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Bones boss Michael Peterson teases the show's return: There will be temptations

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Patrick McElhenney/FOX

After a four-month hiatus, Bones returns Thursday to pick up the pieces of a shattering fall finale, which found Hodgins (TJ Thyne) paralyzed in an explosion. Since then, the series has been picked up for a 12th and final season — and it sounds like Hodgins is going to need every one of those episodes to adjust to his new condition.

In advance of the midseason premiere, EW caught up with Bones co-showrunner and executive producer Michael Peterson to get the scoop on how Angela (Michaela Conlin) and Hodgins’ marriage will weather this change, what’s next for Booth (David Boreanaz) and Brennan (Emily Deschanel), and the “chilling” inspiration behind the show’s next big serial killer.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It’s been a couple of months for Hodgins. Where do we find him when we come back?

MICHAEL PETERSON: We find him further along in rehabilitation. We really wanted to be true to anybody going through something like this and make sure he went through every stage of living through a tragedy. I would say in the first episode, we find him squarely living in the world of denial. He believes he’s going to walk again; he is optimistic; he is ready to get back to work, but we’re also finding him in this kind of dark place where, even while feeling optimistic, he’s not telling the truth to Angela. He’s not sharing things with her. So it’s really the setup for what’s going to be a journey for Hodgins. This is not going to be some miracle cure. Brennan’s not going to come up behind him and adjust a couple of vertebrae and he’s off running, but instead we’re really going to make him go through every single stage and challenge in his relationship with Angela — his relationship with Cam, Brennan, everybody in the lab — and have fans wondering what has happened to our lovely Hodgins. He’s really going to go through these challenging times, and TJ did a magnificent job portraying it.

How are we going to see Angela respond to all of this?

That’s going to be the scariest part, I think. Starting off this season, we’d introduced this new photographer character Sebastian, who — it’s kind of an alternate life that she was seeing here. It’s like: What if she had stayed the artist? What if she had been with an artist? Where would that have gone? That is what has entered her world at this time when all of the sudden her husband is in a wheelchair, and he’s not treating her well … There will be temptations.

Are those temptations primarily relationship based, or are there career-based changes that could possibly be considered as well?

It’s mostly going to be relationship, but one goes hand in hand. The reason why she is at the Jeffersonian is because of Brennan and because of Hodgins, so when you start challenging those relationships, then something might happen also career-wise.

Everyone on the team takes a slightly different approach to Hodgins’ recovery. Were any of those responses influenced by your research or by debates you might have even had in the writers’ room?

Absolutely. We went and did our research as far as what the exact spinal injuries are, and I always think back to why I was hired on the job in the first place. I think Hart [Hanson, creator] hired me because I have a lot of Booth in me. I mess up all of the medical stuff a lot, so I think he hired me so I could say the dumb thing, and then he could write down the correct thing and be Brennan to me. But it’s also just hope in the face of what seems to be hopeless. That can carry people through. It can have a great effect, and miracles can happen. So I certainly take the view of Booth, but what we’re giving Hodgins is serious. It’s not something you’re going to spring back from. This is really what makes Bones work in the first place: It’s heart and gut versus science, and everyone falls along those lines. We do get to have wonderful arguments about what’s going to happen, and we’re going to have a fun time playing it out. And I use the word “fun” loosely, because fun is also going to be heartbreaking at times.

Was there anything that you had to change on the set to accommodate Hodgins’ wheelchair?

Absolutely. As you’ll see in episode 12, we have an elevator all of a sudden. It was logistically like, “Well, we need something,” and that led to this scene where we could see the world from Hodgins’ perspective. Hopefully that will help the audience forgive some of the things that happen later. Every single thing that he used to be is gone, and for Hodgins, it’s tough, because he feels very blessed in the first place to be with Angela. She’s a 10, and Hodgins is a lovely man, but he’s not a 10. There’s always been a little bit of insecurity, and this plays into that even more: “Am I deserving of her?” There’s a weird way of arguing with someone you care about as a way to, if you love someone, set them free. I think that’s a lot of what his subconscious is telling him. “I’m not worth it. I’m a weight. I’m dragging you down. And I’m going to be mean to you — I don’t have it in myself to say goodbye, but I can be mean enough that I’ll make you say goodbye.”

Hodgins had a lot of anger management issues in the beginning of the series. Are there any old moments or scenes from the early seasons that you or TJ have gone back to in order to chart his growth and see how he might respond to this?

