The final season of Bones has claimed another victim, and this one — this one hurts.
But as painful as it is to say goodbye to Max Keenan — bank robber, absentee father, doting grandfather, and PRIME Booth/ Brennan shipper — I can’t think of a better way for him to go out. After he dropped a hospital bracelet at Brennan’s birthday party, it seemed like we’d be spending this season watching his health gradually fail him, but Max isn’t the type to go gently into that good night. Max is more the type to get a pacemaker without telling his daughter, then, as soon as he’s back in peak health, give up his own life in a blaze of badass granddad glory.
One of my favorite exchanges between Brennan and her father came late in season 5 when the Gravedigger’s trial wasn’t going so well. Not content to watch the woman who buried his daughter alive get away scot-free, Max very nearly took out the Gravedigger on his own. “I don’t want you to kill people for me,” Brennan sighed. “Just buy me a sweater like a regular dad.” She got in a few good years with a kinder, gentler Max who might buy sweaters, but I’m glad he died as the man who would kill people for his daughter because that’s the Max we met.
So let’s talk about how the lovable old con man met his end. In 1995, Booth killed a Serbian war criminal, General Radic, at Radic’s own son’s birthday party. Now — after apparently letting that wound fester for a nice long time — someone connected to Radic is out for revenge. They don’t know Booth’s name, but they seem to have figured out his Army unit, and they’re tearing through every Ranger on the list until they find Radic’s killer.
Aldo Clemens was the first to die, but the next victim is an innocent bystander: an elderly shut-in named Margaret Kwan. Margaret’s regular delivery guy was Booth’s Ranger buddy, Mike, who sounds like he comes from the Seeley Booth School of Withstanding Torture: really good at staying quiet when he’s the one in pain but really bad at watching other people suffer. Since Mike was more likely to give up Booth’s name to spare Margaret than to spare himself, the killer grabbed them both, forcing Mike to watch as Margaret — a sweet old lady who just wanted to knit! — was brutally tortured.
Margaret died from a single slit to the neck, so it’s safe to assume that the killer ended her life after Mike caved. And if the killer knows Booth’s name, then Booth, Brennan, Max, and the kids can’t stay at home. Caroline, who blesses so much of this episode with her presence that I was a little worried she might die, arranges to put the whole family in an FBI safe house.
Max resists. He’d rather help his daughter by staying by her side and doing what he does best — you know, killing someone. Evading authority. Having a fight in a parking lot. Max things. But Brennan insists that he go to the safe house; she needs to know that Christine and Hank are okay, and she won’t know that unless they’re under Max’s care. “Dad, I have never needed you more than I do now,” she says, practically sealing his fate. “Please do this for me.” How could he say no?
NEXT: Don’t bring dogs into this
Mundane evidence on Margaret’s body — billiard chalk and border collie hair — leads the team to a bar owned by a man who emigrated from Serbia 20 years ago. Behind the bar is a photo of a boy whose face Booth will never forget: Radic’s son. The boy, now known as Mark Kovac, came to America at age 8 through the Red Cross’ refugee program (I know this episode was written and filmed last fall in a very different time, but the fact that it paints a less-than-stellar picture of even one refugee is unfortunate). He played soccer in a local league and now, at age 28, still stops by that bar sometimes to play pool.
Kovac is a model citizen: He’s an American war hero with a Bronze Star, and he works as an EMT. But Booth is sure he’s guilty, and Brennan is right there with him — which worries Cam and Angela, since Brennan is usually the last person to jump to conclusions. Are we setting up for a twist here? If we are, my money’s on Kovac’s wife, Jeannine. When Booth and Aubrey go to Kovac’s apartment to question him (Booth, WHY ARE YOU SHOWING YOUR FACE), Jeannine gets a little too involved in the conversation. She offers the agents coffee and is awfully miffed when they turn it down, and she makes a big show of her surprise when her husband admits that his father was a war criminal.
Kovac seems like a good guy. He says that he barely remembers his biological father; he considers the people who raised him in the States to be his real parents. And when Mike’s body is found in an abandoned gym — the killer tortured and killed Mike anyway, seemingly just for the fun of it — Kovac goes right to the FBI. Jeannine is a commercial real estate agent, and the gym is one of her old listings, as was the old recording studio where Aldo was killed. Kovac says he’s being framed.
Maybe he is — by his wife — but maybe he’s just that good at lying. Caroline cuts through some red tape and snags Kovac’s military psych evaluations, and she gives Aubrey a peek. Not one of Kovac’s multiple assessments shows evidence of any kind of disorder, and that’s just about the surest sign that he has one. “Have you ever met anyone with no neuroses?” Caroline asks Aubrey. “No OCD? No hint of anger issues?” Especially given how much Kovac went through in his formative years, it’s unlikely that he emerged completely unscathed.
