In the post-Buffy, post-Wire era, we live in an era when procedurals are defined as much by their villains as by their heroes. I think it’s no mistake that we’ve seen a decline in viewership for Law & Order, with its case-by-case structure and villains that only occasionally recur, and then, over a handful of episodes at most, or that the audience for shows like NCIS is exceptionally old.
Katie and I were talking about this the other day, and I think one of the reasons Bones remains a good show and has never quite made the permanent link to greatness is in how it deals with Big Bads. The show’s heavily reliant on its body-of-the-week structure, but that shouldn’t actually interfere with the ability to have a Big Bad. A really terrific ubervillain could easily find ways to mess with the team by killing people in seriously disgusting and varied ways, thereby tying up enormous amounts of staff time.
But the show seems hesitant to really commit to its Big Bads. Howard Epps, a serial killer who murdered young women, only appeared in three episodes in the show. The Gravedigger appeared in four, once to get her head shot off. The Big Bad the show’s done most effectively to my mind was the Gormogon serial killer, who appeared or played a role in a comparable number of episodes, but had a bigger impact because of the strike-shortened television season. I’ll be curious to see whether Jacob Broadsky, Booth’s former sniper buddy-turned-angel of death ends up taking up a comparable amount of the rest of this season of the show. I think it would be a good step for the show to see if it could sustain that kind of narrative, and to draw all the characters into another common development arc—one that doesn’t end up dramatically unresolved, as the Gormogon arc was.