Bones recap: 'The Radioactive Panthers in the Party'
Bones’ third-to-last episode ever opens with a bad decision: a guy driving to New York to tell the girl he briefly dated, who left him over four years ago, that he wants to get back together. That should go well. And I can’t shake the feeling that Bones’ third-to-last episode ever ended with a bad decision, too.
But we’ll get to that. First, here’s a good decision: bringing back Betty White. At the diner, Booth and Brennan run into none other than Dr. Mayer, all decked out in a Jeffersonian lanyard. Brennan assumes the good doctor is here to help with the team’s latest case — a body fell from an overpass and landed right in our lovesick pal’s windshield, because the universe wants him to turn around — but it turns out Dr. Mayer has hung up her lab coat. “I never thought of you as one to retire,” Brennan says, speaking directly to Betty White on behalf of the world.
Brennan’s instincts are right. Dr. Mayer hasn’t retired; she just woke up one day and realized that her passion for forensic anthropology was gone. She’s studying prairie dogs now! May we all be even half this cool. Brennan is happy for Dr. Mayer, but all this talk of losing passion for the work obviously sticks with her, and it’s clear right away that someone is going to be on a new path before the hour is up. Call it Chekhov’s Career Disillusionment. As if this brand-new fear in my gut weren’t enough, Booth and Brennan don’t even take Dr. Mayer up on her invite to join her for lunch. I know they like their jobs, but when Betty White, who is eating alone, tells you to eat with her, YOU SIT DOWN AND YOU EAT WITH BETTY WHITE AND YOU LISTEN TO HER. YOU LISTEN TO BETTY.
At the lab, where Brennan should not be but is, Wendell is struggling to come up with a dissertation topic and ohhhhhh no, it’s going to be Wendell, isn’t it? He’s going to be the one whose heart just isn’t in this work. It’s already so obvious. Wendell can’t believe Brennan wrote five dissertations because she was curious about so many topics that she couldn’t pick one. Brennan can’t believe Wendell isn’t curious about at least five dissertation topics right now. I really feel like there’s a middle ground between loving your work as much as Brennan does and quitting it entirely — as Angela later points out, “most people don’t love their jobs.” Angela isn’t even wildly passionate about this job, and she’s stuck it out (sometimes at Brennan’s request!) for over 12 years now. But, once again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
This week’s windshield-crashing dead body is one Ronald Bergman, otherwise known as the Mattress King of Southeast Baltimore. Booth hands the file over to Aubrey and tells him to take the lead. “So does this mean that I’m, like, your boss now?” Aubrey asks. It does not. It means that Booth wants to get back to the elaborate game of putt-putt he’s set up in his office. “If you have to ask if you’re my boss,” he sighs, mid putt, “you’re not my boss.”
Like everyone this week, Ronnie recently attempted a career change. He made a series of painfully earnest commercials for Snoozeland, his mattress emporium, and enjoyed the process so much that he decided to make movies. To quote Snoozeland manager Linda, Ronnie “said he was gonna be the next Gordon Welles.” Linda obviously doesn’t care about the classics.
Ronnie did, but the movie he wrote — a sweet story about a sick boy with an active imagination — isn’t the movie Booth and Aubrey find in production. Radioactive Party Panthers from Fort Lauderdale is your typical horror B-movie, complete with co-eds in bikinis and a lot of guys in bad neon panther suits. It looks like this change in direction is all thanks to lead actor David Faustino (did you ever think “David Faustino as David Faustino” would be a part of your Bones experience?), who wanted to be an action star and used his relative clout to make it happen.
Faustino as Faustino is a treat. When Aubrey calls him “Mr. Faustino,” the former Bud Bundy grumbles, “What am I, your grandpa? Call me Tino.” He likes to stare at his reflection when no one else is around and marvel, “Man, I still got it.” In footage from the masterpiece that is this movie, he drives a jet ski off a roof. Faustino’s character, to Hodgins’ delight, is called Pamanther: half man, half panther. (“Why? Because sometimes the only way to stop a panther is to become a panther.”) Since Pamanther’s orange claw slashed Ron’s neck, it looks like Faustino might be the killer, but if he were guilty, he wouldn’t be nearly this excited about being interrogated. He says he and Ron got into a scuffle after Faustino asked for a writing credit on the movie, but they worked it out.
The changes to Ron’s movie upset more people than just Ron. One such disgruntled associate was Allen Peppermelt, owner of Funtown Amusement Park, and I just want to state for the record how much I’m going to miss writing sentences like that. Peppermelt was upset that Ron misled him about the movie’s overall vibe and got fake blood all over the rides. He threatened Ron over text, but the meek owner of a subpar kids’ park is pretty obviously not the kind of person to take it any further than that. Booth gets in Aubrey’s ear during interrogation and tells his protégé to make Peppermelt sweat, but Aubrey follows his instincts and plays the good cop.
