Bones Theory

Vintage Bones: The Woman in Limbo- Is Brennan Better Off?


Hello and Happy Monday!

Here’s a question that certainly can apply to more than just this season one finale (sidenote: Woot for completing a season!), but since this episode deals strongly with Brennan and her family, I think it’s worth asking here: Is Brennan better off because of her family experiences?

Russ tells her that she turned her back on him (he called her every year on her birthday, but she never answered), and she made herself a new family. We have talked about that idea being a shock to Brennan (in the “I have people?” category), but I think he is correct.

Would Brennan be as successful as she is if her family had remained intact? I think it supposes a couple of things. If her parents had been criminals AND kept the family intact…I’m not sure. If they had remained out of trouble and remained intact…possible. Her parents were pretty encouraging, it seems, but it’s hard to say.


Here is your B&B of the Day:


The “He is charming, and she lets him in” B&B

From The Woman in Limbo: Season One



24 thoughts on “Vintage Bones: The Woman in Limbo- Is Brennan Better Off?

  1. Wow, great question! I’m a little Monday morning fuzzy…but here goes 🙂

    In my “head canon” I would think that she would not be exactly the same person she is today. Would she still be successful? Absolutely. But would she have been as driven? I don’t think that she would. In the absence of her family, she surrounded herself with work, almost obsessively. She pretty much had no social life, and very little personal interactions. It became what she lived for. She ended up being so driven, she became the #1 in her field, and became an author. Without her abandonment, she would have still no doubt used her intelligence to become top notch (and still in anthropology as she’s always been shown to have an interest in it). But had her family remained intact, I don’t know that she would have pursued things as intently as she did.

    What about a scenario in which her parents were able to go “straight” and get out of the criminal biz? Or if her parents had eventually come clean to Russ and Tempe about who they really were? Would she have become angry? Resentful? Chosen a different path altogether? (Obviously I’m speculating about an imaginary situation with imaginary characters, but still…) Because if she had become a rebellious teen maybe because of her parents’ profession…or maybe tried to get into a life of crime herself…with her intellgence, she might have been good at it!

    Never thought about this before, great topic! 🙂

  2. Is Brennan better off because of her family experiences?

    Hmm, I think it depends on your definition of ‘better off’.

    Financially? Perhaps. She would still be a genius, of course, but her work might not have taken on the all-encompassing role it did if she was more fulfilled in other areas.

    But emotionally, definitely not. The abandonment of her parents had serious and far-reaching negative impacts on the emotional side of Brennan’s life. She might never have recovered had it not been for the team and, more specifically, Booth. Even with that support, it’s taken 7+ years for her to find some sort of closure and subsequent happiness.

  3. Brennan’s drive came from the abandonment– to make something out of her life, to give her something to depend upon. While she’s gathered a family around her, a makeshift family centered around her work, I could honestly see her “divorcing” herself from them and moving on to another institution. She took root at the Jeffersonian and she made her life and made sure that she’d never be “abandoned” again. By being the best, by being a novelist, she would never be cast aside or forgotten.

    I do think that if she followed her parents and had been on the run with them, she probably would never have been the star at the Jeffersonian. She might have been successful, she might have landed elsewhere. But she wouldn’t really have been as driven to never be forgotten again. Her drive might have come from a different place– a need to become legitimate. Yet how her shady past with her shady parents would have gone is anyone’s guess. I do think that if she followed them into a life of crime, she would have been a master criminal. Perhaps not a murderer, but certainly a master thief. She’d out-Bond, out-McGyver, out-do just about anyone. That would be interesting to watch, it really would.

  4. I believe that professionally, she would be right where she is.

    She already had a fascination with the dead so I think her career path was set.

    She was already uncomfortable socially (“Marco Polo”).

    She was already a genius.

    I think her career would have traveled pretty much the same road but her personal interactions would have been different. Would she have made a new family out of the people at the lab if she had a happy home to go back to? mmmmm, maybe not. I think part of what drew her to Angela was the desire to have someone in her life with whom she felt that particular bond of closeness.

    Did she need to be alone and damaged to find Booth? There, I think, the answer is yes. Would he have been so drawn to her if she hadn’t needed rescuing? Would she have been so fascinated with him, long term, if she hadn’t realized they both carried scars? I wonder.

  5. When I first saw the title of this post, I immediately thought of when Max told her (before driving off with Russ) that she does better without him and Russ does worse. But that doesn’t happen until later, anyway.

