I’m subbing in for Mandi this week. I’ll admit upfront: I’m a Bones latecomer. I once thought it was just another procedural, left over from the mid-decade glut of CSI rip-offs (like Crossing Jordan or Medical Investigation). But then my girlfriend got me into the Booth/Brennan supernova-hot chemistry. People compare them to past TV will-they-or-won’t-they couples like Moonlighting‘s David and Maddie, but their flirtatious one-upmanship more resembles the love-as-a-competition backbiting in classic Howard Hawks movies. Yes, half the dialogue on the show is scientific bio-babble; yes, the visual style is somewhere between monochrome noir and Law & Order handheld verité; and yes, each episode overflows with decomposed corpses. But in spite of all that, or maybe because of it, Bones is the most romantic show on TV.
And it’s an intelligent romance. Last night’s episode riffed on religion, teen sexuality, and the nature of artistry; heavy stuff, all debated with the wittiest banter this side of the CW. When a railway worker found a corpse and thought it was a deer, Bones deadpanned, ”Another example of our country’s deplorable education system.” For Bones, the only crime worse than murder is stupidity, which is why Booth gets under her skin: he’s a smart guy who enjoys playing dumb (”When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a hobo”).
After tests proved that the corpse had no access to modern medicine, Booth and Bones were off to a local Amish community. Bones provided some helpful social anthropology: the dead Amish teen was on his Rumspringa, a mandated societal furlough when Amish teenagers experience the modern world and figure out if they want to be baptized into the church.
Booth was skeptical about a bunch of sheltered kids going out into the world alone. (Sounds like a freshman dorm!) But Bones noted that an overwhelming number of Amish teens return to the church. ”How many baptized Catholics still practice in adulthood?” she asked, getting in an extra dig about the Pope’s hat: ”Quite ornate for a vow of poverty.”
The dead teenager was named Levi. His parents pointed the investigators to another teen on Rumspringa, whose room was filled with teenagers smoking weed and drinking six-packs of cheap beer and making out. (Sounds like a freshman dorm!) ”There’s nothing going on here, officer.” ”You’re holding a bong!” Bones wasn’t amused: ”This is not in the proper spirit of Rumspringa!” (Gotta love the Saxony inflection Emily Deschanel puts on that: sounds like ”RYOOM-Shprin-ga.”) The sight of an Amish girl wearing her bonnet while sloppily making out is easily the most surreal thing on TV since the FlashForward kangaroo.
Did Levi fall victim to the debaucheries of the modern world? Nothing so simple. Sweets assembled Levi’s rock collection – 52 white rocks and 26 dark – into a facsimile of a keyboard (and even air-piano’d the theme song from Titanic, which Hodgins claimed to hate, like everyone else who can’t admit how much they loved that movie.) Turns out that our dead Amish lad was a piano prodigy. But musical instruments aren’t allowed in Amish town.
Angela, Bones, and Cam watched a video of the dead Levi playing piano, while Angela tried to track his location. As usual, the tracking was ridiculously fast – all it took was the sound of a train whistle to find the exact address on Google Maps. But this scene played long and leisurely in an unsettling, moving way. It especially stood out considering how Bones usually zips along (my girlfriend, the expert, noted that scenes usually shift at what feels like thirty-second intervals.) There was a supreme confidence in the direction of this episode; full credit to Allan Kroeker, who also directed – nerd alert! – three Star Trek series finales.
A visit from Levi’s old galpal led the investigators to her brother. He seemed like a brute. (”Amish Amos” – sounds like a prizefighter.) But his one scene was surprisingly affecting. He had gone to Levi angry that his sister was being abandoned, but he found that Levi had a gift. ”He played something for me. I’d never heard anything like it. It was called ‘Clair de Lune.’ It sounded like a sunrise. Something that beautiful, I have to believe it came from God.” Like I said, heavy stuff!
There was some red-herring suspicion that Karen, Levi’s roommate, had jealously murdered Levi to ensure her spot at the Music Conservatory. But no, she wasn’t worried: ”My grandfather used to be a dean, and I’ve been taking private lessons there since I was six.” On any other show this would feel like extraneous detail, but Bones is great at sketching three-dimensional characters from a few choice words; from that one line, you got the sense of a whole life of driven talent and spoiled entitlement.
A few more tests on the skeleton revealed that Levi broke his own hand: he wanted to go back to Amish country, and didn’t want to tempt himself. Bones was disturbed: ”To destroy a gift like that for a girl or religion, it’s awful.”
”A Girl or Religion” could be the subtitle of the episode. The main subplot focused on Cam’s adopted daughter Michelle, who was starting to get physical with her boyfriend Perry (Helpful Angela noted, ”He’s a hottie!”). Cam’s internal quandary – how do I talk to a teenager about sex? – quickly became the main topic of conversation at the Jeffersonian. Said Clark, who spent the episode covered in dirt from bone-hunting, ”Working here is like working on The View.”
This led to the undisputed best TV scene ever, as Booth and Bones talked to each other about their First Time. Booth was 16 and in love; Bones was 22 (Or, as Booth put it, ”22!?!?!?!?”) ”It was an important decision,” she said. ”I gave it a lot of thought. I finally found a man who could provide a skillful introduction.” Booth, ever McCoy to Brennan’s Spock, said, ”The first time, you should be in love. Totally googoo for the other person.”
The murder plotline had a non sequitur ending: the killer was just a petty thief, a character so meaningless that we never even heard his name. (He didn’t even talk!) And yet, the killer’s anonymity felt meaningful in context: Didn’t Levi’s random murder somehow confirm the Amish suspicion about the ”English” world? But, as Bones argued, it was only in the outside world that Levi’s magnificent musical gift could come to fruition. ”Would their God really want them to deny their son that?” Bones asked. Booth had no answer.
In the final scene, they broke the Amish no-machine law (”I think God will understand”) and showed Levi’s parents video of their son playing classical music beautifully, and holy damn if the final shots didn’t move this recapper to tears: Bones and Booth leaning away from each other on the front porch, as the picture dissolves to the video of Levi, taking his hands from the piano and looking us straight in the eye with a freeze-frame smile.
All in all, a real feast for the brain and for the heart. What other show can question the world’s largest Christian church, make a joke about a cartoon rendering of the male member (”Why is it talking?”), and rhapsodize over the music of Debussy? Maybe Mad Men, but how many decapitated skulls have ever appeared on Mad Men?