In the end, the killer is someone Booth is making it easy for Aubrey to understand: Ron’s second in command. When the movie business got him down, Ron returned to Snoozeland, and manager Linda resented losing her newfound authority. She pushed Ron off the roof, then threw his body from an overpass to disguise the injuries. The fact that the car he hit proceeded to literally crash and burn definitely didn’t hurt. “All you wanted was an opportunity to show yourself, your friends, your family, that you had what it took,” Aubrey goads. “And here he was, waltzing back in and throwing that big shadow right over you.” Wow, Aubrey. Tell us how you really feel about working with Booth.
As it turns out, Booth’s passive-aggressive, backseat-driver leadership style was all an act — or at least a calculated choice. (I think it really is hard for Booth not to call the shots in an investigation, but he’s at least self-aware enough to put his natural inclinations toward a good purpose.) He wanted to see if Aubrey would back down or fight for his right to lead. Aubrey passed the test, and here’s the kicker: the L.A. field office has been asking about him. Aubrey is getting promoted to supervisory special agent and transferred to L.A. He’s sad about their bad pizza but happy about everything else. Aubrey thanks Booth; Booth, very genuinely, thanks him.
So Aubrey’s moving across the country! That’s fine. Booth and Brennan are losing their Sweets surrogate. That’s fiiiine. I’m happy for him, but I didn’t necessarily feel like I needed this development, and not just because I like Aubrey and want him to stick around and take over for Max as Booth and Brennan’s go-to babysitter. Aubrey was always going to go places at the FBI; that was implied. In these final three episodes, there are other characters who need explicit closure more.
Then again, if closure is going to look like it does for Wendell, maybe we should just skip it. After asking Dr. Mayer what it feels like to lose passion for this job, Brennan invites Wendell to have a seat — everyone whose boss has ever told them to have a seat knows where this is headed — and asks her nervous intern how he’d feel if he couldn’t work here anymore. He’d be mad, he says, and confused. But, Brennan points out, he wouldn’t stop breathing. “I couldn’t breathe if I didn’t do this anymore,” she says. Once again, I think we’re holding what it means to love your job to really high standards here.
Brennan is right to encourage Wendell to take stock of his choices: “You are too smart to waste your life doing something that your heart isn’t in.” She tells him to find his “something bigger” and reassures him the Jeffersonian team will always be his family. It’s nice to see Brennan put so much care and thought into the happiness of the people around her, which she’s always been better at intuiting than she gives herself credit for.
But as much as she insists she’s not firing Wendell, it sort of feels like she is. It would be nice if more of this conversation were about what Wendell wanted, if Brennan just sat him down to tell him what she observed but left his future with the Jeffersonian up to him. Wendell says that Brennan’s “not wrong” — he likes this job but maybe not in a way that compares to her other interns. Who says he has to compare? What if he just expresses passion differently? Brennan of all people should understand that. And this week’s case stands as an example of the problem with treating “follow your dreams” as the best career advice.
If this were another intern’s story — or Angela’s, though I’ve got a feeling something is on the horizon for her — I might feel warmer toward it. It’s good for this show about smart people at the top of their game to point out that being good at something is not reason enough to do it. But telling this story with Wendell, our working-class intern, feels kind of mean. The kid from the other side of the tracks probably didn’t go into forensic anthropology on a whim. We met him as a boy who worried about being judged and found wanting, and now he essentially has been. And all this after his whole neighborhood pooled money to send him to school!
Also, he’s probably still got hospital bills from that time he had cancer.
So now here we are with two episodes to go and a lot of story left to tell: Zack’s appeal, Cam and Arastoo’s wedding, Cam’s big prank on Hodgins (I haven’t forgotten), and whatever other explosive tricks this show has up its sleeve. As for Wendell, he gets to go over to Booth and Brennan’s house to watch “the game” tomorrow. That’ll have to do.
Bits and pieces:
- Did anyone else get the sense that Hodgins’ line about “rolling up on Cam” in his wheelchair was a hint that something’s coming on the wheelchair front?
- Brennan and Angela’s late-night lab conversation is sweet, and given that Wendell’s first case was marked by his assumption that Brennan was talking about him (hitting on him, to be specific) when she was really talking about their work, it’s a fun reversal that she appears to be caught up in her own problems when she’s really worried about Wendell.
- Hello, Bone of Contention flashback!
- “You thought because you knew how to make a cheese sandwich, you could direct this movie?”
- “Honestly it’s not what I’d expect from the owner of Funtown.”