Bones Theory

The Heart in the Box: Empathy on BONES


 “So you’re saying I’ll get used to it?”

“No, you’ll never get used to it. We’re primates, social creatures. It’s coded into our DNA to protect our young, even from each other.”

“So I’m always going to feel terrible?”

“What helps me is to pull back emotionally. Just put your heart in a box.”

Brennan and Zack, The Boy in a Bush.


                A year and a half ago, I went to see Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th Century Chesapeake, a museum exhibit from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. I went to the exhibit expecting to Bones nerd (which I did), and history nerd even more (I’m a history major with a focus on the 17th and 18th century Americas), but what I didn’t expect was the emotional toll it took on me.

The exhibit, a collection of “forensic files” of skeletons (including many real skeletons) talks about how the people lived and died in the Chesapeake region during the 17th century with the first English colonies, like Jamestown and St. Mary’s City. Two stories stood out in particular for me – those of two unknown (and as of yet unnamed) boys. One was one of the first casualties of Jamestown, with a raging tooth infection and arrow in his leg; the other, whose story brought me to the exhibit, an indentured servant who was buried in a cellar and was possibly murdered. The reconstructions were stunning, and when I looked at the second boy’s reconstruction, I was mesmerized. I’m not someone that connects easily with people, so this was surprising. I went to that exhibit, though, and I felt like I was being smothered with emotion, like there was a weight filling the air. I felt it most of all when I looked at that boy, only two years my junior when he died, and I made that connection between the amber-colored bones, the reconstruction staring back at me, and what was once a real life person.

This is the biggest issue that Bones will have, as a procedural television show. Unlike CSI, or House, what we’re looking at is usually a pile of bones, a “people puddle,” or something completely foreign. There is no name, no face, nothing that says “human being” initially. How do they get viewers to make an emotional connection, to empathize with that victim and to sympathize for them, if they are seeing something that is so difficult to connect to?

I was thinking about this as I watched Shallow in the Deep. Cam struggled with the emotional weight of the case before her. Usually, to show that a character is empathizing with the victim, they usually have a personal connection. Brennan was a foster child, as was Sweets, so they have connected with multiple victims. Cam’s ex-fiancé was the victim once (and something similar happened with Hodgins). Booth was a soldier, and there was a case about a soldier. Cam’s connection in tSitD was her heritage.

Cases where children are involved will always pull at our heartstrings. Like Brennan said, we feel the need to protect our children from harm. While I am not a mother, I have worked with children for years, and have felt that need to protect them. Brennan is not a mother yet. Angela and Hodgins talked about kids in Baby in the Bough. Cam adopted Michelle late in the fourth season. Zack, nor any of the interns, except for the old guy from Finger in the Nest, ever had children. Goodman was a father. Booth is a father. Before the middle of the third season (Baby in the Bough), the characters working in the lab had limited exposure to children. The cases pull at our heartstrings, and they pull on the characters’.

What about the other cases, though? It is different when the cases are historic, or about someone who wasn’t a “good” person, or someone who is from a different culture. Sometimes there are connections with the audience that aren’t as common. For me it was the Perfect Pieces in the Purple Pond, because they mentioned that the victim, Jared, had Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (however briefly). They didn’t mention the pain, the annoyance of dislocations, or the lack of doctors actually experienced with EDS, but I still empathized with the victim because I have EDS. What about the Goop on the Girl? We see Brennan empathize with the victim’s mother, and the whole story is just “heartcrushing” because the victim was a patsy – he had no control over his fate. It could happen to any one of us. Did you ever think about that happening to you? I did. It’s sobering.

Sometimes if the victim is someone that is difficult to empathize with, they give the audience another source of empathy – the culprit, or a victim’s family member. The three culprits that stand out to me at the moment are the younger brother, Alex, in The Boy in the Shroud (jealousy), the brother in the Devil in the Details (anger at God), and the father in The Gamer in the Grease (love for his child), but I am positive that there are more. The Plain in the Prodigy is one that I think empathy for Levi Yoder’s parents is definitely played upon, as with many of the mothers, fathers, siblings, and children of the victims in many of the cases (Boy in the Tree, Woman in the Car, Graft in the Girl, Man on the Fairway, Soccer Mom in the Mini Van, Baby in the Bough, He in the She, Doctor in the Den, Harbingers in the Fountain, Goop on the Girl, and Devil in the Details). 

