Bones Theory

Proceed Rationally, Correct? Measuring BONES Episodes With Set Criteria



{Edit from Seels: Happy BonesDay! I’m very excited that Owl has written this post for us. I actually asked her to do it. For the past several months, I’ve noticed her comments here and on GMMR and she continually presents her opinions clearly and convincingly. And I noticed a trend; she was holding herself, her reactions, and each BONES episode to a certain set of criteria. I asked her if she’d consider laying it all out for us…explain once and for all how and why she holds BONES episodes to a certain standard. To say that I’m thankful she said yes would be an understatement. But enough from me…here’s Owl! Give her a shout and some love!}


Hey! Is anyone glad it’s Thursday? With each new BONES episode comes a lot of opportunity for different emotions. I used to weigh the episodes based on what happened with the characters, and how I felt afterwards. While these methods were good, it became difficult as interns started to come and go, and each dynamic changed with each changing cast. The tones of the cases also became dramatically different episode to episode. I noticed that after a while, I would get mad at certain characters, or confused about a certain aspect, and it became difficult to compare the episodes to each other because I was so emotionally pent up in what happened within the episode. I boiled down each episode in writing, stripping them bare from those aspects and focusing on my own reactions. I discovered that the best episodes made me both happy and heartcrushed (Goop on the Girl, I think, was that turning point). The best episodes made me think. That’s how I started these criteria.

My criteria are as follows:

  1. Did it make me laugh?
  2. Did it make me cry?
  3. Did it make me think?

Notice what’s missing.

There’s nothing about specific characters, nothing about cases and nothing about dialogue or plot.

Now let’s take a closer look:

1. Did it make me laugh?

I usually prefer my serious Bones episodes, but Bones can be really, really funny. I don’t like Double Death of the Dearly Departed because it was too funny, but under these criteria, it still falls under a good episode, because it made me laugh so hard I cried. In every Bones episode, there is some sort of gem in the dialogue that will make me giggle, or someone will do something ridiculous, especially Hodgins. Sometimes I’m reminded of a Mythbusters experiment, or something I did as a kid (I used to build things, collect bugs and nerd over Egyptian mummies), and a big grin takes over my face. This is the happy side of Bones. The comedy side. It’s not something I particularly love, but it endears me to the episode. It doesn’t exactly have to make me laugh, but it has to make me feel happy. Hopeful. Good.

2. Did it make me cry?

Like I said, I prefer serious Bones episodes, so this criterion seems obvious. Actually, it’s not, for me. While I cry easily… I don’t usually cry while watching Bones, or any TV, for that matter. I’m waiting for a Bones episode to make me bawl, but I get teared up often enough. I remember looking at the TV with tears in my eyes saying “no, no!” because I thought the autistic boy, Dougie, was going to be the murderer on Gamer in the Grease (I don’t even know why, but I did, and very, very strongly). I still cried at his father’s confession. The Finger in the Nest may have been the first episode that made me cry, but I’m not sure (I love dogs, and Ripley looked a lot like my dog). The 100th episode made me cry because I felt empathy for Brennan and Booth in the final scene.

Sometimes, I cry because I’m unhappy with a scene. Sometimes I cry because I feel empathy and sympathy for a victim or for a character. Sometimes I cry because I’ve been moved so strongly (Goop on the Girl, the funeral scene). There are episodes where I feel like I should have cried, had I felt more empathy for the characters or the victim, or should have at least felt something for them (and there are episodes where I haven’t). My “did I cry” barometer, just like the “did I laugh” barometer, isn’t literally, “did I cry,” but more, “did I feel empathy for the characters, the victim, or the murderer?”

3. Did it make me think?

With the other two criteria, we see that Bones has a capacity to make us feel both happy and sad. I love that aspect of it. This question, however, is the most important question of all the three, at least for me. Many Bones episodes have made me think a little bit, and some that make me think more than others. Two in particular stand out: The End in the Beginning, and the Goop on the Girl. With End in the Beginning, I was aware of the spoilers, but somehow I didn’t take them to heart – I didn’t want Booth and Brennan together; I wasn’t ready yet. That episode was so full of things to think about, though, that I watched it about seven times within the first three days (yes, I counted), and I was still thinking nonstop about it. I have entire journal entries dedicated to the episode because it made me think that much. When I watched Goop on the Girl for the first time, I was affected in a different way – I was stunned into silence, because it, too, made me think (but in a different way). I laughed, I cried, I thought about my own faith, and I thought about my past and future Christmases. I put myself into the shoes of each character.

