At the beginning of this television season, while I was curious about what would happen with 30 Rock, and excited for Glee, I had one truly major concern: the fate of Bones. I wrote, in a paen to and critique of the show back in September:
And so Bones faces substantial challenges in plot and execution this season. There are two major potential romances that need to develop in a plausible, sincere way. One character needs to deal with her still-new role as a mother, while another needs to cope with her desire to have a child. Last season, the show relied on a rotation of guest actors to fill a vacant slot in the laboratory, but it’s a gimmick with an expiration date. As a related issue, Zach’s character, and the consequences of his downfall, were at best marginally addressed last season, and substantial questions about that downfall really need to be resolved. That’s a lot of plot to deal with, and to fit in around the rotting bodies.
But much more importantly, Bones needs to restore its credibility. The show pushes its fans, and that’s a good thing. But it shows no respect for your fans to feed them something poorly written and to call it a gift to them, and it shows no respect for your characters to leave them with a lot of raveled threads, and to abruptly make them behave in ways that have little to do with the personas you’ve established for them. The show has had an unpleasant history of odd inconsistencies, whether making Booth and Bones smooch only to never mention it again; dropping a gripping story about a serial kidnapper for a season and a half only to pick it up again and subvert it to a dopey plot device; implying that a character convicted of a heinous crime is innocent and inexplicably failing to follow up on it. Doing this once or twice might be all right, but as a repeat problem, it feels like sloppiness. I’d hate to think the show is irretrievably broken.
On almost all of those counts, Bones‘ fifth season is succeeding utterly. Let’s take the little stuff first. When The Wire‘s Wallace showed up as the slightly older boyfriend of Michelle, the teenage girl scientist boss-lady Cam adopted in the fourth season, my fangirling self lost it. But the plot thread, about whether Michelle is having sex with her boyfriend, and if she is, what Cam ought to say to her about it, was beautifully handled. The fight between mother and daughter, and the reconciliation that followed, felt genuine: teenagers fight with their parents as a way to reassure themselves about their own limits-testing, especially when they’re feeling anxious about a potentially momentous decision. And it wasn’t a one-character plotline. Booth stepping into the father role, and reading Wallace (I don’t care what his character’s actual name is) the riot act was a lovely bit of team-bonding. Booth may not be romantically involved with Cam any more, but when she needs a man in her life, he stepped effortlessly into that role, and she was able to accept it without trying to reassert any tie on him.
The show’s also done a nice job with the interns. Making Wendell’s job a potential casualty of the recession was a nice touch (as was leaving it anonymous who saved his job), though I’m uncertain how I feel about his hookup with Angela–dude’s probably going to get burned. I thought last season the lab’s bigoted reaction to the Iranian intern was the show’s ugliest, most uncharacteristic moment, so I’m glad they’ve rescued his character a bit, and done it in a funny way. And I never, never thought that the show could rescue Daisy, a hyperverbal and socially awkward intern (and it did burn me a bit that the one female intern was such a total pain), but they worked her into an episode about Egyptologist in a role that was hilarious and charming, and did a fair amount to advance Sweets’ character.
Third, the show is back to doing the subculture exploration that’s always made it strong. Cyndi Lauper’s role as a psychic former cult member was a bit stunt-casty, but worked out anyway. The little-people wrestling ring was a good frame. Even the episode about the CIA analyst, which started out a bit cheesy, I thought, developed into a strong testament to personal character and organizational culture. And the episode about an Amish musical prodigy was beautiful: really, one of the best episodes of the series I think, and a lovely testament to the power of art.
Speaking of emotion-tugging, the show’s done an absolutely terrific job moving Brennan and Booth’s relationship forward, pacing it appropriately while still deepening the characterizations. Booth’s aborted profession of love in the season premiere made the issue at hand explicit while preventing it from resolving too quickly. I’m thrilled that the show brought back Stephen Fry to work with John Francis Daly in last week’s episode, both because I think the tension between them as colleagues is a dynamic that’s developed really well, and because they were able to draw out a coherent explanation from Booth about why he hasn’t pursued a relationship with Brennan. The upping-the-ante subplots, of Brennan going on a date with Booth’s boss, and of Booth’s son Parker demanding that he get a girlfriend, have been well-done, and I think it makes sense that as the characters are more powerfully drawn to each other, that incidents like these would acquire an added significance.
But most of all, David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel just have wonderful physical chemistry together, and they’re finally getting a chance to express it through a straightened tie, a clasped hand, a lot of smoldering gazes. And they’re balancing the initiation of physical interaction between Booth and Brennan, so it’s clear they’re being drawn closer together. It’s been a bit obvious sometimes, but I think that kind of casual-but-not touch works. Someone as logical as Brennan would have to fully rationalize the situation for her to be comfortable discussing intiating a relationship with Booth. She doesn’t have to rationalize touching him, because it doesn’t actually change the formal relationship with him, so she gets part of what she wants without having to either construct a rationalization or acknowledge that what she wants is operating outside of logic.
I have caveats of course. The show hasn’t done nearly as good a job with Angela and Hodgins, in part because I think Angela’s character may be headed down an irredeemably vexing path. Her stupid fight with Brennan over the pig she was insisting everyone pony up to adopt (and how classless was it of her to hit up Wendell for money after he almost lost his job?) made her seem astonishingly flaky, sentimental, and self-centered. And her hookup with Wendell can only end in tears when she inevitably goes back to Hodgins. Which I don’t want to happen anymore, actually. I was surprised and gratified when Hodgins said he wouldn’t end Angela’s celibacy. And I wish the show wold spend more time with him. I thought his arc last season when he was dealing with his breakup with Angela and Zach’s incarceration was one of the few redeeming notes in that set of episodes. I’m a bit annoyed that they’re slipping him back into conspiracy theory mode too.
That seems to me to be one of a few loose ends that hasn’t been resolved, with the most significant one being Zach. I’m sure contractual and scheduling issues make the fate of the anthropologist-turned-serial-killer’s-apprentice a complicated thing to fit in. But it simply must be dealt with. It shattered the team at the end of Season 3, and the revelation that Sweets knows Zach is innocent would shatter them again. It would be a brave plot decision. I hope Hart Hanson and Co. are bold enough to go there.