There have been a bunch. There was one episode in particular [season 4’s “The Finger in the Nest”]: Hodgins was interacting with some FBI techs, and he was just treating everybody like s—. I think the FBI tech even points it out. And I had grown to love the character so much over the last 10 seasons that I had almost forgotten how challenging he was early on. You watch that again and you’re like, “This is fun. Let’s get some more of that back.” That was one episode that I was watching, and then the other one was the 100th episode, where we’re looking at the first case that they were ever on, and Hodgins has got this rubber band on his wrist, and he keeps snapping it every time he gets angry. You see this internal struggle that he was having. He really softened once he got with Angela, but now that he is questioning whether or not she should have to suffer to be with him, all this old anger is coming up, and it’s actually coming up bigger than ever before. We wanted to return to the old Hodgins, but we wanted to put a new face on it and to even heighten it.

Shifting gears a bit, we have a new serial killer coming up. The episode introducing the killer was inspired in part by the famously disturbing X-Files episode “Home,” correct?

Yeah, we do a little nod to it. The biggest inspiration there was the music. [“Home” features] “Wonderful, Wonderful” by Johnny Mathis, which happened to be my mom’s favorite song, so when she saw that episode she just cursed the stars. She’s like, “How dare you take something I love so much?” So for me, it was about finding something that also meant a lot to me … It’s this great juxtaposition of fear with something that is so lighthearted and wonderful, and the effect is just — I thought Randy [Zisk, director] did a great job. It’s chilling.

What can we expect down the line from this serial killer?

Episode 13 is nothing compared to what we have coming. We’re going to go darker, scarier. We will have episodes where you will want to wear a seatbelt. I started in this business writing horror … That was something that I wanted to get back to. We’ve certainly touched on the macabre, but I wanted to return to sort of a Hitchcock-esque [story]. This was Psycho; the next episode we’ll do is a little bit more Spellbound, perhaps, mixed with Psycho. That’s what we wanted to give the feel for: We really wanted to spook, and we also wanted to go to a villain who kind of sees the world like Brennan does. This is somebody who looks at skeletons and can see them as real people, and that’s Brennan, but she is the good side of this. But there is a very dark side to what she does.

We talked after the midseason finale about Booth and Brennan’s personal connection to the case: They were away from work the last time this killer surfaced. How is that going to affect their approach to the job?

The ultimate effect that it will have will probably not even be in this season but probably more in season 12. As season 10 ended, they were looking at packing it in, riding off into the sunset, and doing something else . The effect of this is that I don’t think they see the world that way anymore. This is what they’re supposed to do. If they leave, cases don’t get solved. So whenever we get to a finale, I’m not sure if we’re going to see them riding off into the sunset in the same way. This is an acceptance. It makes you go, “You know what? There’s guilt associated with not being here. We are who we are. We do this very, very well, and this is where we belong.” So it’s a very cruel reminder that this is what they need to do because lives are on the line.

What else is in store for Booth and Brennan in the back half of the season?

Nothing but goodness. We’ve got some great cases: Episode 17, we have Booth investigating the murder of a secret service agent and David kind of becoming a secret service agent in a way, so it’s fantastic. We have a hockey episode going on. David, as anybody who follows his tweets [knows], is a hockey fan to the Nth degree, and so David again gets on the ice, and we have some fun there. We’ve got Jeremy Roenick, big huge hockey star, who’s gonna be in the episode … And then we have one where we have a documentary-style episode, which we’re calling “Modern Bones.” It’s sort of our Modern Family version of it, where we’re breaking perspective a little bit, and it’s one of the funniest episodes I’ve ever seen in this show. It has a lot of heart to it, because we’re going to go behind the scenes at everybody’s houses, and we get to do the show from a different perspective. What it resulted in was fantastic, especially for Cam and Arastoo, as far as where they’re going to take their next steps.

Anything you can tease about that?

They’re a relationship that we want to keep moving forward … Last time we saw them, they were almost engaged, and we’ll be seeing them take further steps in a positive direction.

And Bones has been picked up for season 12. Are you looking toward that at all?

We’re excited … It really helps that we’re able to move toward a finale that is going to be one heck of a cliffhanger. It’s going to be epic. David Boreanaz is going to direct it. It really helped us move toward something great for the end of this season and prep for a final season which is going to give fans everything that hopefully they’ve wanted.

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