Part of the reason Bones has survived these nigh on eight seasons is because it’s essentially a workplace comedy designed around blood, guts, and various other gross things. The employees of the Jeffersonian just happen to deal with strange and mysterious dismemberments rather than, say, sell paper. The good procedurals that last have a colorful ensemble that distract from the detached likeability of its main star. Jokiness abounds on a show like NCIS, but Mark Harmon’s Jethro Gibbs is rarely the catalyst of fun, while Temperance Brennan’s clinical rationality is at the heart of Bones’ humor. Few similar shows feature plots that are consistently based around the bizarrely humorous the way that Bones does. Its color palette is even brighter than most procedurals (save maybe CSI: Miami and USA’s flagship shows) setting it apart from its closest antecedents, like Monk. The aforementioned USA shows have reveled in the success of Bones’ wake with the same easy-going attitude confronting even the harshest of scenarios.
It’s those tenets that make the show lovably benign, but they also feed into Bones’ main weakness, in the form of each episode’s central mystery. Who needs a coherent plot device when there’s witty banter and a will-they/won’t-they to pay attention to? Considering that Brennan’s talent lies in the “how,” it’s ironic that, in the end, the how really never matters all that much to this show.
But without the driving mystery, meaningful season-long arcs become similarly problematic. Bones’ Big Bads are either ridiculously grandiose in their evil or completely forgettable, serving only to push well-liked characters out of the plot (R.I.P. Vincent Nigel-Murray). The antagonists never feel like a true threat to the Jeffersonian Gang because their presence rarely infiltrates their daily lives—because those daily lives are filled with office-time fun, experiments, and relationship drama. It’s only when these continuous villains show up that we are reminded of their existence. It’s a double-edged sword: The constant reminder of lingering evil does not mesh well with the show’s sunny outlook on the grizzliest of cases.
As my colleague Erik Adams pointed out at the beginning of last season, the season-long mysteries were never about the nefarious villains, but the question of when Brennan and Booth would finally get it on (and not in some half-baked dream sequence). I thought last season handled the characters’ romance well, making their love a matter-of-fact part of their lives, skipping their awkward nascent coupling in favor of delving right into the fray. The addition of their baby also allowed them to confront new problems that recently romantic will-they/won’t-theys of the past are forced to navigate. Rather than bicker about which side of the bed the other prefers, they got to argue about the economics of their blended household or whether to baptize their baby or not. The eventual coupling of Booth and Brennan never felt like a letdown because the show retained that spark of opposition between the two based on how they do their job, rather than having to accommodate it in their personal lives.
If the Gravedigger was meant to be seen as a Bizarro Brennan, and the sniper Jacob Brodsky was Bizarro Booth, then Christopher Pelant—the hacker who sent Brennan on the run at the end of the seventh season—acts as the perfect villain to foil the strengths of his enemies. His ability to digitally erase his own evidence leaves the hyper-rational Brennan at a loss to solve the “how,” while the lack of evidence renders Booth’s gut instincts moot. The writers clearly have fun with him, as well, carrying his arc into the new season.
“The Future In The Past” picks up with Brennan after three months on the lam (you can tell time has passed because she’s a blonde now). With toddler Christine in tow, she’s assisted by her fugitive-pro of a father, Max. The rest of the Jeffersonian team has been diligently looking at ways to exonerate their friend and colleague with little luck, as former intern Clark moves into Brennan’s old office, forever insisting on the use of white binders.
And that’s why we watch Bones. Not because we think Pelant will ultimately escape justice, Jeffersonian-style, but because we want to giggle at fastidious Clark and his stupid binders.
Of course, we know that the gang will band together to apprehend Pelant. Brennan and her father have been doing their own research, leading her find the body of Pelant’s first victim, his high-school guidance counselor. The decade-long-dead counselor sets the wheels in motion to understand why Pelant does what he does and eventually get Brennan off the hook. Sweets uses his powers of psychiatry, Angela does something with computers that is never fully explained, and Caroline says something in her comically Southern accent that’s punctuated with “cherie.” Each character gets to save the day in their own little way, and everyone—even the no-nonsense FBI agent Flynn—toasts to a job well done at the end of the day.
A better show would spend the season pondering Hodgins’ newfound killer instinct or the implications Brennan’s time away has had on her relationship with Booth, but those plot machinations will most likely be swept under the rug for more jokes about binders. And that’s totally okay because that’s the reason we all watch this show in the first place.
- As commenter PedanticEditorType pointed out, I failed to mention the major twist at the end of the episode. (To be fair, I mistakenly moved the paragraph while proofreading and forgot to put it back in. Sorry, y’all!) What I wanted to say was that I’m pro the writers keeping Pelant on for the next season (executive producer Hart Hanson said he will be in for at least four episodes this season). He’s certainly the most fertile villain the show has had in quite some time. I’m interested to see what he’s going to do next, especially with his new identity. If Jeffersonian Gang took him down once, they can certainly take him down again, but as I mentioned throughout this review, how does not really matter. Considering Max’s reiterations that Pelant needed killing, I’m sure he’ll be involved in some (unfortunate) way. He’s the most fertile villain they’ve had and it’ll be interested to see where they take him both in terms of the plot and thematically concerning Booth and Brennan’s relationship.