So…we’ve looked at major turning points, and, um, less major turning points (as in not really minor!). But what about turning points for Brennan and Booth? Of course, a number of the scenes we’ve already looked at were turning points for the characters as much for the show in some fashion, but what of moments that while, perhaps important to both, had particular significance for one of them?
Part of the reason I love the show so much is that they’re not afraid to show us the characters growing and changing, and there are many more than five each to choose from, but here are five turning points for Brennan:
1) The Man in the Fallout Shelter
Recently, and due in no small part to both The Doctor in the Photo and this list, I’ve been thinking a lot about Brennan’s growth through the series. Maybe it’s just the time of year, but I think perhaps the clearest indicators of her growth are the three Christmas episodes. At the beginning of Man in the Fallout Shelter, she’s impatient and critical of everything to do with Christmas, particularly the giving of gifts, which she notes are ‘a way of asserting dominance in a group.’ But two years later, she’s not only unfazed by Booth having a gift for her, but casually tells him she’s got one for him as well. And two years later, we see her hosting a Christmas meal. What allows her to get to that point though, happens in the first Christmas episode. Maybe it’s her conversations with Booth, perhaps it’s seeing the others make gifts for one another, maybe it’s the joy and satisfaction she finds in the closure she’s able to give Ivy, closure she’s never had. Most likely, it’s a combination of all of them.
Brennan doesn’t find her own closure about her parents’ disappearance, not here, not yet. But as Ivy learns something about Lionel – that he didn’t abandon her – that gives her back her life, Brennan reaches a place where she can open her last gifts from her parents, gifts she’s dragged with her, unopened, through foster homes and college, for nearly fifteen years. Even though the scenarios aren’t quite the same, there’s a similarity between Ivy holding Lionel’s letters, and what she obviously takes away from that, and in Brennan, holding the Christmas card from her parents, and understanding something which makes her smile through her tears.
2) The Woman in Limbo
I’ll deny it if you hold a gun to my head but I suspect this is my favorite episode. (Bearing in mind that the last I counted, I had about 25 episodes in my top ten.) As with many of the episodes I’ve been highlighting, I think there are several significant moments here, but the one I want to focus on is the scene in the barn, where she affirms her identity, allowing us to see how she views herself. I think what she says, and the order in which she says it, is hugely important.
She starts with, ‘My name is Brennan.’ – last name only. Most of the time, at least in fiction, when someone goes by (or is primarily known) their last name, it’s because they take a special pride in it, and that’s very much the case here. I believe the reason she identifies herself that way is found in the second thing she says: “I’m Dr. Temperance Brennan.” She now gives her first name, but it’s wrapped in what she views as truly important: her academic credentials. She thinks of herself as “Brennan” because her self-identity is very much tied to her profession. Most of the important people in her life, her professional colleagues, refer to her this way. Most of us take our career seriously, and if you ask me who I am, what I do will figure prominently in how I respond. But for Brennan (see? Most fans think of her this way, as well) what she does is the core of who she is.
This is further reinforced by what comes next: “I work at the Jeffersonian Institution. I’m a forensic anthropologist. I specialize in identifying people when nobody knows who they are.”
These are, without question, the most important things about her from her perspective. McVicar’s claims have rattled her, so she goes back to the basics, as it were, repeating the things she knows to be true about herself. Truths that can’t be touched by his accusations. No matter the truth about her family, on a completely fundamental level she is what she’s made herself to be.
But that’s not to say his words haven’t rocked her, that what he says about her parents doesn’t matter. And now she shows us that who her parents were, or who she believed them to be, is part of her identity, too: “My father was a science teacher. My mother was a bookkeeper.”
This isn’t the first time Brennan’s self-identity has been challenged. The day before her parents disappeared, she had one set of beliefs about herself: she was the awkward genius – but much loved – daughter of a science teacher and a bookkeeper, with a doting older brother. A month later, she was alone, that identity ripped from her, as least as it pertained to being loved and doted on. (Since, obviously, if she was loved in the way she believed, she wouldn’t have been abandoned, or so her logic went.) Even so, even while she was determining that she would be who she created herself to be, alone and without the anchor of that family support, the knowledge of who they were and her relationship with them continued to matter.
We don’t really know everything that factored into her decision to become a forensic anthropologist. What she says about identifying people when nobody knows who they are is a major clue, I think, but I also suspect that no matter what field she went into, science would have been a big part of it. Why? Because science was a link to the father who brought her snickerdoodles, sang, ‘Keep on Tryin’’ to her, and who wouldn’t simply let her win at cards. She might have been a chemist or a physicist rather than a forensic anthropologist, but I think science (rather than math, for example) would always have been a key component in what she chose to do.