    I don’t know about better off, but I think the old adage “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” holds true here. Brennan isn’t what one considers to be fragile, but then again she is. (Maybe it has something to do with imperviousness/strength.) She was deeply hurt when her parents abandoned her and not really having friends outside her family meant she was truly alone and an outsider until Booth helped her recognize what she had with him and the squints. She could have kept in touch with Russ, but she was very angry with him. So she has emotional scars that have a negative affect on her personal relationships. She is very confident in her professional success, but underneath are personal insecurities. Even Booth wanted more for her in life (love, happiness, purpose, a dance) than she thought she could ever get. She got more of her self-worth from her high IQ – that’s what she values. It frustrates her when she comes across situations her high IQ doesn’t actually give her an advantage. I think she still struggles with the “What kind of person am I?” question, but I hope eventually she begins to see her worth outside her work.

  6. Oh, I also wanted to add – how gorgeous is ED in this episode? It’s like in every scene she’s just – Wow.

  7. This ep has some wonderful scenes. I’m esp partial to the scene in the barn when she cries and keeps saying “I’m Temperance Brennan….” I also love when she realizes it could be her mother and when Booth tells her “Temperance, go home.” There are a number of other moments as well, but those are my tops.

    I think Brennan would have been very successful at some intellectual endeavor. She’s too smart and too driven. While some of that drive comes from her abandonment, some of it clearly comes from Max and, I assume, Christine. I do think, however, that the abandonment scarred her emotionally, and, were it not for Booth, she would still be almost totally alone with temporary partners for servicing her biological urges. I also don’t think she’d have come to realize that she wanted a child. Whatever it was that drew Booth to her, he made it his business to help her have the parts of life she had given up hope of ever having. Thankfully, he loved her enough to have kept banging his head against that stone wall around her heart until she finally let him in. But, it almost didn’t happen.

    There are some fanfics that deal with what would have happened without Booth. While I think they are usually overly melodramatic, I think that there is a ring of truth that she would never have connected with anyone in the way she has connected with Booth. That would have left her a very sad character, if not in her own eyes, to anyone looking at her, despite her “success.”

  8. This episode is, to this day, my favorite season finale of the whole series. It is, as I’d said in the review I wrote for it in Obsessed with Bones (, the episode that took Bones to the next level for me, both in itself as a show and for me personally in the way I felt for it. And I agree, MJ, ED is wonderful in it, and not only when it comes to looks…
    To get to your question, Sarah… I guess it depends on which part of her personality and life you focus on. Emotionally, I don’t think she is better off at all, or at least she wasn’t for many, many years. This feeling of abandonment and that people can’t be trusted, for instance, might be a lot less powerful now, but I don’t think it will ever completely go away. Professionally, I don’t know if she’s better off: she was a genius since back then, loved science(largely thanks to her father’s influence), was a bit of a loner at school.. I thnk she would have become a squinty anthropologist anyway. She may have not spent so many hours of her life in Limbo (sorry, bone storage!) all these years, though, if she had a rich family/emotional-in-general life to go back to. She might have also not have devoted so much of her time into writing the books that made her a famous author; a day has only 24hours, and she might have chosen to spend some of these hours going to the park with her brother to jog, making Sunday lunch with her mum, talking about science with her Dad… So it’s all a chain reaction really, I guess. And all those theories of course take as a given the fact that her life would have gone on smoothly, with her parents’ real identities never discovered and them never going back into trouble… so there are a lot of assumptions to be made. And then there’s the whole issue of “is it worth it?”. Even if we assume that she wouldn’t be a famous author if her parents hadn’t left, someone could say that she would still be better off, because family is more important than books and fame and 7-figure cheques. And we can’t really know what Brennan herself would say on that.
    Then there’s a next step to that, which is, would she have been better off if Russ hadn’t left her(even if her parents had gone)? Of course he had a troubled youth, and he’s still struggling at this point, in this episode, and we don’t know if he would have been a good carer for his sister. He himself says that everybody was telling him his sister would be better off without him. But if we remember the ending scene of Mayhem on a Cross… can we really say he was right?
    As I’d said in that review, I think when Russ says she “turned her back on him” he’s mostly right, even though I think it was mostly a subconcious way of emotional self-preservation for her, not something intentional meant to hurt him. I don’t think she conciously tried to build a new family either, I think it was just a combination of coincidence in meeting them plus events that brought them closer; and she’s very lucky to have the all, as she fully realises here (her thank you to them melts my heart every time).
    And what about Booth? Would she have met him? And even if she had, would they have the relationship they have now(and all these years before) had her character and personality not been shaped by these family events? And if they had met and been together, would their connection be the same on all levels, if they didn’t share this level of understanding that stems from their troubed family experiences?
    I’m pretty sure, though, this moment that I’m so, so fond of wouldn’t have happened in that case:

    Brennan: […] mom and dad disappeared and Russ took off. Suddenly, no one cared where I was. I miss that. Someone caring where I am all the time.
    Booth: [from downstairs] Bones? Bones! You up there? Come on. Let’s go. Chop-chop. I found the Agent that was assigned to your parents’ case.

