[8 January 2009]
In the world of television procedurals, Bones is the equivalent of The Addams Family. It’s creepy (some of the time), kooky (all of the time) and the horribly disfigured bodies probed by forensic anthropologist Temperance “Bones” Brennan are altogether ooky.
Bones isn’t one of those shows that takes great chances or knocks you out with its intricate storytelling. Almost none of the episodes inspire real introspection but that’s OK because Bones brings a sense of fun that is no less welcome – or needed – on television.
It’s the kind of show where solving a case while wearing a Wonder Woman costume or a crime that centers on sexual horseplay is par for the course. Even when the plots take a serious turn, Bones coats along in a cloud of mirth.
For its third season, the producers of Bones decided to take a page from the serialized drama playbook and give the show the jumpstart of a season-long mystery. The first episode introduced a cannibalistic serial killer and an entire mythology that would be investigated by Brennan (Emily Deschanel), her FBI partner, Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) and the rest of the team.
Instead of proving that Bones can dig deeper, the plot shows why the producers should stick to the formula that works so well. The serial killer plot ultimately became a huge failure that stinks up the show just as well as any of the decomposing bodies that end up on Brennan’s exam table.
Part of the blame falls with last year’s Writer’s Guild of America strike. Hollywood shut down right around the time that the Bones writers were getting to the meat of a complex story of a ritualistic killer who saves one bone from each victim to replace the corresponding piece of a silver skeleton.
Once the strike ended, the producers of Bones and most American broadcast network series had half as many episodes to tell a season’s worth of stories.
It’s impossible to know just how much the strike changed the writer’s plans for the identity of the killer, nicknamed Gormogon, and his connection to a member of Brennan’s team of egghead “squints.”
With so little time to wrap up the story, the minds behind Bones could have continued the Gormogon case into season four, or changed the conclusion to match the episodes that made it to air. Instead, they chose to go ahead with a season finale shocker that is horribly awkward and implausible.
The reveal (spoiler alert!) that Brennan’s ultra-rational assistant, Zack Addy (Eric Millegan), had become Gormogon’s apprentice killer could have ruined the show. It didn’t, and most of the credit has to go to the cast.
When the characters learn of Zack’s betrayal, there is not one false note of emotion from the actors. Watching these finale scenes almost feels criminal, however, because it’s so easy to wonder how affecting the episode could have been if clues to the twist had been carefully plotted throughout the season. But there was no time to plant evidence of Zack’s fall and the producers apparently decided that the big finish was more important that the build-up.
(Bones lovers did get one, small, benefit from the strike. The DVD set is filled out with three episodes from season four, including the two-hour long London-set premiere.)
There is plenty to love about Bones season three. But the only way to appreciate the good stuff is to ignore the disaster that was the Gormogon plot. My advice to those who purchase the DVD set is to watch the episodes out of order.
Start with “The Baby in the Bough”, a fan fantasy of an episode that casts the endlessly bickering Booth and Bones as surrogate parents to an infant who has accidentally ingested some evidence. The DVD includes an extended version of the episode with additional scenes that shed more light on the growing maternal feelings on the part of Brennan, a former foster child who has said she has no plans to reproduce.
Next, check out “The Santa in the Slush”, which includes the first-kiss payoff to three years’ of sexual tension between Booth and Bones. The DVD includes an extended cut of the smooch. The entire episode is a testament to the quirky chemistry between Deschanel and Boreanaz.
Finish with “The Verdict in the Story”, the conclusion to an ongoing plot that actually worked – the discovery that Brennan’s long-lost dad was really a criminal. Ryan O’Neal is on hand as Brennan’s sociopathic, yet endearing, father, as are a number of other wacky recurring players. More importantly, however, the team mines this story for real, honest emotion that is bolstered, rather than deflated, by the plot.