Bones finale recap: The Nightmare Within the Nightmare
Forget the stages of grief — I’m more interested in the stages of “Bones just DID THAT,” which I’m still rocketing through even after watching this episode a second time. Bones just did THAT. After eight full seasons, Zack is back. And he might be a killer. I’m guessing that he isn’t, but at the very least, it looks like he just kidnapped Brennan. Did I mention that Zack is back? However you feel about his character, it’s a lot to process (which is why we’ve got interviews with Eric Millegan, who plays Zack, and EP Jonathan Collier to help make sense of what just happened).
But it’s been eight seasons, so let’s start with a refresher. At the end of season 3, Zack Addy — intern-turned-doctor, awkward genius, and sometime back half of a cow — was revealed to be in cahoots with Gormogon (or, as Zack called him, “The Master”), a cannibalistic serial killer who targeted members of secret societies. Zack told Gormogon where to find one of his victims; when Booth and Brennan put it all together, Caroline struck a deal to place him in a secure psychiatric facility rather than prison. Early in season 4, Zack admitted to Sweets that he’d never actually ended a life. He only confessed to murder because he believed that helping a killer was the same as killing.
On paper, none of this looks good. I’ve tried to explain my soft spot for the kid to people who don’t watch the show, and “he didn’t actually kill a guy” isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. But in its delicate handling of his exit, Bones made it clear that Zack would always be the team’s misguided little brother. The end of the season 3 finale found Brennan gently pointing out the flaw in his logic: Zack agreed to help a killer because he believed that getting rid of secret societies would be good for humanity, and the human experience was worth more than a single life. But he also risked his whole plan in order to protect one life, Hodgins, from an explosion.
Watch the way Brennan rests her forehead on Zack’s as he cries, and you’d be forgiven for still caring about him, or at least appreciating how much the team loved him. And they never got the full story: Sweets wound up taking his secret to the grave. We’ve seen Zack twice since his confession, but never in real time: one appearance came in a dream sequence, the next in flashback. Even the moral of his story — that there’s a danger in being too rational — wasn’t explored as fully as it could have been.
It’s hard to argue with the fact that Zack deserves closure. I just never expected closure to look like this. Like grief, the first stage of watching this episode must be denial, because even with hints that Zack was involved everywhere, it took me too long to pick up on them. Hint No. 1: It’s Cam who gives this killer a nickname. The puppeteer who terrorized our team earlier this season is back, and Cam has dubbed him “Puppito”: “the little puppet.” She would pick a cute nickname, wouldn’t she? The situation is less cute: A skeleton is found in a future STEM school, arranged in front of a classroom of horrors. She’s wearing Brennan’s clothes.
The victim is Melissa Goodman (Hint No. 2: She shares a last name with the team’s first boss), and she doesn’t fit the profile. The killer gravitates toward strong parental figures, but Melissa has two DUIs and was fired from her last job for embezzlement. Basically, she was killed because Puppito could style her hair like Brennan’s. Melissa was seeing a therapist, Dr. Brandon Faulk, for her alcoholism, but the treatment shifted when she started having nightmares that seemed to foreshadow her death. She’s not the only one.
Brennan hasn’t been sleeping well lately, and her dreams have taken a turn for the disturbing — really disturbing. In one Inception-style nightmare, a burned figure hunts Brennan in a darkened lab. When she jolts “awake,” Brennan finds Wendell with a cigarette tucked behind his ear, just as he did when Zack broke out of the hospital. That’s Hint No. 3. Hint No. 4? Both of Wendell’s hands are badly burned. He takes Brennan’s hand, touches her face, and says (Hint No. 5! HINT NO. 5!), “If you knew what I knew, you’d be so proud of me.” That’s almost exactly what Zack said when Brennan found out the truth. She wakes up for real and seeks help from Faulk because he called psychology a “soft science,” and that’s all Brennan needs to trust someone.
NEXT: “I’m from Michigan”
Booth wants to tag along, but opening up to psychology is hard enough for Brennan; she doesn’t need her husband to witness it. Faulk starts the process scientifically, asking Brennan how she catalogues injuries on bodies that are brought to the lab. “I typically begin with trauma that is most readily apparent,” she answers, catching the deeper meaning. (Emily Deschanel does great work capturing Brennan’s fear and vulnerability in this episode.) As Brennan starts in on her apparent trauma, the rest of the team keeps following the evidence.
