Michael Peterson and Jonathan Collier talk Zack’s return and trouble for Brennan and Booth ahead

By C. Molly Smith
January 02, 2017 at 02:30 PM EST
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The season 11 finale of Bones ended with a big, surprising return, with Brennan (Emily Deschanel) being taken by former Jeffersonian intern Zack (Eric Millegan) for reasons currently unknown. (For a refresher on that, read our recap, and postmortems with Millegan and EP Jonathan Collier.) With the 12th and final season quickly approaching (it debuts Jan. 3), Collier and EP Michael Peterson expand on Brennan’s kidnapping and Zack’s motivations, preview a major strain ahead for Brennan and Booth’s relationship, and speak to how they feel about the series’ end.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where does the premiere pick up?
MICHAEL PETERSON: The season finale ended with Zack taking Dr. Brennan, so we’re starting at the same time. We’re going [to open] with Booth and the squints frantically trying to save Brennan before, it looks like, Zack’s trying to kill her. We always wanted to bring Zack back, but his story is far from over. We’re going to start with Brennan in jeopardy, but Zack’s story is going to grow from there.

What can you tease about Brennan’s kidnapping and Zack’s intentions?
JONATHAN COLLIER: There’s much more to it than we think going in. There’s real dimension to the reason he’s taken her, and it’s going to reveal things about his character that we never knew.

PETERSON: Before I joined Bones as a writer, I was a fan and Zack was one of my favorite characters. Jon and I, when we laid out the storyline, we talked to [creator Hart Hanson] and he talked about how much he loved the character as well and how proud he was of it. The whole reason behind season 12 is there were some loose ends that we wanted to clear up and Zack is a big part of that, and then Booth and Brennan is the biggest part obviously. We went back and watched earlier seasons and realized there are these arcs that haven’t yet been finalized, so starting with episode one, we’re going to start wrapping up some of these arcs that started 240-some episodes ago.

COLLIER: There’s a huge arc from Booth’s past that if you watched the first few seasons carefully you’ll know about, that we’re going to wrap up.

PETERSON: It revolves around pretty much the hardest decision Booth has ever made as a military man, so that’s the past that is going to come back to haunt him.

Back to Zack, what was it like having that character back on the show, as well as Eric Millegan himself?
PETERSON: It was a delight. Eric is fantastic in the episodes where we use him. He wasn’t here when Jon or I started. I came in season 4. Jon, I think, came in 7, and Zack was gone so it was a great experience to have him back not just to work with the actor, but also to write this wonderful character.

COLLIER: It was delightful and special to see how much the cast welcomed him back. They were so happy to be working with him again.

PETERSON: One of the real special things was for the season opener, Emily Deschanel directed the episode and this was her first time directing, and she was the perfect person to welcome Eric back into the fold and really get a great performance out of him and make him feel like he never left. I cannot commend her enough of what an excellent job she did.

Can you expand on how she did as a director? What does she bring to that premiere episode?
PETERSON: Emily has been looking to direct for a long time, but family and other obligations have gotten in the way. We really wanted to make sure that it happened here. Not only is she a phenomenal actress, but her father is Caleb Deschanel so she knows all the camera angles — where to put it and everything else — just really to get the best performance. She was phenomenal, especially because it’s a very different episode in terms of tone. It’s a little bit more claustrophobic, but she never made it feel claustrophobic. She kept it feeling very, very big and the actors loved working with her. At the end of it, they were like, “She can direct all the episodes.” There is a special talent that an actor brings to directing and [she] couldn’t have been more collaborative, more delightful, and she even came in under budget, so what more can you ask for?

The finale left off with Hodgins regaining some feeling in his legs. Is there a chance that we could see a miraculous recovery?
COLLIER: There’s a chance of anything happening and there’s going to be twists and turns to his physical condition. I think we take it to a very tough, realistic place that’s ultimately very positive and affirming, too.

