So now it’s time to look at Booth’s turning points. The tricky part here, of course, is that a lot of moments or episodes we’ve already looked at were also turning points for him, as well as for them, or for the series as a whole. But at the same time, a few episodes believed by some to be important enough to have been on an earlier lists I’ve reserved for Booth. (Fair’s fair, right?)
1) The Soldier on the Grave
We know Booth doesn’t easily share things about himself. In The Woman in the Tunnel, he says to Brennan, ‘Look, if you really want to know what I’ve done, I’ll tell you, but you better be ready for the truth.’ The implication, at least to me, is that he doesn’t think she is ready, that she might not ever be ready to really see the truth of him the way he sees it.
In The Solider on the Grave, the fact that he doesn’t tell anyone about his past comes up again in his conversation with his army buddy, Hank. Hank, concerned about him, has already asked if Booth’s gambling again, and then, in reference to their last mission, says, “You never talked to anybody about it? You’ve got to. How about your girlfriend? That doctor?”
Booth deflects with the usual ‘she’s just my partner’ disclaimer, but here, it seems clear it’s more about not discussing the fact that he doesn’t have anyone in his life to share the details of a past that’s still haunting him than really being about his relationship with Brennan. He then bolts from the table, leaving a troubled Hank behind.
The episode ends with him telling her the story of being sent in as a sniper to take out a Serb who’s responsible for the deaths of over two hundred innocent people. Booth knows the man was guilty, knows he saved others by what he did…but still suffers for the man’s little boy, who watched his father die on his birthday. He says, “It’s never just– It’s never just the one person who dies, Bones. Never. Never. You know, we all die a little bit, Bones. With each shot, we all die a little bit.”
Brennan’s response is lovely, and perfect. She doesn’t speak, doesn’t try to fix the unfixable. Instead, she listens and, with her own tears, registers his pain, as well as comforting him with a touch, one he allows. But more than that, she remembers, and it makes a difference for her when she kills Epps’ accomplice in The Blonde in the Game because she knows he understands. And later, when he kills the murderer in The Mummy in the Maze, she comments on it. It’s a shared bond between them, one that deepens over time. But it begins here, with his trusting her enough to tell her.
You may remember the comment I made in my last post about the significance of turning points not always being immediately apparent, and I think that’s true here in some ways. Why? Because while we’re told that Booth doesn’t open up, doesn’t share himself easily, what we see, over and over, is that he does with Brennan. In The Parts in the Sum of the Whole, we’re shown that he told her about his gambling problem at the very beginning. And by the end of their second case together, she knows being a sniper took a toll on him, even if it’s not until The Soldier on the Grave that she understands more of why that’s so.
I’ll say upfront that I don’t have anything against Hannah. I think Booth cares about her, and I believe him when he calls that feeling love. But they have yet to convince me that what he feels for her compares in any way to his feelings for Brennan, and that’s largely due to what we’re not seeing him tell her. In The Couple in the Cave, Hannah says, ‘Seeley never went for the kill if he could help it,’ which is true, of course. But the way she says it, and the look Booth exchanges with Brennan, suggest that she doesn’t know the big picture, doesn’t know the truths about him that Brennan knows. And that continues in The Bones that Weren’t, when we realize she doesn’t know about his gambling history.
He’s not telling her things he’s told Brennan, and that’s why I said that even now, years later, The Soldier on the Grave is revealing new things to us, about him and his relationship with Brennan. None of this is to say we still won’t see him opening up to Hannah – we might. But I think it’s very significant that he’s not done so yet, that no matter what he calls it or how he views it, their relationship isn’t as intimate as his relationship with Brennan was, right from the beginning.
2) The Bodies in the Book
I suspect this one might be a bit controversial, and I’m okay with that. I think you can make good arguments for other moments in the series being the point when Booth knew he was in love with Brennan, or even, as one friend maintains, that while he loves her, he’s never actually been in love with her at all, not yet. But for me, the end of this episode, when we see him react to Brennan and Sully kissing, is that moment. I don’t have any other explanation for his absolute dejection there than that of a man watching the woman he loves kiss another man.