  9. I believe she could have greatly benefitted from growing up with especially her mother. Her mother obviously would have (and wanted) to teach her things about life that she now had to find out in ways that deeply scarred her emotionally. I have to believe their parents would have kept away from crime for their children.

    I find it curious that almost all strong lead women on television are motherless. Think about it. Beckett’s (from Castle), Jordans (Crossing Jordan), Lisbons (The Mentalist), and Eames’ (Criminal Intent) mothers were all killed when they were young. Mac’s (JAG) mother abandoned her, Ziva (NCIS) doesn’t seem to have a mother. Buffy, Xena, Lilly Rush (Cold Case), and Olivia (L&O S.V.U.) all lose their mothers during the run of their shows. (If you dig deeper you will find more.)

    I guess female characters are more exiting when they don’t have mothers. Or else all these creators have ‘mother in law issues’ or something 🙂

    • That’s interesting, botjes, about the female characters. I don’t watch many of the shows you mentioned so I didn’t know much about those characters. Maybe its just that human angst creates interesting TV. I can think of male characters that all have issues as well. We know Booth’s issues, Gibbs from NCIS lost his wife and child, Jack from Without a Trace’s mother committed suicide…there are plenty of scarred male characters too.

      I’m guessing the writers are either drawing from personal conflicts or stories they’ve heard from others. Human conflict is interesting and compelling. If the team just did straight up forensic work, went home, watched TV, and went to sleep, then who’d watch?

      Me, personally, I like to see when these flawed characters find happiness…and that’s why I’m loving season 7. B&B have really hit ups and downs together, and to see them get to experience some happiness is super great. 🙂

      • I also think it’s easier to write compelling stories from tragedy than from happiness, and you can drag out angst longer because viewers (and readers – i.e., the amount of angsty fanfic) will stick around in hopes of a happy resolution.

        Taking a parent away is the easiest way to explain adult disfunction. It’s not the character’s fault – s/he lost his/her parents!!

      • Hmmm. Interesting thoughts. I guess there’s not much of an audience for drama/conflict-free television. If your life is free of drama/conflict, it’s a safe way to get it but not have it be a part of your life. If your life isn’t free of drama/conflict, you can’t relate to the characters.

        Drama and conflict are strong forces. It tears people apart or brings them closer. It tears a person down or strengthens them. We watch to see which way it will go.

      • It’s not just television, or even just adult fare–by which I mean grown-up, not porn;-)–that so often leaves characters without one or both parents. Take a look at Disney movies. Jasmine, Belle, Cinderella, Simba (The Lion King), Ariel, Tiana (for the bulk of the movie, anyway), Tarzan, Snow White, etc. all have lost at least one parent. When I was in high school I had a teacher describe the Lion King thusly: his uncle murders his father, runs him off, and then shacks up with his mother–how is this appropriate viewing for kids? The only major Disney characters I can think of that have both parents are Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel, but they were both raised apart from them. Andy in Toy Story might have a dad, but I can’t recall ever seeing him, and Andy isn’t the focus of the movies anyway. Anyway, I guess the point is happiness isn’t an interesting story, it’s the end of the story. And losing a parent is a time-honored way to make a story more interesting.

      • After reading MJ’s comment mentioning going from tragedy to happiness, I had another thought. Emotions follow the law of contrasts. (I just made that up, but it has to do with relativeness.) How could we say we know what happiness is if we never knew what it meant to be sad? The higher and deeper the crests and dips of our feelings, the more strongly we feel them.

      • Andy’s mom is a lesbian who conceived her children by invitro – you didn’t know that? 😀

  10. MJ, sometimes I wish there was a Like button on here. Just imagine the thumbs up 😉

  11. Pardon the interruption for this Emergency (not really) Broadcast Alert:

    If you’re a fanfic writer and want to participate in the Secret Cupid challenge, please let me know. I’m razztaztic on

    Now, back to discussing Toys Without Parents . . .

  12. Nancy Drew also was motherless.

    I read somewhere that the tendency for female characters to be motherless, rather than fatherless, ties back to the idea that the mother is usually more protective of the children. She’s the one to grab the Bandaids and the Bactine for their scraped knees, while dad is the one encouraging the kid to go ahead and try something that’s likely to get the kid killed.

    If Mom were alive, she wouldn’t let the kid ride her bike without a helmet on, while Dad’s the one ignoring the medical research about traumatic head injuries resulting from bicycle accidents wherein the rider wasn’t wearing a helmet, and tells the kid that she doesn’t have to wear one.

