Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Boothification of Bones and the Bonesification of Booth

The television series Bones follows a forensic anthropologist, Temperance Brennan (a.k.a. 'Bones') [1], as she helps the FBI solve cases (usually murder) where human remains have been recovered. She and her team work at a fictional non-profit organization called the Jeffersonian (modeled after the Smithsonian). Most episodes are stand-alone, but there are a few story arcs that cover multiple episodes—most concerning interpersonal relationships. One of the major relationships that is explored is that between Bones and her FBI counterpart, Agent Seely Booth.

Due to her high IQ and a turbulent childhood (which made her an introvert for a long time [2]), 'Bones' is hyperanalytical and is often critical of anything that she deems to be illogical, irrational, or unscientific. This includes concepts or beliefs such as God or true love. She applies her stores of knowledge and her deductive reasoning to solve cases. As a counterpoint to her extremely rational view of the universe we have Agent Booth. Booth is charismatic and outgoing, but clearly not as intelligent as Bones or her cohorts. He believes in things like God and true love to the point of being superstitious. He applies intuition, 'people sense', and gut feelings to solve cases.

As the show progresses, Bones and Booth are confronted with a myriad of cases which confront both of their naïve conceptions of the world. They have dealt with a superhero, aliens, a witch, mummies, Santa Claus, a Marian apparition, James Bond, and the devil.[3] In each case Booth is usually credulous from the beginning while Bones is skeptical. As the truth is slowly revealed, both are forced to acknowledge and eventually abandon their prejudices and preconceptions.

There is a similar precedence in published literature of two highly dissimilar characters being united in a series of strange and unlikely events. Those characters are Don Quixote and his trusty servant, Sancho Panza. Don Quixote is idealistic and prone to fantasy; Sancho Panza is pragmatic and realistic. As the novel progresses they tilt at windmills, rescue damsels in distress, battle with evil knights, and beset robbers—but only in Don Quixote's imagination. As the tale progresses, Don Quixote loses some of his idealism, a process termed the Sanchification of Don Quixote. In parallel, Sancho Panza gains a measure of idealism, a process termed the Quixotification of Sancho Panza. Each has had a tempering effect on the other.

So it is with Bones. Booth's idealism and credulousness affect Bones, which I'm calling the Boothification of Bones. She is forced to confront the possibility that she, herself, isn't always rational. And if that is true, perhaps other things like God or true love could be true, too—even though they're empirically unprovable. Indeed, she struggles with her own burgeoning desire for (and belief in) true love.[4] And, of course, we see the corollary, too: the Bonesification of Booth. When the series starts, he calls Bones and her crew 'squints'. But as he comes to see their value both as intellectuals and as people, the epithet becomes a term of endearment.[5] As time goes on he begins to doubt some of his intuitions and at the same time begins to appreciate more the value of reasoning and logical thinking.

Will Bones start believing in God? Will Booth lose his faith? Probably no, on both accounts. But we've definitely seen a rounding and deepening of both characters, so neither proposition is outside of the realm of possibility. Either way, it has been satisfying to see both Bones and Booth mature over the course of the show.


[1] When I first started watching the show, I had trouble buying Emily Deschanel, older sister of the ditzy-looking Zooey Deschanel, as a cold analytical scientist. But she has grown into the role quite effectively and is quite convincing most of the time.

[2] This has impaired her social skills. She often fails to understand social cues or jokes. In fact, she may have Asperger's Syndrome.

[3] These are found in S01E12, S02E09 and S02E19 and S05E11, S02E10 and S05E20, S03E05 and S05E05, S03E09, S04E20, S05E02, and S05E14, respectively. S__ refers to the season number and E__ refers to the episode number. Many of the other episodes also deal with bizarre circumstances. See

[4] This was especially apparent in the final episode of this year, "The Doctor in the Photo."

[5] Though that doesn't stop him from dressing up as a Squint for Hallowe'en one year, to great comedic effect.

Image attribution:

Don Quixote being defeated by the windmill is by Gustave Doré, 1863; available at

1 comment:

  1. I'm in the middle of watching this series and thoroughly enjoyed your comments on it. What are your thoughts on Zach's character and how they got rid of him? In watching the earlier seasons again I feel it's completely out of character for him to align himself with Gormogan and be deceived into believing that logic, though his character was different after going to Iraq. It still bothers me, though, quite frankly.