Then there are the “history” cases – Man in the Fallout Shelter, and the Shallow in the Deep. History is very difficult to embrace and empathize with if you don’t have a name to a face. I can tell you from personal experience that people embrace history the most when they’re not passive – they need to see it come to life. I worked in two museums that had a “living history” element to them, and I’m a big fan of Plimoth Plantation and Colonial Williamsburg. There, you can talk to people “from the past” (historical interpreters) and connect to the past first hand. Man in the Fallout Shelter and the Shallow in the Deep struck me deeply as episodes where I connected with someone from the past, although one case is only 50 years old, and the other was 150 years old. In the former, the story is timeless, a Romeo and Juliet type story. We feel empathy because we have loved and lost; it is the human experience. With the latter, it is much more difficult to connect at first. Daisy said it best – it’s easier to think about them as just bones (isn’t this true for all the cases?), but Angela was right, they’re not just bones, they’re humans (well, in this case, a fictional representation of humans, but still… humans). This is why Angela draws the faces of the people – and we see them. Did you feel a greater connection when you saw the faces of the people as Angela drew them? As Cam did her presentation about them? Do you feel a greater connection when you can see the victim’s face versus when you are unable to (George Clooney case)?

This brings me to the final way that Bones helps us empathize – they use facial reconstruction. Suddenly, they’re not just bones anymore – you’re seeing a face stare back. This is where Angela comes in, because her job is to do just that. As Dr. Goodman said in Boy in a Bush (in a deep African-American tone), “[y]ou are the best of us, Ms. Montenegro. You discern humanity in the wreck of a ruined human body. You give victims back their faces, their identities. You remind us all why we are here in the first place, because we treasure human life.” Booth, Brennan, and the squint squad all share the common goal of bringing justice to those that lost their identities due to death and decomposition. Angela is their cornerstone. In nearly every episode, she says something to remind us of the victim’s humanity. Empathy reminds us that we are not individuals alone in the world – we are human beings.

Wondering about my quote above? It represents the struggle between allowing ourselves to feel (or the writers allowing us to feel) empathy for the victims, and not preventing ourselves from empathizing. Sometimes, we see the characters struggle with empathy when it becomes too much to handle. Angela in particular has dealt with it in a few cases, but recently Cam has as well. In the opening quote, Zack, when feeling sympathy (not just empathy, but sympathy) for Charlie, the child victim, is struggling, Brennan talks with him about it. It is in this moment we learn how Brennan deals with these feelings – she shuts away her heart in a box because empathy and sympathy affect her work, but we can now say that she does it as well with any emotional stress. She does not want her empathy to affect her work (or her relationships), so she distances herself off. I’ve always found Brennan’s season one and early season two acceptances of love and the heart (she used to believe in love a little bit, guys, and didn’t think the heart was just a muscle) very different from the rest of the seasons, because Booth and Angela told her not to empathize, to be objective, in Blonde in the Game. I think overall, there is less empathy shown on the show, thanks to its lighter tone. Through the show’s more humorous approach now, cases where you feel a lot of empathy for the victim are not as often. This is understandable – these episodes really can get you down. I also believe, though, that they are imperative to the integrity of the show. Without empathy for the victims, the culprits, and most importantly, the main characters, how can we suspend disbelief and for an hour each week, believe that they are real? How do we remember that Bones isn’t just about a group of characters, but a real profession dealing with real remains?

So, some final wrap-up questions: has your feeling of empathy for the victims changed over the past few seasons? Have you had a strong feeling of empathy for a victim, culprit, or family member of the victim? Have you had to look at them as bones or “put your heart in a box” while watching certain episodes of the show? Is empathy important for the show? Has Brennan’s shielding of her emotions affected how you view or empathize with her or with the show?

On a small final note: go see Written in Bone! I also recommend the companion (“children’s”) book. You can check it out on the NMAH website as well. It lacks the visuals, but almost all of the exhibit text is there (but it lacks the empathy).