And now she’s being told that the father she adored, who she emulated in some fashion even after he abandoned her, may not have been worth that adoration and emulation after all.
The last thing she says before repeating her full name is, “I have a brother.” That’s interesting to me because at this point in the plot, she’s still very angry with Russ. She’s still blaming him for leaving her. But in spite of that, his existence, what she had with him before that December when everything went wrong, is still a key part of how she views herself.
You may remember that in my first Turning Points post, I noted that I’m defining turning points as either “moments that take the show or characters in a different direction, or reveal something important.’ I think this scene qualifies in a big way in the latter sense (of revealing something important) but I think it’s also a turning point in her relationship with Booth, a big enough one that it was a candidate for a while to be on that first list.
We not only need to know who we are – to be our most successful selves, we also need to know that others know us, that there are people in our lives who see us the way we see ourselves, and value that in us. As a child, Brennan had that. She may have been socially awkward and not had a lot of friends (thinking about what she tells Angela about not speaking for a whole day in the Russ/Marco Polo story) but she was known and accepted for who she was by people who mattered to her – her parents and Russ.
She’s been largely without that kind of understanding and acceptance for nearly half her life at this point. And Booth gives it back to her, when he says, “I know who you are.”
He’s given that back to her and I think from this point on, they’re both aware of that on some level. I noted in the last post the significance of him aligning himself with Brennan against Cam in ‘The Boy in the Shroud” and I think what happens here is part of the groundwork for that.
(Side trip to another scene I love in this episode where we see how he’s stepping into the role vacated by her family: as she finishes telling Angela the Marco Polo story, she says, “Suddenly, no one cared where I was. I miss that. Someone caring where I am all the time,” and we immediately hear Booth shouting for her. I really love that.)
I also think what we see here is about much more than simple romantic love. I don’t believe either of them are in love at this point, though perhaps he’s wobbling in that direction. The bond we see being cemented here is more than romantic love, it’s more than friendship love. That’s the reason I get a little frustrated by people who seem to want to reduce their relationship to whether or not we’ll ever see them as an acknowledged romantic couple. Don’t get me wrong: I want to see that, too. But what they have is so much more than simple romantic love, and has been for a long time.
3) The Verdict in the Story
Weird confession time: I love this episode, but hardly ever watch it. One of my favorite types of stories is when we see relationships tested and revealed as being stronger than whatever conflict they’re up against. That’s the kind of story this is, and it works well for me on that level. But at the same time, I very seldom watch it because it hurts. I don’t like seeing the team on opposite sides, even if the point is to see all the ways they’re actually still together. I love Angela’s refusal to testify, love that the judge finally separates Booth and Brennan, and love the sacrifice Booth makes for her when he does something that goes completely against his protective nature and allows a jury to think she could have killed a man.
But in spite of all that, I still find it hard to watch. It hurts me, somehow, to see Caroline having a meeting where Brennan’s not present, to see her alone on that bench, even though that makes Booth bringing her the coffee all the sweeter.
Still, it’s in this list of turning points because of what we learn about her: not only does she love her father despite their history, she’s willing to lie for him, perhaps even to die for him.
I had a conversation a while back with a fan who views Brennan’s dedication to science and the fact that she tells the bald truth about something rather than sparing someone’s feelings to mean that Brennan will never, under any circumstances, lie. I disagree, not only because of what we see in this episode, where she’s willing to be thought of as a murderer to save her father, but also what she does for Booth in The Proof in the Pudding.
Thinking about it during my re-watch of The Verdict in the Story, I was struck by what Sweets says about her: “Dr. Brennan is hyper-rational. She’s capable of rationalizing almost anything.”
He’s talking about murder when he says that, and he’s wrong — he simply doesn’t know her as well as he thinks he does at this point in their relationship. In that respect, I’m going with Booth’s take on her: “I’ve stood over death with her, I’ve faced down death with her. And Sweets, he’s brilliant, he is, but he’s wrong. She could not have done this.”
But about lying? To save someone she loves, whether it’s her father from going to prison, or the pain Booth would experience if confronted with proof the government he sold his soul for lies? She’ll lie in a heartbeat, and more. In a different courtroom, with a different prosecutor, Brennan herself might have been arrested for Kirby’s murder. Did she consider that before feeding the jury that alternate story? Yes, she did, and then did it anyway, because that’s exactly the kind of thing this ‘hyper-rational’ woman is capable of doing for someone she loves, and Booth gets that.