PETERSON: We were very sensitive. We wanted to have him go through a journey, but at the end, we didn’t want to take him to a place that was, for lack of a better word, too TV. We wanted to make his struggle real, including the moments where you’re very optimistic and positive, and obviously he’s already been through some of the lows last year, [which] really put a strain on his relationship with Angela. The story’s not over yet, but we were happy with the way it came out, and we think it’s respectful to anybody who has had to deal with any kind of handicap.

Speaking of the strain on the relationship with Angela, have they made it through to the other side, or is there still a rough road ahead?
COLLIER: I think there’s always going to be challenges for them… twists and turns for their relationship, but I think they’re in a good place.

PETERSON: Overall, they went through the worst of it and there will still be challenges ahead, but for a final season, we were careful not to manufacture drama for the sake of drama. We let the characters go through some very organic struggles. This is not a place where you want to make that false move. We had to be true to the characters and true to their love for each other, and respectful for what they’ve already gone through.

Before the accident, Hodgins and Angela had been talking about having more kids. Is that something they might continue to explore?
PETERSON: Absolutely, yes.

COLLIER: Stay tuned. It’s always an adventure for them.

What about Cam and Arastoo? Will there be a wedding for them this season?
COLLIER: In a way, yes, but with twists and repercussions you’ll never see coming.

PETERSON: The big thing we also wanted to do there is we’ve already had a lot of weddings on the show. There was the first time [Hodgins and Angela] tried to get married and they ended up running out of the church; then they got married in the prison. We had Booth and Brennan getting married in the rose garden, which was absolutely beautiful. We don’t want to repeat ourselves. We tried to find a unique angle to go at their wedding and the resolution of that is in episode 11, so you’re going to have to wait a little while, but it is different than everything else we’ve seen so far on the show.

NEXT: What’s happening with the squints and Boreanaz’s Instagram photos

The squints, of course, have become fan favorites. Are we going to see their stories wrap up before the end?
COLLIER: Not all of them will stay at the Jeffersonian. Not all of them will stay even as forensic anthropologists.

PETERSON: We tried to make sure, especially with some of our full-time squinterns — Daisy, Wendell, Clark, Arastoo, all of them — we wanted to make sure to give them individual arcs and we really do feel we put them in a good place by the end of the season and they’re in a lot of the season, especially the last two episodes, which is kind of a two-part finale. You’re going to see a lot of familiar faces.

What else is there to look out for in the season more broadly?
PETERSON: The big thing is this is hopefully going to be a giant love letter to the fans so we reached out and went and got all the previous great guest stars that we could. Betty White, Stephen Fry, [and] Ryan O’Neal will be back. We’ve got a slew of others. Cyndi Lauper is coming back, and then the other big one is Eddie McClintock who played Sully [and] was Brennan’s first really significant love. That’s going to be a very, very interesting storyline as far as the strain that’s been put on Booth and Brennan’s relationship.

The big other part of this season, we really wanted to make it this love letter and have all these great, recurring people come back, but Booth and Brennan are going to be tested in a way that I think really reflects both of their character’s journeys, from who they were from season one all the way to 12. Now they’re united as a couple, but there’s going to be a great strain put on them and it really revolves on this thing from Booth’s past that is going to, in a way, hurt Brennan even more than it’s going to hurt Booth.

Before taking over at the beginning of season 11, you sat down with Emily and David to watch and go over the beginning of the series. What did you pull from that for inspiration as you went into season 11, and now into season 12?
COLLIER: We really went back to the past of the show, to the DNA of the show: Why these two characters are together, what’s their fundamental purpose, and what’s their objective in life.

PETERSON: The other big thing is we went back to watch it because people always talk about the Moonlighting curse… the dangers of once couples get together. Also, making sure we kind of kept that tone going where just because they’re married, they’re not boring. Just because they’re married, it doesn’t mean they’re not going to argue. They’re still going to be the same strong-willed people that we fell in love with from the very beginning and I think that was one of the big notes, going back and keeping that energy going.