Along those lines, I think it’s significant that after this point, we never see him interested in another woman, not until after Brennan turns him down in a way he believed was permanent and non-negotiable. I won’t get into the discussion about whether he was having casual relationships during those years, but I think on some level what they show us – or don’t – is important, and relevant. We see him with Cam, we see that relationship end, we see this scene, and then we don’t see him with anyone else until Hannah, not even Agent Perotta, who’s very obviously interested in him. And all of that adds up for me something important and significant happening at the end of this episode.
But what about Cam, I can hear some of you asking. His affair with her had ended only a few eps before this one. Isn’t that sort of …icky? Not to me, and here’s why: I think his relationship with Cam was, in part, because he knew he was falling for Brennan, and was pretty sure that was a bad idea. Their initial meeting and exploration of the possibility of a relationship resulted in their not seeing one another for over a year. Beyond that, I think at this point Brennan has given him very little reason to think she’d be open to something more than they have. So why wouldn’t he do everything in his power not to fall in love with her? But then the fling/distraction with Cam ends, and Brennan’s relationship with Sully begins, and he’s finally forced to acknowledge to himself that the feelings are there, whether he wants them or not.
3) The End in the Beginning
So if I believe he’s known he was in love with her since S2, what’s the significance for him of the coma dream events in this episode?
We’ve been told (most often, I think, by David Boreanaz) that Booth is both a simple man and an optimist, and I think that explains what was going on in him between his personal acknowledgment of being in love with her in S2 through the end of S4. He was in the most emotionally intimate relationship of his life with a fascinating, complicated woman, and while he wanted more, he was content to wait.
I think he knew the intimacy went two ways, that what was between them was special to her, too, and that he believed that ‘eventually’ was the two of them. That sooner or later, she’d be in love with him, too, and ready for a relationship. That conviction, combined with what they shared day in and day out as they worked together, squabbled together, played together, supported one another, was enough for him.
And then, the dream came. Unlike some people, I’m fine with The End in the Beginning. It’s one of my favorite episodes because I actually see Booth and Brennan in the episode.
They’re essentially the same people, and it’s a look at what they’ll be like as a couple, how they’ll interact. Not just when making love, but in the casual kiss they share, the way she cuddles on his lap when telling him she’s pregnant, the way everyone understands he’d kill to protect her. It’s all them, and having once experienced it, he found life where he was still only her friend and partner to be nearly unbearable. The dream was so real it moved it from something he hoped for to something he’d had and lost, and made it impossible to go back to contentedly waiting for ‘eventually.’
4) The Beginning in the End
People have made good arguments for why this should have been on the first list, of major turning points, and it certainly could have, since it ends with the team split up and Hart and Stephen have even said it was the beginning of taking the series in a new direction.
But as I said in my last post, ‘The Boy with the Answer’ and ‘The Beginning in the End’ feel like a unit to me, with the first one being her turning point and this one being his, and together they form a whole that’s that major turning point.
So why is it more of a turning point for him than her? Because I think she’d decided by the end of The Boy with the Answer to take a break from their partnership. That’s what’s behind her line, ‘I might need more than a little time.’ Maluku just made it easier for her.
But Booth…his low point wasn’t at the end of The Parts in the Sum of the Whole. Yes, he was hurt, and yes, he said he was going to move on. But I think he said that as much for her as for him – it was his way of assuring her he’d be okay, that they’d be okay. But he’s the optimist, remember? I think there was a part of him that even after her emphatic and repeated ‘no’s,’ kept hoping. So he ‘moved on’ and went out with Catherine…while telling Brennan she was still the standard. That’s not to say he was still carrying a torch for her, exactly. I think he was open to the idea of falling for someone else, even while trying to be the friend/partner Brennan had asked him to be. But part of him was still hoping.
Then came Maluku, a reason to leave him that she felt didn’t require any justification on her part, and at the same time, the Army was there with their request of him.
I know people who think he decided to leave before she did, they hear that in what he says to her in the diner. They believe his view of duty would never have allowed him to withstand that pressure from the army, that his fate was sealed the moment he saw the Colonel waiting for him. But that’s not what I hear there, perhaps because I know too many people in the military.