    Dennis Leary was interviewed once about his relationships with his family and kids and one of the questions that he was asked was, ‘which of you parents, you the dad or your wife the mom, is the one who takes the kids to their doctors appointments more often?’, and he replied, ‘Oh, heck if it were up to dads, the kids would probably never get taken to a doctor! You know guys, the kid’s arm gets severed and the Dad’s like, ‘Just shake it off, you’re fine, just shake it off'”.

    Exactly. That’s why the female characters are motherless. Only without a sensible mother around telling her to be careful and not do anything too reckless is it realistic for these female characters to engage in the exciting and dangerous adventures that they do.

    With male characters, that dynamic doesn’t exist to nearly as much of an extent (the mother telling the boy to be careful and not get himself hurt), because although moms DO say that same thing to their sons as to their daughters, the boys’ fathers routinely override and disparage the mothers’ concerns and conveys to the boys that one of the hallmarks of maleness is to disregard and even openly defy female concerns for safety and carefulness.

    In contrast, for a boy to be fatherless, is for a him to lack that female-defying male-role-defining parent to tell him what a man is supposed to be like and how he should become a man as he grows up.

    Thus, writers are more likely to have a boy become fatherless in order to portray his conflict with learning how to be a man, while they are more inclined to make future-heroine little girls motherless, so that their mothers won’t restrain them from engaging in adventures and won’t protect them from their fathers’ carelessness.

  13. that seems a bit sexist in a way, quarterbreed. seems to imply that all men are reckless, idiot fathers, while the women are smart and caring. my dad did the cooking and many domestic things, and both my parents were equally sensible and strict, so i wasnt allowed to do dangerous things. i look at b&b specifically as bein mg equal as well…in that both of them will be watching out for their child. i dont think you can always draw a gender line.

    • Then you misunderstood me. I was referring to a broad-based mindset that I’ve noticed generally in literature and other media.

      I was “very specifically speaking in generalities” and was in no way implying that these behavior points were applicable across the board to all men and all women.

      I was the parent who, when our six year old climbed way-high up in our front-yard tree, replied to his query, “Mommy, is this as high up as I’m allowed to go in this tree?” with, “No…see where that branch right above your head pushes out from the main tree trunk? When the bottom of your gym shoes on standing on that branch, then THAT’s as high up in the tree as you are allowed to climb.”

      I’m also the parent who instructed our six-year-old that an absolute iron-clad law of tree-climbing is, “Always have at least three points of contact with the tree at all times, i.e., two feet on a branch and a hand holding a branch or trunk while the other hand is reaching for the next hand-hold, or else both hands holding onto a branch or trunk, with one foot solidly on a branch while lifting the other foot to its new position.”

      I am also the parent who took him spelunking when he was 2 1/2 years old. (I’m a twenty-five year member of the National Speleological Society.) But when I took him spelunking at age 2 1/2, I used lots of webbing to create a combination rappler’s seat-harness and upper body chest harness and I had a ten-foot section of webbing attached to this body-harness which served as the leash that I kept hold of at all times, so that he couldn’t run off willy-nilly.
      Meanwhile, my husband is the horse’s patootie that tells the kids that they don’t need to wear helmets while riding bicycles, despite the fact that his uncle is a physician who specializes in rehabilitation therapy and who has told us some real-life instances of people getting horribly injuried in bike accidents while not wearing helmets.

      • Oh ok, I guess it seemed like it was all from your point of view. I didn’t get the connection that you were saying it was others’ perceptions.

        Still, there are plenty of flawed male characters on TV. Like I mentioned above, Booth’s issues, Gibbs whose wife and child died, Jack from Without a Trace’s mother having killed herself, there’s Sweets’ foster situation (there are many others but I don’t want to write an essay!)…so I think the drama is on both genders because drama creates interest, which hopefully creates ratings, and so on. If everyone got along perfectly, worked well, and had no background issues, who’d watch?

  14. i apologize for my grammar errors. typing on a phone 🙂

  15. Actually, I guess that I was mostly latching onto the Nancy Drew example that I’d led off with.

    Nancy Drew, unlike the other characters both male and female referenced by yourself and others, seemed to be well adjusted and didn’t seem to particularly have any issues deriving from being motherless.

    She seemed to be motherless pretty much just so that she could run off into dangerous and adventurous situations, which probably wouldn’t have been possible if she’d had a mother riding herd on her.

    You are correct that the other characters cited by yourself and others do have various psychological trauma associated with their loss of their mothers, which provides greater dramatic opportunities for their storylines.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s