Author: Owl

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

33 thoughts on “The Heart in the Box: Empathy on BONES

  1. Owl – Thought provoking, but I haven’t yet sorted out my thoughts. I just wanted to tell you that if like those living museums, we have another excellent one in MA, Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, MA. It’s a working recreation of an early 19th century New England town. Fairly extensive in scope.

    • I really, really want to go to Old Sturbridge Village. Mom’s talked about it more than once (she’s from MA). Thank you. 🙂

      • Sturbridge and Plimouth are great! I took so made field trips to those two places in school! Haha. I love the historical elements you added into this post! I was a History major and interned at the Paul Revere House and LOVED it. Also, when I interned in DC my FAVORITE part was giving tours of the Capitol and talking about all of the history! Sorry– that had nothing to do with Bones. I just couldn’t miss my chance to go all HistoryNerd. Lol

  2. I feel that since midway S3 the writers have been making the characters less empathic to the victims and only have them show sympthany if it hits home to them. Sometimes they make it seem like the victim was at fault and don’t deserve any pity. Point in case the last epi. I know that the B&B car scene split the fans but B&B were laughing and name calling a murder victim. Who are they to judge this man. Yet they mocked and laughed at him. It just felt wrong and unbecoming to them.

    • YES. This has been my greatest problem with the series as it gets older. That was my main reason why I didn’t like that car scene at all.

    • Remember Brennan scolding Zack in the pilot for naming the remains soaker, crispy critter?
      That’s supposed to be growth on Brennan’s part??? I never understand how people can think that she has grown since S1, she was much more empathetic, better (not perfectly) balanced between her brain and heart… She has regressed since S4. In fire in the ice, she calls the remains popsicle, probably just because in the end of the previous episode, the circus one, Booth tells her that Wanda was funnier than Brennan. Disrespecting remains and thus denying herself, her values to try to please a man’s goofy side, is that growth???

      • I agree with you, I don’t think it’s growth. It’s bothered me for a long time.

        I have to point you to Blonde in the Game, though, where Angela and Booth tell her specifically not to empathize with the victim. I think Brennan (who is a very literal person) probably took this quite literally. I have also wondered (and I believe HH has made some statements regarding/supporting this) if when Brennan has the greatest emotional connection, she pulls back a bit. We saw that a bit in Boy in the Bush (she refused to tell Booth what was going on, and also pulled back in Bodies in the Book “I have to be the rational thinker!”), and look at Doctor in the Photo — we know that at some rudimentary level, she’s connecting, but when she empathizes with the victims, she pulls back socially. I think Angela’s right (with my favorite quote from the episode): ‎”Honey, you ever think that you come off a little distant because you connect too much?” Maybe Brennan is connecting too much, so she pulls back. Fascinating stuff, isn’t it?

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  4. Hey, all, Owl here. Just wanted to give you all the website for Written in Bone in case you’re curious:

  5. I miss the empathy too. A lot. More than anything. And what makes it even worse is that the writers have done this on purpose. They have said that initially they wanted to make the show more fun and less drama. It was the network that wanted to see a more dramatic approach, which they call more “formulaic”. But they did it and did it well. It made the episodes have more resonance; they were much more interesting and memorable. Then, they started doing what they wanted to do in the first place: a lighter tone. It’s not that it’s bad, but I really liked the darker one.
    Bones is now more about the characters, and that’s fine but there is no need to forget what kind of job they are doing. And I don’t remember these episodes or lines of dialogue as much as I do in the first three seasons. Even Hannah is an example. One of the reasons why she is so dislikable is because she is absolutely unbelievable. They tried so much to make her likable that they made a cartoon. How can Bones writers make a cartoon? I have no idea. All of the other characters have flaws, and particularities. She is just the perfect, beautiful, smart, mature, blonde, who doesn’t even looks bad or depress or scared after receiving a bullet. She doesn’t even blink or gets mad (not even for a second) when her boyfriend tells her about Brennan’s confession. They are getting farther and farther away from empathy or resonance or depth.
    I still love the show, but sometimes I just need to watch my old DVDs.

