The fall finale takes Booth and Brennan from a saloon to a hospital

By Kelly Connolly
December 11, 2015 at 03:48 AM EST
Jennifer Clasen/FOX

Bones

S11 E9
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  • TV Show
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The saloon in the first hour of Bones’ two-part midseason finale doesn’t have a mechanical bull — but the second hour makes you feel like you’ve ridden one. Talking about anything other than that last-minute twist (read co-showrunner Michael Peterson’s postmortem thoughts here) feels wrong, but if the journey is just about the ending, then why have we all given this show over 10 complete years of our lives? Let’s take the episodes as they come, poncho-wearing Aubrey and all.

A mild-mannered accountant by the name of Stanley is found murdered, and all of the evidence on his body points to a lot of time spent wearing cowboy hats around horses. Hold those horses: For better or for worse, we are not revisiting Pony Play. But Stanley did have a secret double life — every month, he made a name for himself (and that name was Slow Burn Stanley) at a weekend-long, role-playing, Old West-style shooting competition. What a gift. Booth and Brennan can smell the potential undercover op a mile away, but the lab can’t spare her; they’ve had to cut Daisy’s intern hours to make room in the budget for one of Hodgins’ toys. Aubrey offers to go in her stead (“I can play every great cowboy song there is on my guitar, and that could be helpful”), but Booth opts to go it alone. Guitars don’t impress him much.

Big River Buck’s solo trip to the Frontier Games is derailed when Brennan shows up anyway. What’s she doing here? “Being unexpected and exciting! And solving a murder, of course.” Being unexpected is now a top priority because someone (Angela) had to plant the notion in Brennan’s mind that Booth’s desire for a motorcycle means he’s getting bored with their marriage. Sometimes a motorcycle, Ange, is just a motorcycle. At least when Angela invents problems that weren’t there before, she’s got the common courtesy to try to solve them, trading her husband’s new equipment for Daisy’s overtime pay so Brennan can go have some fun with her man. She also volunteers to take Christine and Hank for the weekend, because Angela has baby fever.

While the Hodgins-Montenegro clan debates expanding, Brennan rolls into the saloon as Wild Card Wanda, easily her most natural undercover persona since Vegas. Sure, she pretends not to know Booth, which won’t make it any easier for them to collaborate, but the woman can really rock a side braid. Her accent is seamless. Best of all, Brennan finally has a chance to put her shooting skills on full display — and they might even top Booth’s. When he loses to his wife in the first round of the competition, Booth claims that he’s just trying not to raise suspicions, but Brennan thinks he’s covering for the fact that he isn’t used to old-timey weapons. This battle is on.

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If this whole episode is just an elaborate excuse to let David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel shoot each other competitive looks, I welcome it. Booth and Brennan are in their element trying to one-up each other; the only thing they love more than winning is watching each other win. Once Booth stops trying to keep a low profile, he rises to the top of the leader board in no time. “He’s cheating!” whines Glen, the cowboy trying to court Brennan. Brennan just leans back and admires her husband’s handiwork: “He’s not.” We’ve seen a lot of Brennan’s competitive streak lately, but something about it has always rung a little bit false because it’s been rooted in insecurity. This is more like it: Brennan is competitive because she’s confident, not only in herself, but also in Booth.

Anyway, should we solve this murder? Stanley had an eye on starting his own Frontier Games, which probably didn’t sit well with owners Franny and Luke Nicholson. He also had dirt on Luke: Stanley did the books for a company called Clementine Construction, which turns out to be Luke’s front company. When Stanley found out that Luke had been embezzling from his wife, he threatened to expose him. But Luke insists that all he did was hit the man, and the evidence suggests a lot more than one hit: There are 2,047 strikes on Stanley’s skull alone.

NEXT: Silence your cell phones

When Aubrey shows up at the Games — wearing a poncho and seizing the thinnest excuse to ride a pony — Brennan figures it out. Stanley was swung over the back of a horse, and the impact of the stirrup on his skull caused the repetitive fractures. The horse is Franny’s, but she has a hip injury; it was fellow competitor Sadie who tied Stanley to the saddle and rode his body out to the park after she’d shot and killed him. She was having an affair with Luke, who embezzled from Franny and gave Sadie the money for a ranch and a horse of her own. She killed Stanley because he knew, and she couldn’t risk losing the one thing she’d always wanted (the horse, not the man).

The men are getting shoved aside left and right today, sometimes literally. Booth plants a kiss on Brennan in the saloon, which Glen doesn’t appreciate, and while Brennan stands aside as the voice of reason — “I have free will, which means you can’t actually fight over me” — Glen starts a fight anyway. Booth and Glen are both disqualified from the Games, making Brennan the winner. In an act of goodwill, she buys her husband a bike that really should not count as a motorcycle, and when he refuses to be seen with either the bike or its striped helmet, Brennan claims it as her prize. “You want to win on a technicality?” Booth asks. Of course she does. Brennan loves technicalities — like how that bike is technically a motorcycle.

Meanwhile, Cam is having fun with her suave, globe-trotting photojournalist, but when Sebastian shows up at the Jeffersonian to ask if she wants to take a stroll, the boss pushes back. Cam isn’t in this for the walks, man. Just give her some hot sex, and get out of her silk robe. It takes a pep talk from none other than Daisy to convince her that it’s worth it to open up again after a loss — though let’s all agree that Sweets’ death is a much more serious tragedy than Cam’s breakup, and Daisy is being awfully generous to equate the two.

