Bones fans, I did not see this callback coming. It’s been almost 11 years since Booth sat down at Arlington with Brennan and shared a haunting memory from his days as a sniper: shooting a Bosnian warlord while the man was at his son’s birthday party. Now, it looks like someone connected to that incident is out for revenge — which brings us, unfortunately, to the first major casualty of the season.
Aldo Clemens is dead. Once the chaplain of Booth’s Army unit and then the ex-priest who married Booth and Brennan, Aldo fell on hard times in recent years; he started doing heroin, and he lost his bartending job for stealing money to finance that addiction. Even Booth hasn’t talked to him in over a year. Brennan blames Aldo’s decline on post-concussive symptoms, the kind that present themselves years after the initial trauma. Booth blames himself. He usually does, doesn’t he?
In that sense, and in a lot of senses, Aldo is a mirror to Booth. They both take on the problems of the people they care about. Booth deals with it by holding people at arm’s length for as long as he can, but Aldo, apparently, offered his shoulder to everyone around him. They both have strong beliefs, but Aldo stopped taking comfort in them. Booth is a gambling addict; Aldo was a drug addict. Booth got a brain tumor; Aldo got a degenerative brain disease. More than once, this episode goes out of its way to remind us that if things had gone differently, Booth could have been in his friend’s shoes. He isn’t better than Aldo for surviving. He just got lucky.
The best scene of the hour comes after Booth pays a visit to the local VFW, where the remaining members of his unit have gathered to talk about Aldo. One of the men, Ted McKinney, is upset with Booth for not coming around lately — for, essentially, being able to move on, which he says hasn’t been as easy for the rest of them. Booth goes home to stare out one of his home’s many glass walls and brood, which is how Brennan finds him.
Remember when Brennan used to worry that she didn’t know how to be there for Booth? (It was a major theme of “The Soldier on the Grave,” the season 1 episode that apparently just came back to give us this show’s final arc.) Brennan is great here with Booth. She reminds him that he feels the effects of war, too, and she celebrates the fact that he got help for his addiction. Booth attributes that to her. In Booth’s eyes, everything that separates him from Aldo comes down to Brennan.
Booth regrets not doing enough to keep Aldo alive. Even though the other guys in his unit defend him to Ted, Booth is, in his own words, “not going to let himself off the hook on this one.” He doesn’t want to be told to forgive himself, and he doesn’t have much use for Caroline’s sympathy. Brennan gives him a way forward when she tells him that it’s healthy to get revenge. It just has to be Booth’s kind of revenge — the kind that works within the law to bring a killer to justice.
So let’s get to crime-solving. Intern-of-the-week Jessica spots needle marks on Aldo’s toes, which Hodgins swabs for heroin residue. Angela then runs that drug cocktail through the DEA’s local database to narrow down a list of possible dealers. Because the bones indicate that Aldo was hit by a left-handed assailant, the team finds its most likely suspect by basically guessing which guy on the board looks most left handed. Can you really tell handedness by the way someone parts their hair? Today I learned that as a left-handed person who parts her hair on the left, Hodgins would never suspect me of murder.
Only one dealer on Angela’s list fits the bill: Jake Thompkins, a tortoiseshell glasses-wearing fool who looks like he watched too many episodes of Weeds and figured he could do it better. Jake denies knowing Aldo before he’s even had time to look at the photo, but Booth threatens to be all over Jake forever if the dealer doesn’t help. “That’s actually called harassment,” Jake protests. “It is!” Booth says, in the voice he might use when Christine learns a new word. “It’s called harassment.” Don’t mess with Booth’s friends.
NEXT: Why did it have to be rats?
Jake admits to dropping Aldo as a client months ago; someone was following him, and Jake wouldn’t take the risk. Booth rips Jake’s video doorbell right out of his wall to check the story. Jake is telling the truth — a car kept driving past the house while Aldo was there — but when Angela tracks down its license plate, she comes up with bad news: The car belongs to Ted. Ted cries to Booth in the interrogation room, insisting that he just “needed someone,” and Aldo wouldn’t even talk to him. When he went looking for Aldo in Bellevue, Ted saw someone jump out of a car and take him, and he froze.
Booth believes him; Ted is too angry to pull off Aldo’s murder, which gets creepier and more obviously premeditated by the second. There’s evidence that rats were eating Aldo’s ribcage long before he died. Brennan recognizes the signs of a common form of torture in the Middle Ages: A cage of rats was placed on a person’s torso, and one end of the cage was heated, forcing the rats to burrow into the still-living victim. So. What we have here is a gruesome torture method that manages to double as animal cruelty. Great.
Using traces of lead paint and acoustic foam found on the body, the team finds the abandoned recording studio where Aldo was held. The place is rigged to blow — Booth and Brennan barely make it out in time — but that’s an average Tuesday for them at this point. (Brennan on being blown up: “It was unpleasant.”) And they did manage to get a few photos of the murder scene, which is enough for our team of scientists to figure out how Aldo died. He tore his duct tape enough to struggle back a few inches on the table, then whipped his head against the edge, snapping his neck and killing himself instantly.
Suicide might seem out of character for the ex-priest, but Booth sees it as more of a sacrifice: Aldo sacrificed himself to protect Booth. In the warehouse, before it blew, Booth and Brennan found the x-ray of a skull with a bullet hole in its side. From the angle of the shot and the Cyrillic writing in the corner, Booth knows it was the warlord he killed in 1995. Someone looking for revenge — and not Booth’s kind of revenge — is coming for him. They probably won’t stop with Aldo.
If this is the big reckoning of Bones’ final season, I have some reservations. The timing comes out of nowhere (Why wait almost 22 years to take revenge? Even if this is the warlord’s son, he would have hit prime “angry young man” age a decade ago), and the scope feels too global for this show’s person-to-person approach. But there is something cyclical about it that I find fitting. For Booth, the aftermath of Aldo’s death will be about facing up to his regrets and still finding a way to move forward — which has essentially been Booth’s arc since the pilot, when he told Brennan that he wanted to make up for his time as a sniper by putting at least one killer behind bars for every person he killed. He has, with her help. Once again, Brennan makes all the difference.
Bits and pieces:
- Aubrey’s Ponzi-scheming dad is back in the States, giving everyone the opportunity to draw parallels between his situation and Brennan’s. Could Aubrey and his father patch things up like Brennan did with Max? I’m not sure I want them to. Not everyone can be Max.
- A fun fact: Philip Aubrey is played by John Boyd’s actual father, character actor Guy Boyd.
- When Aubrey took Jessica’s hand and promised that he isn’t like his dad, I honestly thought he was going to propose.
- Must we use the phrase “alien laborers,” Aubrey?
- Emily Deschanel did great work as Brennan helped Angela fill in her facial reconstruction with Aldo’s features.
- “I’m going to find out who did this to him.” “Of course you are.”
- Aubrey’s Dorito sandwich is really something else.
- Five stars for Cam’s low side bun!
- “That was just right, Seeley. I knew you would have it.”