Bones: “The Doctor in the Photo”

This may be my favorite episode of Bones ever. It may be the best episode of Bones ever (going by the standard of my own personal opinion). “The Doctor in the Photo” is not just an average episode of a procedural series. Nor is it merely an excellent episode of a procedural series. This is the episode we’ve all been waiting for since the central relationship on Bones took such a depressing turn last season. This is the episode where all the weirdness of Brennan finally takes shape into something real and beautiful and fundamental (and sad). This episode, my friends, is nothing short of a work of art.

At no point was there any doubt that this was going to be an excellent episode. But at the very opening, it didn’t seem like we were going to get anything more than a deliciously creepy case. Which I would have been totally fine with. I mean, this episode could have gone in the direction of some sort of Howard Epps-esque character targeting Brennan and creeping everyone out by going after victims with disturbing similarities to Temperance Brennan. They had the set up, they had the creepy music (seriously, Bernard Hermann would’ve been proud of some of that subtle work in the first ten minutes), and they certainly would have had my support for that outcome.

But oh dear GOD I am so happy that didn’t happen.

Because instead, we got a true thing of beauty. And, even more fun, we got into the head of Dr. Temperance Brennan. I can’t remember the last time that Bones was really about its title character. It seems like this season so far (and, really, most of the last two seasons) have been so much about Booth and Booth-and-Bones and now Booth-and-Hannah and yadda yadda yadda. And I really feel like Brennan got lost somewhere along the way. She’d become…a caricature of herself, almost. Which is ridiculous when you stop to think about it, because if Bones has one real great strength, that is its character development, the way every character becomes fleshed out to the point of being fully human, even when their fictional environment is ridiculous to the extreme.

“The Doctor in the Photo” is a nice reminder of who this series is named after and why David Boreanaz isn’t the only reason to watch this show. And why an entire series can be built around the character Temperance Brennan.  She is a fascinating character, psychologically speaking. Especially when put through her paces as ruthlessly as in this episode. I can’t compliment Emily Deschanel enough for her performance in this episode. She stepped up her game right along with the writers. I don’t think I’ve ever really had much to say about her acting abilities. I mean, she does what she needs to, absolutely. She isn’t lacking at all. But she rarely goes beyond what is called for. This episode, though, her performance really is a cut above.

She didn’t do it alone. Obviously there were the usual excellent performances from the costars. But the instrumental emotional foil for Brennan was definitely Enrico Colantoni*’s nightwatchman character Mitch. He was probably the most important innovation that came from the writers for “The Doctor in the Photo.” (Also, he was just awesome and can we please keep him? Pleasepleaseplease!?)

I think the thing that impressed me the very most about this episode was the way Bones’ perception of the victim was handled. The writing team took the tricks and techniques from the wacky-ass Booth-Has-A-Brain-Tumor hallucination episodes (which are, in my opinion, absolutely the worst thing that has ever transpired on this show) and made those tricks work. Without any sort of heavy-handed transitions, the audience was transported directly into Brennan’s mind. The transition was subtle enough that it didn’t distract, but the technique was familiar enough that I was able to appreciate what was happening in the moment, rather than after an Oh Hey Revelation! moment near the end. I definitely saw the picture change at the end of the episode coming half and hour ahead, but that was okay. Because that wasn’t the point. It wasn’t supposed to be a surprise. It was just intended as a moment for all the understanding and emotion of the episode to finally coalesce.

I do not watch Bones to feel something. I watch it because it’s entertaining. It’s gross. It’s funny. The writing and acting are definitely of good quality, but honestly I go to Bones as a sort of…cheap thrill. Two-bit enjoyment. But this episode was really…something. If it did nothing else (which it did), it proved that, even though ninety percent of the time Bones is just a procedural, it is capable of being more. It has an emotional life that other procedurals just can’t touch. And while that isn’t what makes it so popular, that is what truly makes it so good.

A final note that is totally unrelated but equally intriguing: Hannah, at least so far as the opening dinner scene goes, seems to be getting integrated into the group. Which indicates that either she’s on her way out soon, or the writers might be reconsidering their original plans for her given the not-violently-outraged fan reaction to the relationship between her and Booth. She could be leaving…or she could be staying. And I’m honestly not sure what would make me happier (or sadder). Food for thought, and more proof that Bones is very definitely recovered from the vague madness of the last two seasons.

* Francis Capra was in this episode too. Veronica Mars reunion much?

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