OK, so I made a decision. It’s a quiet period, of necessity, just now, thanks to the writers’ strike. We’ve talked a lot about the episodes we like and I have spoken about the reviews we used to write weekly when I was a frequent visitor to tv.com/bones. Well, pitilessly regardless of length, I am going to re-post my reviews here, with the intention of stimulating some much-missed Bones discussion. Hope they give you pause for thought!
“Rules are rules” grins Agent Booth at the start of this episode, savouring Brennan’s discomfiture that he’s allowed her to request a firearm, only to deny her. ‘The Man On Death Row’ indicates, in fact, that rules are very important. T’s must be crossed, i’s indisputably dotted before a human being is put to death, however obviously guilty he may be. The characterful judge Cohen, precursor of our dear Caroline, represents the law itself, making it abundantly clear to bright-eyed Amy Morton that condemning a man to death is not an ‘easy’ decision taken on a whim. And, though there are slight moments of rebellion here – Amy getting past Booth’s men with a flash of her thigh, the very satisfying crack of Epps’ wrist in his final scene (“What I saw? Purely self-defence”) – the episode displays how the law can help, rather than hinder, in ferreting out the absolute truth.
We learn substantially more to flesh out our characters here than previously (it’s only ep 7, and they are still getting established). For reasons we are to understand better later, truth is an obsession for the B/B team – it blazes through them like an all-consuming flame. Booth desires it even though it may damage his reputation, and it is an unusually impassioned moment for Brennan, as she talks about all humanity sharing in a single death (literally as well as metaphorically), which prompts Booth’s joky comment that she’s been over-practising her Nobel speech. As well as seeing an intense shared motivation, we hear one of the earliest perceptions of a mutual attraction – Amy mentions their ‘sex vibe’. And we become more curious about Booth with both Epps’ snide “I didn’t kill anybody – unlike you” and Amy’s “you’re smarter now, and a lot less angry”.
The squints and their relationships are brilliantly depicted here. Zach and Jack are a fantastic schoolboy double act, betting on their racing beetles, playing rock-paper-scissors to decide who gets to investigate some underpants and competing in a juvenile manner for everything. Though we learn about his lack of a driving licence through Booth, it is Jack’s throwaway remarks that enlighten us as to Zach’s photographic memory, idiot-savant manner, and excitement about his discoveries. “Zach,’” observes Jack, laconically, “when you talk that fast, human beings can’t hear you.” As Zach has matured, we have seen far less of the gabbling enthusiasm and Doctor Addy has a more measured approach, but baby Z was very endearing. “Weird, but smart” – Jack again.
Angela radiates the good-time girl persona, but sometimes it does feel a wee bit forced, as if she is trying to be ‘normal’ (whatever that is) while doing a job that can’t be easily described online! She shows ‘the boys’ a kind of maternal, anti-nerd disdain (“I’m going to go have sex”), and despairs of Brennan’s ignorance of the average fun weekend: “It’s like describing the moon to a mole.” Despite this seemingly slightly hard edge, she is not only compassionately onside with the others, working towards the execution deadline, but clearly wounded when her cuter-than-a-monkey-with-a-puppy Internet toy boy describes her and her colleagues as freaks. She cares a lot about her friends and her job.
Though Jack does not console/reassure her privately, as he will on later occasions, he despises Troy for his treatment of Angela. An earlier conversation has revealed to him the man’s utter fatuous ignorance, and Jack does not suffer fools gladly, let alone fools who are not good enough for his colleague. The hard stare he gives the departing Troy doesn’t subside for a looooooong time. Slow it down and watch how, even as the others return to their work on the remains, his gaze remains motionless in an eternity of anger. But there’s already more to him than the cold, defensive fury he exhibited about his wealth/identity, and the uptightness that stops him talking much on a personal level. He gets expansive, funnier and more relaxed when discussing things that interest him (he is positively gleeful when giving graphic descriptions of how other cultures used to punish their felons). It seems that out of what could have been played as stereotype geek, TJ is creating someone sensitive, volatile and intense.
Epps is also well portrayed. There is something of the Hannibal Lecter in his cunning intelligence and the way he manipulates others, especially enjoying mental and emotional sadism towards women. This is the power issue of the true serial killer. He really loves it – I suspect even gets a bit turned on - when Amy falters and crumples at the end, her ideals totally destroyed.
One of the things I reverence about this piece (and much of S1) is the clever dialogue, not just for its own sake, but to move the plot along and develop the characters. The running gag about Brennan and her gun is touched on sufficiently to make the point, and to bring us back to the ‘rules’ issue, but not enough to become tedious. The scene with Jeff and Ollie and the groin pull is completely hilarious; and I love “use your mutant powers, talk people to death!” and “let’s pretend we’re objective scientists and not indulge in conjecture.” Or Brennan’s brilliant summary of the entire episode: “Certain people should not be in this world…but the facts have to add up.”
word count: 1010
"We make our lives out of chaos and hope. And love." - Angela Montenegro