Fix ‘Bones’ By Going Federal

Holy spoiler alert, Batman. Definitely don’t read this unless you’ve watched last night’s Bones season finale.

Hart Hanson, Bones‘ creator, can be a fairly devious guy. He’s promised he’ll get his heroes, anthropologist Temperance Brennan and FBI agent Seely Booth, together only to deliver a dream sequences, and come up with baroque scenarios to keep his will-they-or-won’t-they couple apart. But last night, on the Bones finale, Hanson pulled the trigger:

yes, Booth and Brennan slept together in the previous episode. And now Brennan’s pregnant. It was a relief to see Hanson finally make a major decision about the couple, and to settle on a solution that didn’t just get them together, but that tied together emotional threads that he’s been spooling out for years, include Brennan’s desire for a baby and Booth’s worries about being a presence in his child’s life.

But that Bones did so well at sustaining a multi-season emotional arc makes me wish the show was a bit better at doing the same thing with the cases the team works on. Sure, it’s funny to see David Boreanaz in what appears to be his Angelus wig in a bowling alley, but the show has a terrible weakness for deeply goofy one-off stunt episodes that detract from some of the real power of what the characters do. This may be a controversial opinion, but I think the best season of Bones is the writers’ strike-shortened third, in part because it integrated both Max’s trial and the Gormogon case in a way that was narratively exciting and spurred a lot of growth for the characters. Similarly, Howard Epps and the Gravedigger have been good Big Bads (particularly the Gravedigger), but spacing out the episodes with each of those characters over multiple seasons has slackened promising narratives. And I thought the sniper arc this season was quite poorly done: there’s nothing worse than a boringly moralistic villain who distracts from rather than brings out the core character developments going on around him.

But I think there’s an easy solution to this: have the characters work more truly federal cases. I get that Brennan, because of her special expertise, gets loaned out to work on local crimes, but she and Booth are both federal employees. And it’s not like there are no ongoing federal investigations that would produce a lot of really gross-looking bodies! They could work a big mob investigation, or a terrorism case, or take on something like the Beltway Sniper rather than inventing a carboard insane veteran—hell, I’d love to see the FBI loan out Booth and Brennan to Mexico and have them investigate the femicides in Juarez. Not every episode has to be devoted to the main case—Buffy’s the perfect template for how to fit one-offs amidst major investigations—but having an overarching problem pulls a season together in useful ways. I’m not saying that Bones should become The Wire: the show’s eccentricities are integral to its charm. But the show runners should trust their ability to pull off long case arcs—and remember the payoffs they’ve reaped from big investigations in the past.