  6. I am not sure how I feel about the empathetic nature of the show. I feel like I am a highly empathetic person, myself and I think that could be a potential reason why I am so attached to this show. I feel everything Booth and Brennan feel and for me, I think it IS more about the characters than the empathy for the cases. The car scene was awkward for me, but I also found myself laughing awkwardly with them at the end of it because I took it as not a slight against the victim, but a tension breaker. Human beings desperately need that release, and I empathized with them in the release that they found without feeling that they were being disrespectful.

    Casewise . . . I’m not sure if I miss the frequency of this empathetic tone. The episodes you mention I definitely felt the pain like you indicate we would. Plain in the Prodigy – the murder just seemed so senseless, Gamer in the Grease – the father and his rage to speak for his Autistic child, Shallow in the Deep – you’re right . . . the restoration of faces and the presentation at the end . . . without a doubt I feel for those. But if it were like this every episode, I think it would be overwhelming.

    It is an interesting observation to link the empathetic nature of the show to Brennan and her compartmentalization . . . will we see more painful cases now that her heart is on her sleeve, in some respects?

    I don’t know that I’ve really given a resounding answer to any of these questions . . . I look over my remarks and see them as kind of scattered and incomplete. Perhaps that is also an answer in and of itself.

    • I was crawling out of my skin at the end of Gamer in the Grease — I had just helped in a classroom with an autistic boy the year before, and all I could think of was him. I had this horrible irrational fear that it was going to be him. I don’t know why, but it was so overpowering, that empathy was so strong, it was overwhelming.

      And you’re right — they can’t do that every episode. It would be too much.

      And yes, I totally think that something will happen with Brennan in relation to her heart is more on her sleeve (although I think she has pulled back in two of the last three episodes). I seriously can’t wait to see more of that (but I like the “depressing” episodes, as you know).

  7. I think putting Hannah in the show is so strange, like you say CANDRE she really is so shallow and perfect written, it is almost a fake. Maybe that’s why we get hints “Babe in the Bar” – Booth said the chocolatier fell in love with a fake and also “Body in the bag” the counterfeit bags, they should have made her at least a little bit more emotional or even have something in her past, which she is hiding. (But if she is hiding it, we would not know.) Going to the extreme, maybe we find out someday that she is evil, but that would not look so good on Booth, he should have seen it, but love is sometimes blind. You know this from his relationship with Bones, his emotion are in the way to see that she loves him dearly. About empathy, I think the scene in the car does not quite feel right. First I thought that was funny and laughed, but then I thought, they talking about a dead man and they should have respect. But I tell you, if you in an emotional state, and I think not about the dead man, but about their feelings towards each other things can get out of control. My Mother told me once a story. She went to a funeral of a young man, a friend and while they were standing at the graveside and she looking down, the sun made a curl of a man in front of her, dancing in the sand and she exploded in laughing and had to leave the graveside and it had happen again in a church, when her sister said about the Pastor “why does he have such a strange voice” and both had to leave. Emotion are sometimes really hard to control, it does not always mean that they making fun of a situation or have no empathy. Your own grief, hurt, anquish. misery needs an outlet and laughing is also an emotion which sometimes takes over.
    But I agree with what was said, I like empathy on the show and even if you make the episodes a little bit lighter and sometimes funny, empathy will not be in the way and can be incorporated in the story too.

    • Yeah. That idea of breaking the tension is interesting — I remember on one of the S2 commentaries or DVD extras that HH said that the people who practice forensic anthropology that he met shocked him because they were making jokes over the remains. It’s a way to divert the stress of the case. Very good point.

  8. Nice, thought-provoking essay for a Monday, Owl. Thanks. 🙂 Your post kind of led my mind in two totally different directions, so I’ll try to briefly share my thought process behind both.

    1. In respect to the more recent decline in empathy-inducing cases on the show itself (or empathetic reactions vs. say, the slightly mean-spirited Prius scene from last Thursday’s episode) – I think it’s indicative of our growing lack of empathy as a society. It’s not just Bones, it’s everybody. It’s one of those chicken and egg conundrums in which it’s hard to tell if television sets the trend or merely follows it (does art imitate life or vice versa?). Personally, I know I laugh at some things now that I never would have laughed at even a couple years ago…and it’s kind of sobering to think about. I don’t want to lose my ability to hurt for someone who is in a hurtful situation – be it real or make-believe.

