Bones Watch (11/26): Xmas Marks The Spot
After last week's enjoyably plot-driven, twisty serial killer mystery (part of an ongoing, season-long mystery whose episodes I keep missing), this week's episode, "The Santa In the Slush," was a return to what Bones does best: character-driven, character-illuminating narratives whose mysteries are almost incidental MacGuffins. In fact, this is the most complete and enjoyable episode I've seen all year. From the small moment (Zach's slightly nervous turn on the line "Going home to Michigan!" when Cam asks him what he's doing for Christmas, Ryan O'Neal's crinkled, exhausted smile, the final shot of Booth's happy face) to the large (something about a mistletoe kiss), "Slush" pulls together the narrative and thematic threads that have sometimes felt strained and disparate this season and weaves them together into something bright, optimistic and, well, Christmasy.
As always, it took me awhile to follow the various clues and twists to the murder du jour-- like an old professor of mine, I have trouble following the mystery because I'm always distracted by a funny line or bright bit of camerawork. That said, I thought this mystery-- a department store santa is found dead in the alleyway snow-- was warmer, funnier and more coherent than several others this year. I also liked the way it illuminated the dynamic between Booth and Brennan: despite her firece anti-religiosity and suspicion of myth, Brennan's dedication to the evidence at hand leads her to believe that this is the corpse of the "real" Kris Kringle. while the normally ebullient, Catholic Booth finds his Christmas spirit on the wane because his son is going away for the holidays. The murder allows for a more relaxed kind of funny from the "squints" in the lab, who have fun with the mounting, absurd evidence (white beard, reindeer clove markings on the body, etc.). It also makes for interactions with the other department store Santas that is both hilarious and surprisingly touching (the look on Brennan's face as she's surrounded by a dozen Santas singing "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" is priceless).
The episode sets up a dynamic between three kinds of communication: truth, lies and magic. Is it worth making up stories to spare someone's feelings, to create a bit of happiness? Does telling a lie reveal a different kind of truth? And when we say "magic," what does that mean, exactly? Those are the questions any kind of fictional television show is grappling with on some level: the shape and purpose of narrative, the ways cameras and editing can both reveal and deceive. The tricky question is the one about magic, and for Bones it comes down to chemistry. That chemistry is most dramatically embodied by the kiss between Booth and Brennan under the mistletoe, but its most resonant example is the final series of shots between Brennan, Booth and her family. In that exchange, one really gets the sense of an ad-hoc family reaffirming their bonds, and of a sweet warmth that transcends boundaries of space, religion, myth and genre. Magic? Maybe. Magical TV? Without a doubt.