In the last ten years, everyone I know who was honorably separated from the military, physically capable and still possessing of skills needed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has been pressured on a regular basis to re-enlist. Thus there’s no way for me not to be influenced by that when I think of Booth, no way for me not to assume that he’s been pressured the same way. So in the diner scene, what others see as him trying to convince himself he’s not returning when he knows he’s already sunk, I see as annoyance that they’re still coming after him, pressuring him when he’s said no.
That doesn’t mean he’s not considering it in a way I think he’s not done before. I think he interprets what Brennan says to him in the diner to mean that she wants him to go, and coupled with Parker’s comments, I think he’s asking himself if there’s any reason not to go when no one seems to want him to stay. But he’d made a promise to Brennan at the end of The Parts in the Sum of the Whole to stick with her and that’s weighing in there, as well.
And then Sweets, hurt by what’s going on with Daisy and Booth’s comment about being better off without her, lashes out, says something to make him think Brennan’s leaving without even discussing it with him. (To be fair to Sweets, he doesn’t say, ‘Dr. Brennan’s leaving, too.’ But that’s how Booth interprets it, and since Daisy’s manipulating everyone all through the episode, it’s entirely possible she had told Sweets that Brennan had already decided to go.)
We don’t know how much time passes between when Sweets says that to him and the scene on the bench. But I think that’s Booth’s low point. He’d offered himself to her as a man, and she’d said no, but asked for him to remain her partner. Even there, even when it hurts him – and I think it did, based on the expression on his face during the dance in Death of the Queen Bee – he’s still going to try to give her what she needs. He’s never going to be the next person in her life who abandons her.
So he’d stuck with her. And where did it get him? From his perspective, during that period of time between Sweets’ comment and the bench scene, I think it must have seemed like she’d decided she didn’t want even that. First, she seemed to want him to re-enlist, and then she decided to go to Maluku without even telling him. He’d given her everything he had, had tried so hard to give her what she needed, and in the end, it meant less than nothing to her. I think during that period of time, it very much felt to him as if he meant less than nothing to her.
Plus, remember what I highlighted in my last post about her comment in The Boy with the Answer regarding the relationships in her life harming her, causing her to be less of a scientist? He dismissed that at the time, but I think he still heard it, and understood that she was including him in those relationships she was viewing negatively. And I believe he remembered that while thinking she’d decided to leave without telling him.
What we see in him when he meets her at the bench is something we’ve never seen before. I said in my comments about The Con Man in the Meth Lab that the scene in the observation room is important because he’s genuinely angry with her in a way we’d not seen before – not frustrated or annoyed, but really angry. And we see the same thing in how he is when he first arrives at the bench, only more so. He’s beyond hurt, beyond angry. I think he’s questioning their entire relationship, is certainly feeling stupid for ever thinking she might some day love him the way he loves her – not if she can decide to leave without even doing him the courtesy of telling him before she tells everyone else. And not if she can even occasionally wonder if their relationship is somehow harmful to her.
He quickly discovers he’s wrong, that she’s not actually made the decision to leave without talking to him, and that matters to him. But I don’t think it changes anything, because I think during that period of time when he believed the worst of her, he hit bottom. I think he accepted she was never going to love him, and that it was risky to continue letting himself hope, that he couldn’t spend the rest of his life being so vulnerable to his feelings for her.
That’s the thing about emotional hurt. Finding out he’d been wrong didn’t cause the pain of those hours when he’d believed what Sweets told him to simply vanish, and I think he came out of that experience determining that he was never going to feel that way again. He’s still going to be her friend to whatever degree she wants (and I think prior to the bench scene that he felt like that wasn’t much) but he’s going to find a way not to be vulnerable to her. That’s what he’s thinking when he says, ‘no, things have to change.’
And what of the end scene, when he goes AWOL to say goodbye, when he promises to meet her at the coffee cart? He meant it. I have a theory about Booth in respect to Brennan. I can’t prove it, we’ve never seen him spell it out. But I think somewhere along the line – possibly as early as The Woman in Limbo – he promised himself that he’s never going to abandon her. He’s never going to be the next person in her life who walks away from her. As long as she wants him, he’ll still be there for her. He knows she needs him, and I think he knows that she really doesn’t understand how much she’s hurt him. She was damaged by her family’s abandonment, too much, perhaps, to ever get to ‘eventually,’ no matter how much love he offers her, and he doesn’t blame her for that.