One of the most magical things that happens with this show that I don’t think would work with any other stars in the same way is we have these wonderful driving scenes where there’s the two of them in the car, bickering about whatever, but there’s something about the energy that both of them brings; having such different points of view, but with such connection between them. That’s really where the magic of the show lies, so we wanted to make sure that the energy for those scenes and all scenes really stayed up and we understood both perspectives and we just let them have it. We made sure that this is a couple who’s not afraid to argue. They probably have great makeup sex. They go at it, and we wanted to make sure to bring that energy.

David posted some photos from set where he lived out his fantasy of destroying the lab. Did you see those, and what do you think of them?
PETERSON: I haven’t actually seen them. I don’t know if Jon has, but I heard about [them]. I am a Luddite. I don’t understand anything. People tell me, “People are Twittering about you!” I’m like, I had no idea that that was going on.

COLLIER: I’ve seen the photos and it’s just scratching the surface of what happens. That’s what I’ll say. Interesting twists are happening with David, the show, the arc of the characters, and with the lab itself. Watch, have fun, don’t be afraid. Don’t lose hope.

PETERSON: At the end of the day, there’s going to be a lot of… conjecture and everything else, but ultimately this is a very positive show. It’s one that’s filled with hope and we’re not going to try to upend that. We’re going to put our characters through hell. It’s going to be a heck of a rollercoaster ride, but the roller coaster will stop safely at the end.

How are you feeling going into this final season? Does it feel real and final to you yet?
COLLIER: Oh lord, no. It feels real and final in terms of the show. I got to say, I feel like these characters will live on and we might not have seen the last of them, so who knows? For me, the characters are still doing what they’re doing, even if they’re not doing it on the Bones show.

PETERSON: It hasn’t hit me. I’ve been walking the stage and people are at work taking it down. In front of the stage, there’s a placard with Bones and it’s got our end date as 2016, so all those signs are there. They’re trying to tell us it’s done, it’s definite, and part of me doesn’t believe a word of it.

COLLIER: It’s been a fabulous place to work. It’s been one of the great experiences I’ve ever had. I feel like we’ve done the characters proud. I really like where we’ve taken them. I feel like this was the time to end the arc, where they were and all that’s for the good, but they’ll be missed.

PETERSON: It’s been a strange thing reflecting on it. We were talking to Stephen Fry when he was here and the last time he was on the show before this, Netflix wasn’t around, all these changes for TV as a whole. It’s been a wonderful bubble that we’ve been living in where the world is changing all around us, but Bones stays the same. I guess we’re going to have to get used to not living in that bubble. It was a great place to live.

What’s up next for you after the show?
COLLIER: We’re doing a pilot together for Fox.

PETERSON: That gives you an idea of the show. It’s such a wonderful family here. Jon and I are going to keep working together. We’d like to get as many crew back. We’ve been delighted with this family and I think that’s part of the reason why it doesn’t feel real to say goodbye. With luck, hopefully, we’ll see a lot of people again.

Is there anything we didn’t touch on that you think is worth mentioning, either about the premiere or season more broadly?
COLLIER: We went big. I think we really did push them, take chances. Because we had to compress everything to 12 episodes rather than the normal 22, stuff’s developing fast.

PETERSON: This is going to feel more like a rollercoaster season. I know I keep using that analogy, but it really does. It moves very, very quickly, especially by the time we get to the two-part finale at the end. It’s a ride, so we’re going to have deaths, and yes I did have an “s” at the end of “deaths.” We’re going to have a wonderful wedding, and we’re going to have a climax that really puts everybody in jeopardy.

COLLIER: And something important for the series happens in not every episode, some are standalone episodes, but in almost every episode, something happens that moves the series forward. [When Peterson jokingly disagrees…] Okay, every minute of every episode.

PETERSON: There are 15 Easter eggs in every minute, or maybe not. Keep looking for them.

Season 12 of Bones premieres on Fox at 9 p.m. E.T. on Jan. 3.

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