarrassed when the camera caught him and Cam having a moment but instead standing up to the camera crew and yelling at them for continuing to film even after Cam had repeatedly throughout the episode expressed her wishes for her private life to remain private and off-camera
- Cam, overcome with love for Arastoo, deciding to step out of her privacy bubble and asking him to marry her (this was particularly sweet and romantic and really got me in the heart, especially given how in control and conservative Cam is with keeping her private life to herself and not showing her emotions around the office)
- Hodgins - all while talking away at the camera crew - taking nose clips off the top of his own nose, carefully wiping them clean and then thoughtfully handing them to Angela so that she would be protected from the horrendous smell of the case item he'd brought for her to examine
There were also funny bits:
- Cam telling Hodgins to call her "Dr. Saroyan" while on camera (and Hodgins' baffled eye-rolling response, LOL)
- Hodgins giving Cam a hilariously incredulous look when Cam mis-guesses about what a particular piece of evidence meant (Confused by what Hodgins was telling her, she asked if it meant the victim had been beaten with a fish, LOL; Hodgins stared at her and said, "What? No. Seriously?" Cam then encourages him to move past her blunder in front of the camera and continue discussing evidence but Hodgins can't keep the look of "WTF" off his face as he looks at her and continues to talk details. And when she dismisses him from her office, he wheels away, but not before muttering, "Beaten with a fish..." You just know if the camera crew weren't there, he would have said something really snarky to mock her for that mistake. HILARIOUS.
- Hodgins talking about growing a mustache way back when, in an attempt to block any corpse-related scents... which apparently didn't work very well
- Hodgins talking about how disgusting the various bodies have smelled, depending on the type of death, but at the same time acknowledging that it's fascinating from a microbiology standpoint (as he once said, he's a man of odd enthusiasms *GRIN* I love seeing him in positive vibe mode, being super jazzed and intrigued by his work)
- The way Aubrey was almost always seen with food in hand, no matter what he was doing for the case (and how Booth said he couldn't do an impersonation of Aubrey because he didn't have time to be stuffing his face every 10 minutes)
- Hodgins at his desk, surrounded by a massive pile of garbage from the dump, enthusiastically gesturing for the camera crew to come closer so he can show them what he found (which, again, illuminated how each person on the team contributes to the overall solving of the case - from Hodgins digging through and examining and testing the garbage, bugs and particulates from the body, to Angela cleaning up the old cell phone for key information, to Cam and Arastoo and Brennan examining the remains again and again until they find cause of death and other clues, to Aubrey and Booth asking the right questions and finding money trails and other details that build a full picture of what happened)
- The way some of the kids in Christine's class threw up when Brennan inappropriately showed them a picture of a dead body that had been damaged by insects (putting aside how ridiculous it was for her to show them that kind of picture, it was funny how some kids stared wide-eyed and fascinated while others got sick and declared they never wanted to be a forensic anthropologist)
- The ways in which Hodgins claimed to be King of the Lab, King of the Swabs, King of the Breakroom, etc. Brennan even tells the camera crew that Hodgins once referred to himself as the King of Egypt (referring to the room where he and Angela used to hook up) -- to which Angela marvelously declares, if Hodgins is the King of Egypt, then she is the Queen, LOL
- My favorite humorous moment: Hodgins going on and on about the majesty of the mass spectrometer, and then making me laugh really hard when he sighed happily and said he was thinking about getting one "for the home" (I seriously had to pause the episode, I laughed so hard at his earnest and wistful wish)
These little touches throughout the episode are what made the episode for me.
However, the episode is not without its issues. As stated above, any episode that shines a light on itself via a "documentary"-style approach can come across as winking at the audience. That can be cute and meta or it can seem like they're trying too hard. In this case, there were pieces that I felt the episode leaned on too hard in an attempt to force moments rather than creating more organic reasons for us to see the "behind-the-scenes" stuff.
For example, there is NO WAY that a documentary camera crew would be allowed into a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, and certainly not be allowed to pan over all its members. I suppose if you really want to stretch, you could say that the camera crew talked with each member ahead of time and got them to fill out some sort of release form, allowing them to film the meeting and show their faces. But I really, really doubt they'd be given such access. There's a reason why Anonymous is part of the name of such groups. The leaders of the groups must protect the sanctity of that private forum, and the members must feel safe to tell their stories without reproach or reprisal. And what was the purpose of this violation of privacy? To show Booth standing in front of his GA group. To show Booth bringing the father that he had previously had to question and accuse of murder.