But I don’t think any of that changes that personal commitment he’s made to not let himself be hurt by her again. I don’t think he’s completely convinced she’ll be there at the coffee cart a year later, because I don’t think he totally believes she’s returning. He’ll be there, because he’s going to keep that promise he’s made to himself. But he’s not at all certain of her. If she shows up at the coffee cart and wants to resume their partnership, he’ll be there. If not, this is goodbye in a very real, possibly very permanent, way.
5) The Couple in the Cave
Here’s the thing: when Booth says to Brennan, ‘serious as a heart attack’ in The Mastodon in the Room, I don’t think he’s telling the whole truth. That’s not to say he doesn’t have deep feelings for Hannah at that point, because I think he does. I believe her uncomplicated interest in him healed something in him that had been damaged by years of loving a woman who couldn’t love him back. His time with Hannah in Afghanistan showed him that it was possible for a woman to love him, and in return, I believe he admires her, likes her, even calls what he feels for her love. But when he first returns, I think those feelings are as much a shield against the feelings he still has for Brennan as anything else.
People have said that he obviously never loved Brennan at all if he could get over her in just a few months. I think they need to take a closer look at his face when he first sees her in The Mastodon in the Room. He’s not over her, not by a long shot. But even as they settle on the steps, he’s remembering the pain, remembering that he can’t go there again. I think his comment about not having heard from her reflects that, that despite those promises he’d made to himself, he’d continued being hurt by Brennan even once they were apart because on some level he’d hoped to hear from her. And I think he’s also remembering how good it had felt to be with someone who wanted him, at least for a little while.
Because despite his comment about their relationship being as serious as a heart attack, he and Hannah don’t have much of a future at that point. He’s not returning to Afghanistan, and she’s told him she’ll never request a transfer stateside. So if they’ve made plans to see each other at all, it will be limited to her vacations, and quite frankly, I think he’s too old to have many illusions about long distance relationships being successful. And even if he did believe it could somehow work, how could that be what he wants? A permanent relationship with a woman he sees a few times a year, one who has told him she has no desire to live in the same country he lives in?
So no, I don’t entirely buy what he says to Brennan at their reunion. I think Hannah matters to him, that he cares about her, is grateful to her, and is very much looking forward to seeing her again at some point. I think he considers her his girlfriend. But really serious? No, I can’t see it. Rather, I think he’s using the relationship as a shield against the feelings he’s experiencing for Brennan. (Note that I don’t think that’s the same as using Hannah. I think when they were together in Afghanistan, he was very focused on her, believed he was falling for her. Then he came home, unsure of if or when he’d see her again, and was immediately confronted with feelings for Brennan that he’d hoped not to feel.)
And then he looks up in the diner and sees Hannah, and that changes everything. Why? Because she’s no longer just a woman who was interested in him when it was convenient for her. She’s a woman who loved him enough to do what no one has ever done before (at least that we’re aware of) – she put him first. She changed her life for him, ran to him instead of away from him. He’s blown away by that, and I think it’s when his feelings for her really take off.
That doesn’t mean it’s simple. He still has feelings for Brennan – I’ve seen evidence of them in nearly every episode this season. But he’s trying hard not to feel anything for her but friendship because he knows he can’t go to that place of being vulnerable to her again. And in the meantime, there’s a woman who loves him, has given him what no one else has.
It’s not the ideal relationship, though I don’t think he yet sees that. Although he loves Hannah, he doesn’t have the intimacy he had with Brennan (going back to the point I made in the beginning about what he’s shared with Brennan and not with Hannah) and that relationship with Hannah isn’t as straightforward as he wants it to be because the feelings he has for Brennan are still there.
So what happens now? In many ways, what happened at the end of The Doctor in the Photo is a much a turning point for him as for her. He’s spent months convincing himself that the door to a future with Brennan is irrevocably closed while at the same time concentrating on his relationship with Hannah. Although he couldn’t have responded other than he did to Brennan in that conversation in the SUV and be the man we know him to be, she opened that door to a possible future between them. That mattered, and is something he’ll have to face at some point.
So…are there other moments for Booth that should be here in place of one or more of these? Should any of these moments have been on another list, after all?