    2. In response to your question about whether or not we’ve ever had a strong feeling of empathy for a victim, culprit, or family member of a victim: the one I always come back to is Owen Thiel. I know I mentioned this back when we were discussing The Goop on the Girl during Christmas week, but I am always surprised by the intensity of my response to him, especially during the scene in Booth’s office. He’s in a unique position in that he’s not a victim, a family member, or even the culprit, but rather collateral damage. He inadvertently caused the death of the victim, but he didn’t KILL him, not in the traditional sense. And I can feel his pain and regret in that scene; his repentence and his almost desperate need for absolution (which Booth refuses to give). It’s part of what makes his speech at the end of the episode so very powerful, I guess.

    Anyway, sorry for the two totally different trains of thought. You’ve asked some great questions here. And since I live maybe 30-40 minutes outside Washington D.C., I think perhaps it’s time to plan another trip to the Smithsonian museums (it’s been awhile anyway)…Thanks for the tip. 🙂

    • Thank you — Owen Thiel partly inspired this post, actually. Goop on the Girl was probably one of those episodes that pulled my heartstrings the most.

      I think you’re right about us as a culture, actually. It’s sad.

      And yes, go! When I worked in DC over break, and I went past my old Smithsonian stop on the metro, all I wanted to do was get on the other train and go back to Natural History and see it for the third time.

  9. The actors have to do one heck of a job to allow the characters to move me. That’s the only way I can empathize. I’ve watched too much television and know its not real so I don’t get overly emotional most of the time. Its the characters feeling empathy or even struggling with their emotions that move me.

  10. Yep, my empathy for the victims has changed. I can’t pinpoint exactly how, but it has. I guess the boy that Brennan sympathizes with in “The Boy in the Bush” was one of my biggest tear jerkers. And the boy in “The Plain in the Prodigy”. My life has always been full of music (my mother was a pianist and music teacher) so it struck particularily hard when the victims playing of Claire de lune was described as sounding like a sunrise. I didn’t put my heart in a box while I was watching it all by myself.
    However, Brennan’s shielding of her own emotions has made me love the show all the more. Because when you do see that flicker of emotion, or tear, or other show of exactly how she feels, it seems all the sweeter.

    • However, Brennan’s shielding of her own emotions has made me love the show all the more. Because when you do see that flicker of emotion, or tear, or other show of exactly how she feels, it seems all the sweeter.
      YES. That is what has made me love Doctor in the Photo so much. Was that a powerful episode, or what? ED does such a good job at showing concurrent strength and vulnerability (as does DB) that you just feel ten times more empathetic when the character(s) are effected by a case.

  11. Awesome thoughts, Owl!

    1. I wouldn’t say my empathy has changed, just lessened. Looking back to the first few seasons I feel like there was many more memorable episodes that explored emotions and that empathy. Lately, it seems like there is a lot less about the victims as it is just solving the case. There are those few great episodes that you mentioned that came out in the last two seasons, but I can still name a lot more episodes from the first two seasons that will outnumber the ones of today! And slightly off topic, but I think some of it has to do with the fact that our heroes aren’t directly effected by the cases as they use to be.
    For example — the Gravedigger episodes.
    Those cases became much more real; we could empathize more because we were suddenly thrown into the situations the previous victims had faced, how they felt, and the emotional aftermath of such traumatic events(And of course lot of that has to do with the phenomenal acting of everyone on board). Suddenly I at least empathized with those victims and their families, because I was suddenly worried about people that I cared about who were stuck in horrifying conditions.
    But it was more than just the Gravedigger. Epps, for example, made these cases even more personal. But still, I don’t think it takes those cases only to make me feel. I think everyone does a great job in helping me feel a pang of empathy in each case.