I really don't think such a scene was necessary. Booth doesn't need to seem the hero, relating to the father's addiction and "saving" the father from his gambling habit. That's a bit over the top. He can relate to the father because he IS a father himself. He can relate to having a son and not ever wanting to lose him but feeling like sometimes he screws up, gets too pride-filled, gets too pushy. We don't need the added detail of Gamblers Anonymous for Booth to connect with this other man. He has empathy, he does emotionally connect with his cases, and his gut tells him when someone is or isn't guilty. Having to accuse a man of killing his own son is enough for him to want to reach out to the father at the end of the episode and let him know who really killed his son and why, and to give the man some peace of mind. To show Booth leading the guy to a GA meeting and standing in front of all the members just feels a bit like grandstanding. It was too forced. We didn't need to see Booth doing that to be presented as an honorable man. We already saw that in the ways he fought to find the answers to the case, to bring justice to the victim, and in how we saw the case affected him (like the moment he took by himself after having to ask the father tough personal questions).
There was also no way a camera would be allowed in interrogation or even viewing from the other side of the two-way interrogation mirror. Those conversations are private. A documentary crew would have a really hard time getting the clearance to see all those conversations. They actually showed a cameraperson right in the room with Booth and his interviewee. I would think Booth himself would refuse because the camera crew would be a distraction and would make it more difficult for Booth to ask the hard questions and get a clear, honest answer, one that wasn't self-conscious or too careful in front of a camera.
I concede that it would be difficult to skip showing Booth's interrogations, which are an important part of presenting and working the case, but surely there were ways to hint at what was being learned in interrogation and how that emotionally affected Booth without actually being in the room with him. Maybe the "documentary" crew could have sneak-filmed through a small window in the door to the interrogation room, unable to capture sound, only able to capture bits of important body language. Perhaps that would have conveyed what needed to be conveyed while also staying true to what is believable - that there's no way the FBI would allow a film crew inside an interrogation room during a conversation with a key witness or suspect. I appreciate that they need to show certain things to tell the story, but if they're going to go outside the box by using this kind of "documentary" style episode, then they can't always use the usual elements that define their episodes.
There were also details that I felt got missed in an attempt to be funny or cute.
For example, though it was lovely to hear Angela reflecting upon her early yearnings to be an artist rather than a computer geek, she said her job was supposed to get her to Paris yet she acted like that never happened. Rather than taking the opportunity to share some personal truths about how difficult the job had turned and how she and Hodgins DID leave the Jeffersonian and go to Paris for a year but were compelled to come back for very important reasons, instead she acted like it never happened at all. Instead she joked that she stayed with the Jeffersonian all this time because "Booth was kinda cute."
It feels like the writers were setting up for that joke rather than going for the honest moment for Angela. And once again she talks as if Hodgins is a consolation rather than someone she dearly loves. It is so wearying for the show to treat Hodgins like a joke.
They also did this after a scene in which Hodgins enthusiastically expressed his fascination with the microbiology of the case. They then cut to a scene with Booth, who talked about Hodgins, calling him weird, mocking his interests, imitating him and all the squints. If it were part of a teasing going back and forth between them, then it might make more sense (kind of a dark humor amongst the team to get through tough cases together, or like siblings teasing one another good-naturedly), but this was insulting, not joking. This was Booth eye-rolling at who they are and how they behave, not showing his fondness for his teammates through joking.
I feel like at this stage in the game -- ELEVEN YEARS AFTER THE PILOT EPISODE -- Booth should be talking with more respect about his team. He still talks about them as if they are separate, as if it's Booth and Brennan versus the Weirdos, as if they aren't family or at the very least key components in helping him solve cases.
If this were still the first year and they were filming Booth and Brennan and crew, I could see Booth saying these things in a documentary interview. But after eleven seasons, I think he should have a more well-rounded opinion of the people he works with. They are not the weirdos of season 1, racing beetles and spiking egg nog and building robots. They are his teammates, his educated colleagues who have helped him solve hundreds of cases, and most especially they are his friends. It would be so much more meaningful to go beyond the usual "squints are weird and geeky and completely different than me" and instead show Booth's growth - that even though they may not have much in common, they can still be a family, they can still care about each other and look out for one another and work together like a well-oiled machine. They are important to Booth, personally and professionally. I wish the writers would show Booth realizing that and quit with the automatic insults and jokes. It feels forced at this stage in the game.