Would I be able to bury my son alone on Christmas? Would I be able to realize that my words, however harmless they seem, could still harm someone? Would I be able to rob a bank for someone with a bomb strapped to me, knowing that I could die at any second? Would I be able to force someone to rob a bank, and let them die for my own gains? Would I be able to give up my Christmas morning for a funeral service? Would I be able to give up a gathering with my own family for a family of friends? Would I let my daughter, a child I have only been the mother of for a few months, leave me to have Christmas on my own, or make her stay just to prove how much I love her to myself?

I’m much younger than the characters on Bones, and Michelle is the same age as my younger sister, but there was something universal that struck me about this episode. Maybe it was love. Maybe it was sacrifice. In any case, it was something that made me think, really think, about myself and my own relationships. This is why I ask that final question, because it is so important. I embrace episodes where my faith is challenged and my heart is crushed, because it makes me think, really think, about why my faith is challenged and my heart is crushed.

 Without thinking about Bones, it would just be passive entertainment. I would be bored. I wouldn’t be invested. We fans wouldn’t be invested (and this place wouldn’t exist, would it?). We wouldn’t be able to come back week after week. We wouldn’t be able to have hopes for the characters. We wouldn’t be “shippers.” We wouldn’t be able to go on the characters’ journey with them. In order to go on this journey, we need moral questions to be posed, because we are human, and we experience these questions every day, whether we are aware of them or not. We identify with the characters because we are asked these questions with them. We need to laugh, to cry, and to think, because we would never embrace the story without it. Bones would not be Bones if it did not do that.

This is why I ask these three questions about my experience watching Bones. It’s not just about the characters, about the mystery, about the crime; it’s about the story as a whole, and my own part in it. Fox, the writers, the actors, and everyone behind the scenes share a goal. Their goal is to entertain me – to make me laugh, to make me cry, and to make me think, so isn’t that what I should judge episodes (and entire series) on?

So, some follow-up questions: Do you have criteria for judging Bones episodes? Is it story based? Character based? Something like mine? If you were to watch an episode again, and judge it just on my three criteria, would it change your opinion of the episode? 


Author: Owl

Observant owl-lover that remembers too much, especially about history. Also a museum nerd.

15 thoughts on “Proceed Rationally, Correct? Measuring BONES Episodes With Set Criteria

  1. I really enjoyed reading how you apply your own criteria to each episode, Owl. They are very subjective criteria of course, and I think that we all have that individual, personal reaction to an episode that really guides our choices as to which are our personal favorites.

    My own approach to evaluating an episode is generally based around the science – it has to be accurate, and the best episodes challenge me to examine my own feelings on an issue, or situation that plays out in the episode.

    Thanks so much for a really interesting post. I hope that you write something else for us soon!

    • Thank you so much!

      I agree. Everyone has their own criteria, and that’s one thing (of many) that’s great about the show.

      What I didn’t mention in here is that I do judge it on science accuracy, although because I don’t have a really strong science background, I only know enough to say “those beetles don’t live there!” (Couple in the Cave), so I try not to do that too much anymore. I also judge it on how accurate it is to the DC area (I grew up nearby and have worked in DC). That all usually goes under “Did it make me think?”.

      Thanks for sharing about your criteria!

  2. I really liked the new post; like Skole (who, btw, should totally not quit fanfic… :]), I think the criteria used to analyze the show is very personal.

    I usually prefer episodes that have a balance between the science/forensic/investigative work and character development, like “The Soldier on the Grave”, “The Proof in the Pudding” and “The Man in the Fallout Shelter”, to name a couple (hm, I also think I like the lab a lot; did I mention I’m a big science geek?). This equilibrium is why I fell in love with Bones and it’s what I keep hoping will be back soon.


    • Ah…science geeks of the world unite! They are some of the most awesome Bones fans 😀 Equilibrium is a very apt term to describe the balance in the episodes that I enjoy the most too… (btw, sorry to hijack the thread, but I’m not making a call just yet – thanks).

  3. I loved this… it is precisely how I approach episodes as well! I guess I never thought it through, but I empathize with the characters and victims based my experience as a person. My life story. When an episode can equally balance the work/science/relationship aspect of the characters, and I can appreciate that from my own life, then I’m hooked. The chartacters and I become more like ‘friends’ sharing Life than entertainment. True dat, OWL 🙂

  4. This was great! I find it hard to put in words why I love this show more than any other, ever…because it’s such a complex combination of qualities that just ‘works’ for me. But your criteria is certainly a good starting point, because this show always does those 3 things for me, at least 🙂

  5. When I consider that those criteria generally match what I look for in a book (although smile is sufficient in place of laugh), and since I’m wholly dedicated to Bones much like I would be to a fictional print series, I find that this criteria works GREAT for me and this show and this season is really matching that criteria well for me. Love it, love the analysis.