Hints No. 6 and 7 come courtesy of the cassette tape left with Melissa’s body, which recreates an old songbook in order. The book was published in Michigan, so the killer is probably from the area, and he was probably born after 1978. The bones lead to hints No. 8 and 9: The killer knows human anatomy, but his hands are weak. Zack checks all of these boxes, but no one is going there yet, and Aubrey has a different suspect anyway. Puppeteer Graham Reynolds comes from an area of Virginia that matches the soil found on Melissa’s shoes, and he just reopened his shop after two years in jail for attempted murder.
Booth and Aubrey pay Reynolds a visit in his creepy shop, the basement of which is definitely the killer’s home base — right down to the puppets wearing our team’s faces. Booth grabs Reynolds, but all he needs is one look at the guy’s psych profile to know he didn’t do it. Like George Gibbons before him, Reynolds is a weak personality who’s been preyed upon by a strong one. (I seem to remember Caroline saying that about Zack once.) Reynolds met the killer once before, but he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and gloves (subtle hint No. 10), so he can’t help with identification.
Booth and Aubrey go back to the evidence, questioning why the killer targeted Melissa to begin with. Leaving her body for the team to find did nothing but strengthen Brennan’s determination — but maybe that’s the point. She wouldn’t have been willing to seek help if it weren’t serious. Faulk knew Melissa, and he’s got Brennan alone in a room, which is all the evidence Booth needs to charge into his office. Booth is convinced that the doctor fits the profile, but Brennan disagrees, so she heads back to the lab to prove her husband wrong. No one else is there.
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Someone sent the team an email from Brennan’s account, telling them to call it a night and meet her at the Founding Fathers. The idea that Brennan would ever take a break mid-case should have been a red flag, but it’s nice to think that she’s loosened up enough for them to buy it. As Brennan and Angela sort out crossed wires over the phone, Brennan looks up. “I know who sent that email,” she says. “He’s here right now.” She assumes that she’s in the middle of another nightmare, but the fact that she isn’t afraid is still hint No. 11. By the time the rest of the team gets back to the lab, Brennan is gone.
NEXT: Cam did not see this coming
Booth intimidates Faulk into giving him the notes from Brennan’s session, and the team works through the evidence, now conveniently laid out on a whiteboard that might as well scream “ZACK.” The killer is musical, with off-the-charts mathematical and computational linguistics skills. He’s familiar with robotics, or maybe applied engineering. Booth puts it together when he reads about Dream Wendell’s burned hands (imagine how differently this could have gone if Brennan had just told Booth about the dream first). “Someone who used to work at the lab,” Booth realizes. “I know who it is.” He runs, leaving Cam to sigh, “Oh no. It can’t be,” as I hit the second stage of watching this episode: excitement. We’re talking about Zack again. Look at all of this continuity!
Ignoring the protests of an orderly (who knows him), Booth barges into Zack’s room in the psychiatric wing (he knows right where it is), where he finds a bed full of nothing but books. Meanwhile, in a dark room, Zack tells Brennan that it’s time to wake up. “Dr. Brennan,” he says. “It is good to see you again. You and I, we have so much to talk about.” It doesn’t sound like he means it in the “old friends catching up” sense, and a scar on Zack’s forehead is visible through the shadows. What has he been through these past eight years?
I can’t gloss over frustration as the third stage of processing this finale — Zack was ignored for so long, and this is how he comes back?! — but that turned into bargaining pretty quickly. The timeline doesn’t add up: This killer has been at it for at least a year, but the orderly acts like Zack was accounted for a few hours ago. He could have snuck out to commit the murders (or worked with an apprentice, which, yes, would be fitting), but the point of the crimes was the killer’s need to live with these bodies all the time, and someone would have noticed skeletons in old-timey clothing strung up around the hospital.
Everything is pointing to Zack for a reason. Hodgins realizes early in the investigation that the killer is manipulating evidence; the soil on Melissa’s shoes has been planted. It’s possible that someone is framing Zack. It’s also possible that Zack, caught up in this situation in a non-murdery way, wanted to lead the team right to him. In any case, Bones is too hopeful to kick off its final season by making the team’s little brother into a killer who spoon feeds porridge to skeletons. Right?
The first stage of next season is closure, and I’m ready.
Bits and pieces:
- This episode is so big that Hodgins has some feeling in his legs again (that feeling is searing pain), and it’s just a bullet point.
- Has Booth been visiting Zack? Has Brennan not been visiting Zack?
- “I’m afraid of clowns.”
- Booth is not here for shadow puppets. “You need to stop with that.”
- “It’s a fashion statement.” “No, you look like a young Bill Walton. No one wants to look like Bill Walton.”
- “If you value your life, or, at a minimum, your appearance, I advise you to stop advancing.”