    2. Yes. Yes I have. But I think in a way we all kind of have to. At least, studying Forensics has taught me that. If you get too attached or think about what happened too hard, it could easily make you fall apart, as we are human, and everything suddenly becomes harder when doing your job to achieve justice for the fallen and their loved ones. At least, I know it’s not hard to become paranoid in my own experiences. So watching this show has the same effect on me as it does when I read different cases and even look at the animal bones I have. Call me a sap but just thinking about those things moving about, having lives hurts my heart a bit. So in the same way, I find it almost easier to just pick up one bone at a time to study it — not all of them as a whole. So in the cases especially of kids or violent, intentional deaths, I become slightly depressed, so it takes Booth’s face and his speeches to pull me out of it and put my heart back “in it’s box”.

  12. Very interesting post, Owl, and that exhibit sounds fascinating.

    I think that part of what we are seeing as a shift in the number of cases that generate empathy for the victims is realistic in terms of the development of the core characters.

    What I mean by that is that is this: they have all had to figure out ways to deal with what they see on a daily basis. They are dealing with the absolute worst things that humans can do to each other. If they had not learned coping mechanisms, then the cases would eat them up and ultimately drive them out of their jobs.

    I think that development of coping mechanisms is most apparent with Angela because she is the civilian of the group. She goes from being on the verge of quitting because she can’t handle it in season one, to asking Brennan if she (Brennan) thinks that they sometimes forget that the bones in the lab are human beings in season five. That’s growth, she has put up walls.

    Brennan, Booth and Cam, they had those coping mechanisms in place because of the jobs they were doing before they came the Jeffersonian, so we don’t always see it with them. But even with the coping mechanisms in place, there are still going to be cases that get in behind their walls or inside their boxes and affect them. If they weren’t affected by the injustice of cases from time to time, and we weren’t able to see them process it, I think that they wouldn’t be as fascinating to watch as characters.

    You mention Brennan with stuff involving foster kids, but look at how Booth reacts in Bullet in the Brain to the death of the escort who was killed for access to her apartment. When he shows Mr Kent the picture, Booth’s hand is shaking and he his clipped and harsh in what he’s saying about her ibecause he is so angry about it. I think that in Booth’s mind he was dealing with it like this: Dead serial killer, well she had it coming; dead escort killed by someone Booth knows because of where she lived, that’s a whole different story and she deserves justice.

    I also think that the differences in how the cases affect us as viewers is realistic. Look at the news on any given day:

    ~ A gang member kills another gang member in a drug deal gone wrong and it might get a passing mention. A little kid gets killed in gang related violence and public outrage is immediate and loud.

    ~ A drunk driver crashes into a tree and kills himself, people shrug and say “at least he didn’t take anyone else with him”. A drunk driver crashes head-on into a car full of teenagers on their way back from the prom and kills one or more of them and it’s a tragedy that stays on the news for days.

    In the first part of both examples, people can detach and say “well, the victim’s actions directly contributed to his or her death.” In the second part of each example, the reckless and dangerous actions of one person directly caused the death of another human being. And I think that is, perhaps, part of what we see happening on the show; the circumstances surrounding the death have more to do with our reactions to it than just the facts of the case.

    I hope that makes sense.

    • That makes complete sense, thank you. 🙂

      I wrote this before Bullet in the Brain aired (actually, I wrote it the week before Doctor in the Photo, if that is any indication), and I definitely think you’re right about Booth’s reaction to the escort’s death.

      • You’re welcome! 🙂

        And wow, talk about planning ahead. And yeah, DitP is an excellent example of a case getting past Brennan’s defenses. Sometimes it just takes the right trigger.

  13. I read a few of the comments above and I am not sure I agree that the empathy has been gone since season 3. In season 5 we saw Sweets in The Bones on The Blue Line make a connection with a young man who then was killed in front of him and then we were presented with a blind man who loved someone he could never have and died because someone else resented his interference in their love life. I felt very sad for both victims. In The Mastadon in the Room , the victim was a toddler who accidentally ingested a wooden screw and died. Here, I fet sorrow for the mother and child. I felt great sympathy for the doctor who died in The Doctor In the Photo. She so desperatley wanted to feel something and in the end died trying to feel anything. Some of the earlier shows presented me with unsympathetic characters (for instance, The Woman At The Airport:); but, their murder was solved and I found it satisfying enough. You take what you want from the show. I see sympathy where warranted and it doesn’t bother me if not all murder victims are worth feeling sorrow over. Not all murder victims are in real life.