4) The Boy with the Answer
First, for those who are wondering if The Beginning in the End is ever going to be on one of these lists, the answer is yes. Consider that a teaser, if you will, for a future list!
But I think this episode really reveals more about what’s going on in Brennan that leads to the decision she makes in the following episode. In fact, I tend to see this and the finale as a two parts of a whole.
The difficulty here is that unlike most of these turning points, it’s more a series of smaller moments that add up to something big, rather than a single important scene. It starts with her nightmares – not just involving Booth, but also Hodgins. We see that she worries about them, feels some responsibility for their continued safety. She tells Booth later, “I have nightmares. Hodgins is bleeding, you’re drowning. I-I can’t help anyone,” and says something similar to Angela in the following episode: “But I need a break from my life. I’m worried all the time. Worried that Booth might get hurt on a case, and I couldn’t prevent it, worried… about what our partnership means.”
And that last phrase shows us that more is going on in her than just worrying that she can’t protect people she loves. Yes, it’s from TBitE, but since the first part mirrors what she says to Booth in The Boy with the Answer, I think it’s safe to assume more was going on there than just fear for their physical safety: she’s worried about the role of relationships in her life, both in general and Booth in particular. Why do I say in general when most fans think this is all about Booth? Because of this line, from later on the episode: “I just think…maybe I’ve lost my advantage because of all the people I’ve involved with now. All of the relationships, they complicate logical thought.”
In discussions with fans I’ve realized that a lot of them had the same knee-jerk reaction Booth had: “you don’t mean that.” But she still said it, and I believe it’s important to realize that at that moment in time, she was thinking about it. Wondering about it. She’s now got all these people in her life – not just Max and Russ, but Angela, Hodgins, Cam, and Booth – who she knows would actually like an even deeper relationship with her. Not only does she worry about them, she’s also afraid that her feelings for them will make her less of a scientist, that her ability to be impartial and rational will be compromised. And – going back to what was established in The Woman in Limbo — being a scientist is essential to her. It’s the foundation of who she is. Without it, she feels she’s nothing.
At the end of the episode, she’s reverted to worrying about not being able to save him rather than thinking about how relationships are affecting her ability to be a scientist, but I think both of those and more are intersecting when she says, “I might need more than a little time.” She’s not just rethinking her relationship with Booth, but all her relationships and, indeed, her whole life.
5) The Doctor in the Photo
Here’s the thing about turning points, even in real life: we often don’t know what they mean until later. Even if it’s a big deal and we know it’s going to change things, we don’t always know how it will do so. That’s no less true with the moments I’m highlighting in this series.
I always knew this episode would be a turning point for her, even before I saw it. But I don’t know yet exactly what it means, for her or the series. I think later we’ll be able to look back and say, ‘this is how things changed because of The Doctor in the Photo,’ but for now, all we can do is consider what the series has shown us before about how she changes and grows.
I hesitate to speculate too much, lest I venture into spoiler territory. But I will say this: as Booth notes in The Beginning in the End, the pyramids are better at change than she is. Brennan doesn’t change fast. In fact, thinking about what she reveals about herself and her fears in The Boy with the Answer, I sort of think the groundwork was being laid even there for the breakdown she has in The Doctor in the Photo.
Long before Hannah, she was starting to question her life, question the role of relationships in her life. In the short term, she seemed to decide relationships were dangerous to her (or at least to her ability to be a scientist, which is essential to her self-identity) – enough that she went to Maluku. She returned, but all those thoughts were still bubbling around beneath the surface, particularly as she watched Booth’s relationship with Hannah develop. And then it all came to a head when they started the Lauren Eams investigation. So I suspect that further change, or even proof that she’s really processing what happened in this episode, may not be apparent immediately.
I think another clue about what we’re likely to see in the short term can be found in something Sweets says to her in The Verdict in the Story. Rather than commenting on it, I’ll just end the post with it, and let the line speak for itself: “We know that the colder and more objective you appear on the outside, the more pain you’re feeling on the inside.”
So what do you think? Are there turning points for Brennan you think I should have included? I came close to including The Hero in the Hold but decided that even if I ‘cheated’ (or pleaded being bad at math) and included it, the post was already too long. I also considered The Baby in the Bough for a while. Are there others? Should they replace these, or should we have more than five?