Caroline thinks Kovac is hiding something. Arastoo, dipping a toe in the waters of “soft science,” theorizes that Kovac might have what psychologists call the dark tetrad: narcissism, sadism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. So that’s encouraging. If Kovac is that sick, it explains why he goes straight to Booth at the FBI: He wants to be there when Booth gets the worst kind of news. There’s been a shooting at the safe house.
Booth and Brennan speed their way over there; Booth probably mows down at least two pedestrians. They find the safe house blocked off with crime scene tape and their kids unharmed — and surprisingly calm — in the back of an FBI van. But Max has been hit; paramedics are wheeling him out on a stretcher. “Nothing that I haven’t been through before,” he shrugs to his daughter, changing the subject to ask about the kids. Apparently Max turns into Booth when he’s shot. But maybe he’s always had a bit of Booth in him, and that’s why they’ve always understood each other. Booth is Max on the right side of the law.
Brennan goes with her dad to the hospital while Booth checks out the scene. Two gunmen, obviously well trained, took out the sweet-looking FBI agent who was playing with Christine and Hank earlier, but the gunmen weren’t prepared for Max. He hid Christine and Hank in the basement and turned up the TV, then came up behind one of the killers. Max stood his ground and fought, and it saved at least one agent’s life. Both of the gunmen are dead; according to the agent, one said “majka” (Serbian for “mother”) as he died.
The squints figure out that Max’s brand new pacemaker — the one he didn’t think Brennan needed to know about — sends signals to his doctor, so that’s what gave away the family’s location. But someone was still pinging it for information even after the two gunmen were killed, so they weren’t working alone. This isn’t over.
NEXT: Booth asks the questions here
Getting desperate, Booth puts Kovac in interrogation, where he provokes him with a vivid description of the birthday party that ended Radic’s life. If Kovac didn’t know Booth was the sniper before, he definitely does now. Meanwhile, back at the lab, Arastoo finds bruising on Mike’s ribs; when he calls Brennan to show her, she recognizes the pattern as the result of a defibrillator. Now that’s teamwork. Kovac’s defibrillator pads have been cleaned, but Booth throws the defibrillator cord, in an evidence bag, on the interrogation room table. It has Mike’s DNA. Is there an infographic that tracks how many Bones murderers are ultimately caught because they forgot to clean something?
Of course, there’s a chance that Booth is bluffing about the DNA, and there’s a chance that Kovac isn’t working alone. The season isn’t over. But the team scores a temporary victory today, as the cord gives Booth enough evidence to make the arrest. “Why’d you kill my father?” Kovac asks as Booth pulls out his cuffs. Booth shuts him down: “I’ll ask the questions here.”
But I did say the victory was only temporary. Back at the hospital, Max is out of surgery; he lights up to find Brennan at his bedside, hands on his arm. He asks if she’s mad at him for not telling her about the pacemaker, but that’s old news now. Max tells his daughter that he was dreaming about her: She was a little girl, and the whole family was in the car together. It was starting to rain, and Brennan was rubbing his earlobe, which she used to do while he was driving to put him at ease. (Weird, but okay.) “In all those years I was gone,” Max says, “whenever I missed you, I’d just think back on the rides in the car.”
And then he flatlines.
Brennan panics and struggles as doctors and nurses swarm in, crying, “I can help you with this!” The doctors push her back. Brennan calls to her dad that she’s right here. By the time Booth shows up (where’ve you been, Booth?), Max’s bed is empty, and Brennan is leaning in the doorway with tears in her eyes. “We should have gotten there sooner,” she tells her husband as he hugs her.
The paramedics were already working on him when Booth and Brennan arrived at the safe house. Unless, by some stretch, those paramedics were in cahoots with fellow EMT Kovac, there isn’t anything more Booth or Brennan could have done to save Max, short of being there when the actual shooting went down. But Brennan’s slightly irrational, desperate need to blame herself — and Booth — means we’re headed for tension in the aftermath of her father’s death. That feels real to me. I’m excited to see how it plays out.
Bits and pieces:
- “You okay?” “Should I be?” “No.” Same.
- “For the last few weeks, you haven’t once wheezed while playing on the floor with the kids.”
- Little Hank is precious.
- “You FBI boys are cute, but not lose-my-job cute.”
- “Cam, I have so many more questions for you now!”
- Exit, pursued by raccoon