  14. Very interesting post!! I very much enjoyed reading it and thinking about the implications. I have to say the victim I felt the most empathy for was the teenaged boy in “The Plain in the Prodigy” in Season 5. I loved that the murderer was just a thief and had nothing to do with the victim. It was so real and made his death all the more tragic and senseless. So, I do feel that the seriousness of the cases varies greatly, but I think it is more or less a steady ebb and flow throughout the years.

  15. Thanks for a great and thought-provoking post Owl. I think the empathy is still there just as much as always. If the victim’s circumstances or their family don’t cause the fans to be empathetic then the characters do. Yes there are light episodes every so often but even then there is empathy – like in Double Trouble we have to feel for the twin girls because their lives are so tragic or in Double Death of the Dearly Departed, we have to feel for the brother who tragically lost his brother and finds out that his mother killed him.
    My thought on making light of the victim in the latest episode is that it would have been inappropriate if they were making jokes in front of the family but as it was just B & B in the car, it was a great tension breaker. It is part of how they deal with the stress – just like how Hodgins talks to his bugs or creates an experiment where he sucks the creme out of a canoli or enjoys talking about feces a little too much! I love Hodgins!
    Anyway… I think the show has a good balance of fun along with the darker side of it.

  16. Hmmm. I understand both sides. I came in on season 5, so I don’t find that I struggle with the empathy question. I think it’s nice to use sparingly. It could also be a conscious decision on the writers’ part. Since we are dealing with all the tension and angst of the triangle, they might not have wanted to make the cases too heavy now. Also, since Booth clearly thought the victim was an idiot for being involved with so many women, I wonder if that was part of the irony.

  17. Owl, that was an absolutely beautiful post. Thank you.

    First of all, on the history note: History major, awesome! 17th and 18th century America…hey, that sounds like it would be a lot of fun to study. My interests lie a little earlier, Mesoamerica/etc before the Spanish came, but that period of history is equally as interesting. A while back, on a whim I decided to see how closely they were sticking to the Jeffersonian/Smithsonian thing, and if the Smithsonian even had some sort of Forensic Anthropology lab — I’m afraid I don’t know much about it, I’ve never been to DC before — so I went digging. I eventually found that site, and I…I saw the reconstruction of that boy and I couldn’t stop staring. I hope I’ll see him in person in the not-too-distant future, but even just as a picture and a story…it’s incredible. I can see why you would be mesmerized, certainly.

    The more historical elements of the show have always been some of my favorites. Maybe it wasn’t as poignant as The Shallow in the Deep or A Night at the Bones Museum, but The Man with the Bone was always one of my favorites. For one, hey, the guys spent the whole episode making idiots of themselves about Pirates and…it’s just…all of them, they got so much joy out of looking over the Pirate bones, over the whole thing, and I UNDERSTAND that. I could watch an entire series based on Brennan down in Bone Storage, as long as Zack and Goodman were there too. In TMWTB, I even felt empathy for the killer — here’s this guy, works so hard for something he believes in, really bonds with Hodgins (And you have to love the Flogging Molly behind their bonding scene; though they do have more historically-themed songs than that one)…I felt that empathy right up until he threatened to kill Jack. But um, I digress, because…yeah. I could go on for hours.

    The scene with Zack and Brennan, the little boy…it never fails to make me a little misty. Then again, so many of the first seasons episodes did. It does get a little more sparse after the third season, I guess, but at one point while I was re-watching seasons one and two, I had to take a little break. I mean, I was watching them several-per-day and in quick succession, but it was just almost too much. Every other case seemed to leave me sad, and it’s good! It is! It’s good that it can effect me like that, keep me up at night thinking…but it was hard. So I’m usually okay with the lighter episodes. The not-so-light end up being my favorites, but there’s a balance, and I’m okay with the balance. I can still find episodes that I empathized with greatly — Finger in the Nest, the victim was a good man, the He in the She, the victim finally found peace before being killed by a jealous woman, the victim’s son…Passenger in the Oven, the son was protecting his mother, lots of others after S3…maybe I empathize too much with the show, but I’ve never been lacking in that.

