Sweets: Does it seem that your partnership provides a surrogate relationship making it more difficult to form other bonds?
Brennan: A surrogate relationship wouldn’t necessarily be such a bad thing because then I could avoid the sting of rejection, which, however fleeting, is still uncomfortable.
Booth: Right. Okay, look, I’m sorry. You know what, if Mark and Jason don’t know how lucky they are they don’t deserve you in the first place.
Brennan: Well…relationships are temporary.
Booth: That’s not true Bones. You’re wrong. Okay. There is someone for everyone. Someone you’re meant to spend the rest of your life with. Alright? You just have to be open enough to see it…That’s all.
Have you ever asked yourself how much reality you want to see (or think you should see) in the television shows you watch? I’m not talking about the never-ending stream of “reality shows” we’ve been inundated with since Survivor abandoned twenty people and a camera crew on an island in Malaysia ten years ago. I’m talking about the process of developing characters on fictional television shows in a (somewhat) realistic fashion and placing them in (somewhat) realistic situations.
We all know that watching primetime television requires a certain suspension of reality. It is television after all. In real life, DNA samples take weeks to process, murderers are rarely ever caught in the span of a couple of days, workplace romances aren’t quite so prevalent or complicated, and forensic technology just isn’t as advanced as it is on CSI. But no matter how much television shows may stretch our concept of reality when it comes to the how and why, they all (well, most of them) feature human characters, with human flaws, who interact in human situations, and ultimately, have the opportunity to grow in very human ways (a.k.a. character growth). And it’s our ability to relate to the humanity of these characters – to understand what they think, feel, and do, that makes them real.
How a show handles character growth can be a vital part of its success (or failure). Obviously, some shows do it better than others. House M.D. is about a brilliant doctor with an addiction to painkillers who was mean simply for the sake of being mean. He was a jerk to his patients, a jerk to his staff, and a jerk to the woman he loved (but couldn’t have). And he continued this way season after season until his life spun so far out of control that he was forced to make a change. He was still a jerk post-change, but at least he was beginning to use his evil powers for good, albeit in some very unorthodox ways. At the end of last season, after suffering crushing personal and professional losses, he reached his breaking point. He was literally a step away from turning his back on all the progress he’d made when (in a completely unexpected twist) he won the woman of his dreams. He’s still a jerk sometimes, but now we’re seeing him actually begin to conquer the insecurities that made him mean and cynical in the first place. There’s a depth to his character now that was missing in previous seasons. This is the kind of sustained character development that is crucial to creating a truly compelling TV show.
In all fairness, sometimes characters are designed to be static, and that works on certain shows. The characters on The Simpsons, for instance, don’t age and they don’t change (at least not significantly). After 20 years, Maggie is still sucking on her pacifier, Lisa is still a genius, Marge still has big hair, Homer is still the stereotypical dumb guy who likes to drink beer and hates to work, and Bart is still Bart. And that’s fine. It works for them. But as a general rule, most successful shows feature dynamic characters with the ability to grow in real ways in response to outside stimulus.
Part of what makes Bones such an extraordinary show is how well it handles both character and relational growth. Despite what some critics say about timing and speed, no one can argue with the fact that Booth and Brennan’s relationship has developed in a very compelling fashion. Oftentimes their character development contributes to their relationship development and vice versa. As a result, many of us are as invested in the relationship as we are in the characters themselves. And yet, Booth and Brennan aren’t the only well-rounded characters. Each of the six main characters (plus Zack) has experienced some sort of personal character growth, including (but not limited to):
- Cam adopts Michele (The Doctor in the Den, The Plain in the Prodigy, The Goop on the Girl, The Rocker in the Rinse Cycle)
- Angela struggles to see the “humanity” in her job at the Jeffersonian (A Boy in a Bush)
- Hodgins must face fears and insecurities caused by being buried alive by the Gravedigger (Aliens in a Spaceship, The Hero in the Hold, The Boy with the Answer)
- Booth comes to terms with the death of Howard Epps (The Girl in the Gator)
- Sweets learns the value in living life to the fullest (The Bones on the Blue Line)
- Brennan admits that she wants to believe love can last forever (The Cinderella in the Cardboard)
- Zack learns how to be “presentable” in order to win a job at the Jeffersonian (Judas on a Pole)
The tricky thing about character growth, though, is that it’s not always easy. Sometimes in order to see our beloved characters grow, we have to first see them suffer. And this, I think, is where some people start to question the value of “real” character development. Real life is painful enough, where’s the fun in watching our favorite characters suffer too? Why can’t we skip all the pain and suffering and go straight to the happily ever after part? These are legitimate questions, but, as I found out every time I took a math or science class in school – the harder the journey, the more rewarding the outcome. I can handle the ongoing pain and suffering because I fully expect Booth and Brennan to eventually get their happy ending (barring any unforeseen circumstances such as Bones being cancelled unexpectedly).