  6. Owl–
    love your criteria. so broad and yet focused at the same time, it seems a perfect way to judge a Bones episode. i find that i, like many here, tend to require a balance of all things ‘brain’ (the science, the facts etc.) with all things ‘heart’ (empathy/sympathy, character development etc.). but not just a balance, i want them woven together like a Persian rug…beautiful and deep and perfectly imperfect. i’m not saying *everything* in the episode has to further something overtly, but i like a good 3:1 ratio. also, if i feel no empathy for either the victim or someone closely attached to the victim, i tend to turn my heart off and just enjoy 45 minutes of nonsense, just another tv show, as it were.
    all that being said, i think for the rest of this season i’m going to try your criteria, especially this little gem: “it’s about the story as a whole, and my own part in it.”

  7. Great post Owl. As Erin said, I like how your criteria is both “broad” and “focused” at the same time. How awesome is it that we can both laugh hysterically and be brought to the point of tears all in the span of one 43-minute show? And as far as the thinking is concerned, well two of the things I appreciate most about Bones are the intelligence and the balance between science and faith. Very rarely do you find both of those qualities in a TV show today and Bones does them very well. Other than Lost, I’ve never gotten this deeply involved in theorizing about a TV show – ever.

    Oh, and nice analysis of The Goop on the Girl. Talk about an episode that makes you laugh, cry, and think all at the same time! The speech that the pirate radio guy gives towards the end is so incredibly moving, especially when paired with the funeral images. And Brennan processing Booth as evidence? Two words: funny and yowza! That episode has a permanent place on my iTunes because of those two scenes.

  8. Hello Owl!!

    I enjoyed reading your criteria for how you watch the episodes!

    My criteria is more story based and character based (cough *hannah/Booth* cough) which could possibly why I haven’t enjoyed some recent episodes. I get so upset if a character (Brennan) is so sad and alone while another character (Booth) is all happy with his “friend” (Hannah) who I don’t personally like. Which, I guess, is my problem. haha. (But that’s a whole different story)

    With your criteria “Did it make me cry?”: That, for me, is more dependent on the story and characters. So it all comes down to, basically, what happens with Booth and Brennan (and other characters, but I’m a REALLY big shipper. haha).

    I think I’ll try watching the next few episodes with *YOUR* criteria in mind. It might change my opinion about the episode!

    Thanks for a very interesting and thoughtful post! I really enjoyed it!! 😀

  9. Great formula!

    If I apply this, then The Plain in the Prodigy is a stand out for me. I laughed (favourite uncle sniper Booth), I cried (the ending) and I still find myself mesmerised by the conflict between organised religion vs the beauty of Levi’s music.

    For me, this is Bones at its best.

  10. I’ve been thinking about this post since you posted it (I think that means it’s a great post!). I was trying to figure out if I had my own criteria or if I even wanted/needed to view episodes rationally. I came to the conclusion I don’t have set criteria for reviewing episodes.

    I judge each episode on how it makes me feel. Even those this is emotional and not rational, I feel it is the same as your criteria only a bit more broad. Making you laugh, cry and think are all feelings – so ultimately I see your main criteria is also, “How do did it make me feel?” or better yet, “Did it make me feel?”.

    I think an episode is good if it makes me feel something and great if it makes me feel something so strongly that I can’t shake it when the episode is over. Whether it be happy, sad, anger, longing, empathy, remorse, faith or hope. Hope in the world, family, friends, or relationships (B&B). I think Bones is at its best when it makes us feel several emotions in one episode and leaves us longing to feel more when the credits roll.

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  13. I love, love, love this post, as you know (from my comment). But I’d have to say that of all the existing Bones Theory posts, this is the one that sort of ‘keeps on giving’ the most. In my life, it’s hard for me to not get too swept up into the episodes, or to sort of lose sight of small moments because I’m expecting some major grand sweeping B&B declariation of everything ending all rolled up at the diner with a smiling squint squad in the background, hahaha. That will probably never happen. So, the criteria you’ve laid out really does help me frame up each episode. I love your ‘personal rationality’, that is the ability to combine brain & heart. I wish I had that ability more!

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