    I just re-watched Plain in the Prodigy tonight, and it still gets to me; I wept the first time I watched it, cried convulsively. Not this time, just a little trickle, but…it wasn’t in empathy for the parents. I didn’t really feel any for them. This kid, he had a God-given gift, but he loved his family. He loved his girl, and…it was wrong, it was horrible, but he was going to give up his gift. It’s really hard to put my own heart in a box. I’m not good at compartmentalizing, but I’m okay with that for the most part. It helps me. It helps me enjoy the show more, it helps me see history how I do, etc. I think you’re right, and Dr. Goodman’s right, though — the reconstructions do help, for most people. For me, though, it’s a matter of dignity, of being a person. They are people, as far as any other character in BONES is a person. They deserve the dignity of people seeing them for what they were, and giving them back their faces helps a lot. Telling their stories, what they did, where they lived, that’s all important too. But their faces are very important.

    At any rate…jeez, I rambled a lot. My apologies. I could go on, history and connecting with the show on a personal level are both subjects that I really love to talk about. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to, and for the great post.

    • The reconstruction is at eye level — I seriously was looking him (the Boy from Levy Neck) right in the eye…. I definitely recommend the trip.

      I love the not-so-light episodes as well — I think you’ve managed to mention almost all of my favorite episodes in your response, actually (Finger in the Nest was the first to make me mist up).

      How did I forget the history part of Man with the Bone? *headsmack* It’s probably because the end of that episode scares me so much (something about dark pits and the fear that Hodgins drowns really scares me). And I forgot Woman in the Tunnel! Also very history-oriented. Definitely gives you a new perspective when you walk down the streets of DC, that’s for sure.

      The Bones writers definitely have talent in making history accessible. I wish they would do more history-based episodes so much.

      • That sounds…incredible, I gotta say. He’s so lifelike, and…yeah. I just can’t imagine, but I really hope that one day I’ll see the exhibit!

        Hee! They’re all such amazing episodes, aren’t they? Finger in the Nest, yeah, I can definitely see where the misting up comes in. Who wouldn’t? Poor Ripley. I saw the bad guy in another show or movie or something the other night, and was almost tempted to dislike him on principle. 😉

        Oh, I totally understand that. I remember nearly hyperventilating the first time I watched that, because that’s…terrifying…to even think about. The rest of the episode is so adorable and awesome, though! And ooooh, yes, I forgot that one too. It fired up my inner Hodgins, who fancies that we’d do JUST fine down there wandering through the tunnels in search of hidden treasure. Silly brain.

        Wouldn’t that be great? They should really try to. I mean, I do like the more typical cases, but there’s nothing wrong with something historical every couple episodes! Makes things more interesting. Maybe I’m biased, though!

  18. That was such a beautiful post Owl.

    I think the case I feel the most empathy towards is “The Prodigy in the Parting”. The idea that a boy, who was finally free of all the pressures of his parents and religion was finally allowed to live out his dream, only to be killed by a thief while he was trying to protect what he thought was his friend’s most prescious possession. I feel that it is necessary for the empathy to be there, and I am always glad when Angela brings us back to humanity every now and then.

    One of the things that has always drawn me to Bones is the idea that these people tell and finish the stories of those people who were forgotten or just discarded as if they were nothing. Everytime Angela draws someone’s face she is giving them back their identity, their life, their story; Brennan can discern how a person lived, worked and played just by their bones, she reads their bones; and Booth won’t stop until he knows why. Every one of the squints works just so that they can finally complete the story of a person’s life the way it was meant to be, not a chapter short. And I love this. Every now and then they focus on it, such as in Shallow in the Deep, and I think if they did it too much the show would become very heavy. But everytime they do do it, I love it.

    Sidenot: I wish I could see this exhibition so much, pity that I don’t live in the US. I’ll go on the website… maybe I can convince my parents on our next holiday destination… hmmm haha

  19. Pingback: Everything and the So What? Theory « Bones Theory

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