Just as Cam’s relationship with Sebastian is starting to find its footing, Arastoo re-enters the picture — and in true Bones form, their reunion is made possible by a tragedy. The second hour of this fall finale wastes no time in taking everyone to a dark place. A couple of skaters find a body in a parking lot and call it in; Hodgins finds a bomb in the dead man’s pocket, rigged to blow. Aubrey barely has time to yell at everyone to get back before it explodes.

Four cops die at the scene, but let’s get to the fate of the people we care about. (I mean…I care about everyone.) Booth, Brennan, and Angela are at date night, having homemade sauce and talking about how many more kids Hodgins doesn’t want, so they’re fine. Cam is in the clear; she’s far enough back to be out of the blast zone. Hodgins limps into the hospital waiting room to hug his friends; he’s sore, but he’s alive. Aubrey, who shielded Hodgins from the blast, is still in surgery.

But the chances of losing Sweets 2.0 so soon after losing Sweets 1.0 are slim, which actually works in the episode’s favor. There’s never a real risk that Aubrey won’t pull through this, so the hour never loses the sense that it must be building toward some other tragedy. Personally, ever since Brennan killed off Agent Andy, I’ve been harboring a totally irrational (right?) fear for Booth’s life, so don’t think I didn’t spend this whole episode watching him like a hawk. But it hasn’t been long since Booth and Brennan solved the murder of a magician, and I should have remembered: Misdirection is key.

NEXT: Wax on, wax off

The body belongs to a D.C. police officer by the name of Thomas Gallo. The fact that he was used to kill even more cops points to a killer with a definite grudge — which, in this climate, could be just about anyone, but the episode doesn’t go there. That’s probably for the best; Bones isn’t really the place for big-picture social commentary. What Bones does is individual relationships: It understands the way people act on each other until they start a chain reaction as powerful as that bomb.

Sometimes that reaction is well intentioned. As soon as he’s checked himself out of the hospital, Aubrey takes a page from Booth’s Big Book of Ill-Advised Martyrdom and comes forward as the lead on the case, intentionally painting a target on his back to draw the authority-hating killer out of the shadows. To quote Caroline, his actions are “severely shaded in stupid,” but Aubrey learned from the best: Booth was planning to do the exact same thing. Booth makes people want to risk their lives. It leads to a lot of pain, for him and everyone around him, but there are worse effects you can have on people.

Booth should know; he’s the child of an abusive father. His history with his dad doesn’t come up here, but it doesn’t have to. What matters is that he turned out to be the kind of person who makes people want to put their own lives in danger by doing good things, and our killer turned out to be the exact opposite. A second body turns up in the factory where Gallo became a bomb, and Hodgins finds paraffin wax on the back of the skull. The victim was hit on the head with a skateboard. The boys who found the body were also the killers; they called in the crime to cover up their involvement.

The stronger of the two personalities, Alex, came from an abusive home himself. His dad was a cop who took out his job frustrations on the family, so Alex took his out on everyone else. He even roped a friend into his schemes, and that is all we need to know. “I don’t need their names,” Caroline insists. “The world doesn’t need to know their names. These fools wanted notoriety, and I’m going to make damn sure they never get it.” When does Caroline Julian get to run this country? I’m never going to stop asking.

Everything starts to quiet down after the boys are taken into custody, and it feels like things might be back to normal in the Jeffersonian — which is to say that the only drama in the room is relationship drama. Arastoo, who flew in to help the minute he heard about the explosion, is rethinking the decision to put his career over Cam. He has a potential job offer in Berlin, but since Cam isn’t there, he isn’t sure that he’s all that interested. He asks her to think about how serious this thing is with Sebastian.

And that’s about when Angela lets out a piercing scream (Michaela Conlin can really scream) from across the lab. Hodgins is on the floor; they were on their way out when he just dropped. At the hospital, a doctor informs them that Hodgins suffered localized trauma during the blast, but the swelling around his spinal cord didn’t hit its worst until later. That swelling, combined with the aspirin Hodgins was popping, resulted in an epidural hematoma compressing his spine. This is all medical speak that I’m just parroting; when the doctor shares the news, I’m as lost as Angela. It takes Brennan, looking at the MRIs, to translate it all for Hodgins’ wife: He’s paralyzed.

He and Angela had just decided to have more kids! Is nothing sacred? This is a dark twist for Bones, which, 11 seasons in, has run out of tragic backstories and traded them for tragic stories. Watching Hodgins try to fight for his optimism all over again isn’t going to be easy. But he’ll get there. T.J. Thyne is a consistent, under-the-radar performer with a lot more talent than he usually gets to display, and I’m excited to watch him run with this. When he limped out into that hospital waiting room, 99 percent of me was relieved, and 1 percent was frustrated that Hodgins had been taken for granted — his life wasn’t even worth the suspense. There’s no room for him to be taken for granted anymore.

Bits and pieces:

Episode Recaps

  • “As many curly-headed little ones as you want.” I’ve never understood why Michael Vincent doesn’t have curly hair. They were about to fix that mistake! Look what you’ve done, Alex and unnamed friend.
  • Sara Rue’s behavioral analyst figures to play a role in helping Hodgins process all of this.
  • Brennan is the first one going in to hug Cam in that hospital waiting room.
  • “Why are we always the lucky ones?” “Because someone needs to be there to help the ones who aren’t.”
  • Hodgins’ skittishness around bodies and phones is a nice touch.
  • “So you’re like a real-life Clarice Starling.”
  • “Why else would you want a motorcycle?” “Why do birds fly, Bones? Because it’s cool.” “That’s not why birds fly.”

Bones

Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz play a will-they-won’t-they crime-solving duo.
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