This one's a bit minor, but I also felt that the Cam / Arastoo awkwardness throughout the episode was forced in order to build up to the moment when Cam asks him to marry her. These are two adults; they know how to behave professionally. If it was the first time Arastoo had come back after not working with the Jeffersonian in months or longer, then I could possibly buy some awkwardness and difficulty hiding it. But they'd already seen one another repeatedly, so for them to both act so obviously felt forced to create the end moment. Cam is a professional, she's very good at keeping control while others are losing their heads, she's very good at putting on a stern face when she needs to, and I just can't see her fumbling as much as she was in this episode.
Also, while I appreciated Angela's re-telling of the bomb explosion and how Hodgins ended up in a wheelchair, once again I felt like the focus was on HER, not HIM. It should be on her for part of the time, I don't mind that at all. But it should be about him too, especially since he has his own pain involved. We got her telling of the story and then they switched to interviewing Hodgins, but instead of talking about what he'd been through or what that means to him and how he came back to work and does his work via wheelchair, instead they switched to talking to him about Zack, a character we haven't seen or heard from in six seasons. SIX SEASONS.
It was lovely to hear him talk about Zack, it was heart-breaking to see old pictures of Zack in the lab, but it just didn't fit the moment. We didn't get to hear about the bomb explosion from Hodgins' perspective. We didn't hear his feelings on the matter at all. And I feel like that's how his entire story about it has gone, ever since the bomb went off. We get little snippets, we've seen extraordinary (and I would contend out-of-character) anger and cruelty toward Angela, but most of the story has been told from the perspective of how Angela feels, not how Hodgins feels. WHY??
In that way, many of the transitions from scene to scene or conversation to conversation made the episode feel a bit disjointed. Like the writers wanted to throw in all sorts of details (Zack, the bomb, Vincent, Sweets, Cam and Arastoo) to tug at our heartstrings, when in actuality it felt a bit random, like pieces tossed together in an attempt to move us instead of getting to those elements in a more organic way.
Overall it was a decent episode and (as listed above) there were many pieces that worked in funny, sweet and lovely ways, but when put together I feel like they were "using" the emotional material rather than fully realizing it and honoring it. It's like Booth still talking about the squints as if they're weirdos and nuts that he has to deal with and tolerate, when at this point he should be talking about them (or at least about the core original squint crew) as if they are his family, those that he would fiercely lay down his life for, and that if you had asked him back in year 1 if he would have ever felt that way about all of them, he wouldn't have believed it was possible, yet now it's really true. Instead of honoring what Booth should be feeling about his team (his family), the writers play to the usual mocking jokes. It's a waste of opportunity for demonstrating depth and growth of character.
One way they DO accomplish demonstrating the depths of these characters and what they're accomplishing as people and as a team is in the final scene. In the end, they return to the day that Brennan had attended school career day at Christine's school and wrap up by asking each of Christine's classmates what they want to be when they grow up. It's a lovely demonstration of the variety of answers a kid can have, and how unencumbered kids can be at that age, no stereotypes or labels or forced societal roles, just simply the girl wanting to be a police officer, the boy wanting to be the mayor of Mars, the girl wanting to be a magician AND a doctor, a girl wanting to be first violinist for a national orchestra, another declaring "I wanna be a forensic anthropologist," while the kid who threw up declares, "I DON'T wanna be a forensic anthropologist," LOL).
And then they playfully ask each Jeffersonian team member the same question, what they want to be when they grow up, what they want to accomplish, and each person has a lovely answer:
Angela wants to be someone who sees the beauty in the world and is able to share it with those around her
Hodgins wants to be someone who never stops looking -- I love his ever-present enthusiasm, curiosity and zest for life <3
Aubrey wants to be what every grown-up wants to be: a kid
Arastoo wants to be a husband and father
Cam doesn't want to discuss hers, it's private and personal and she doesn't feel comfortable answering
Booth wants to be a person who's given more than they've taken (lovely return to Booth's early declaration and desire to balance the scales of the "good" and "bad" things he's done in his life)
Brennan wants to be a mother of the world's greatest car salesperson (sweet because earlier she had protested that Christine wanting to be a car salesperson was somehow beneath the brilliance of her child and she forbid the idea)
Each person offers a piece of what it means to be a fully realized human being, one of grace and dignity, respect and love, vibrance and curiosity. And just like the overall team -- where if you remove one person from the whole, the entire team can fall apart -- each person brings something to the team, offers something special, something necessary and wonderful. Without each one of them and their dreams and desires and enthusiasms, the Jeffersonian (and symbolically, the world) wouldn't work; it would be a lesser place.