So what, exactly, is the purpose for all this pain and suffering, anyway? Personally, I think it’s all a part of Hart Hanson’s end game. And I think it’s obvious from the level of pain we’re seeing from Brennan this season that he has a greater goal than just bringing Booth and Brennan together in a romantic relationship. We’ve discussed extensively here on Bones Theory how much the respective childhoods of our beloved main characters influenced who they are as adults. Brennan’s abandonment by her family resulted in her viewing the world through twin lenses of reason and logic and unable to believe in love or lasting relationships. Booth’s abusive, alcoholic father left him longing for love and a family and created in him a sometimes unhealthy desire to protect the people he loves (Brennan and Jared, for example) no matter the circumstances. There’s no question that both are deeply scarred individuals whose lives have been profoundly impacted by those scars.
While it’s nice to believe that love is all Booth and Brennan need to conquer their respective demons, that’s rarely the way things work in real life (at least not if you want your relationship to last past the end credits). The reality is that what these two people need more than love is healing – from the inside out. So why hope for just a romantic relationship when what we could see is a real, honest to goodness, journey to healing for both of them that culminates in their ability to find forever…together? The problem, of course, is that healing (much like character growth) is never a completely painless process. In fact, sometimes it’s downright excruciating because before true healing can begin, layer upon scarred layer of misperception and hurt must be painstakingly peeled away to reveal the very essence of a person – the one thing he (or she) was trying so hard to protect in the first place.
As much as I love white knight Booth, I believe there are some things he’s just not meant to save Brennan from; things she has to learn how to save herself from before they can ever hope to make 30, or 40, or 50 years work. Metaphorically speaking, Brennan was abandoned by Booth when he came back from Afghanistan “with” Hannah despite the fact that Brennan abandoned him first (or as Sophia7470 pointed out “she shoved him away”). That Brennan (perhaps sub-consciously) believes this is illustrated very clearly in her conversation with Booth at the end of The Couple in the Cave. Brennan may have come to terms with the initial cause of her abandonment issues when she made peace with her father, but she still hasn’t addressed the seemingly indelible marks that event left on her world view. And until she does, nothing is going to change.
Furthermore, as much as we may want (or even expect) him to, Booth can’t conquer Brennan’s fear of abandonment for her any more than she can absolve him of his need to protect her. Each of them has to seek healing on his (or her) own terms and without the crutch the other person has become. Booth’s devotion to and support of Brennan in previous seasons certainly started her on the road to healing. But at what point does that same devotion and support start to prevent healing instead? Would either Booth or Brennan have ever had the chance to heal completely, cushioned as they were in their pre-season six partnership/surrogate relationship? I believe the answer is no.
And so here we are, watching in excruciating detail as Brennan is stripped bare bit by agonizing bit. We know it has to happen, or she will never be truly whole, but oh how it hurts! And for the first time, Booth will be unable to protect her or save her because, this time, he is the source of her pain. The day he realizes that very ironic truth in its entirety is the day I believe his own journey to healing will begin. And then I think we’ll finally see an utterly mind-blowing, too incredible for words, happily ever after, that will make every tear-inducing moment that came before completely worthwhile.
So how do we keep from drowning in all of this horrible angst and despair in the meantime? Well, that’s what Cam and the squinterns, Bunsen Jude the Science Dude, Jersey Shore lingo, and the occasional Hannah-less “back to Bones basics” episodes are for (because too much reality is never a good thing).
So how do you take your TV? Seasoned with a good dose of reality or heavily sweetened with fantasy? Are you willing to put up with the pain if the end result is too good for words or do you think enough is enough and Booth and Brennan should just skip straight to the good stuff? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.