Thursday, May 22, 2008

No Bones about it

Ben Stein as Zeitgeist
[S]cience leads you to killing people.
—Ben Stein

Vernunft ... ist die höchste Hur, die der Teufel hat. (Reason ... is the greatest whore that the devil has.)
—Martin Luther
The season finale of Bones revolted me.

No, it wasn't because Bones specializes in scenes of graphic gore and I'm squeamish. (I am a bit squeamish, despite the helpful influence of a farm upbringing.) One can forgive a certain amount of sensationalism in a program whose lead character is an adamantly nonbelieving scientist. If it weren't for the shock value and the excitement of each week's mystery, how many people would tune in to the musings of a relentlessly logical and minimally emotional protagonist? Atheists seem to need a lot of window dressing if they're to be cast as heroes in a TV series. (In the case of Bones the openly secular scientist is counterbalanced with some conventionally devout costars.)

My revulsion at the last episode came as a delayed reaction, once I reflected on the illogic and tacit assumptions of the surprise ending. For the sake of melodrama, the writers decided a perversion of logic would provide the exciting twist they needed for a jolting conclusion to the third season's big story arc.

Fans already know that the Bones finale unmasked Dr. Zack Addy as the mole hidden inside the Jeffersonian Institution's laboratory, the new apprentice of the cannibalistic serial killer called “Gormogon.” Zachary Addy (Eric Millegan) had been established in earlier episodes as a kind of counterpart to Temperance Brennan, the lead character portrayed by Emily Deschanel. Both Brennan and Addy are scientific and logical to the point of compulsion, although Brennan is somewhat more successful in her social relations. She, after all, is a bestselling author and has a relatively normal sex life, while he is the quintessentially awkward nerd. (When interviewed, his neighbors are certain to say, “He seemed like a nice, quiet type and he always kept to himself.”)

The crimes of Gormogon were a continuing thread throughout the third season, sometimes fading into the background, other times taking center stage. Gormogon kills people and eats them, assembling bits and pieces of them into a composite skeleton. (Since each victim presumably comes with a complete skeleton, it was never clear to me why it was necessary for Gormogon to create a slow and tedious composite. Perhaps my attention nodded off during one of the less interesting expository scenes. Or maybe the writers didn't bother with an explanation any more than they bothered to write a sensible season closer.)

Gormogon is not only a serial killer, he's multigenerational. Each Gormogon recruits and trains an apprentice to take over the responsibilities of killing and eating people. The apprentice, of course, is expendable, and one is expended earlier in the third season in a jail house suicide. It's assumed that Gormogon has recruited a new apprentice, but his identity and activities are mysteries to the members of the Jeffersonian team (or, rather, to all but one member).

Addy, of course, was part of the effort to unravel the earlier crimes of Gormogon and his late apprentice. Despite this exposure to these macabre atrocities, Zack proves astonishingly susceptible to the killer's blandishments and falls under his influence. By day he works at the Jeffersonian in a team effort to expose Gormogon, but by night he's available to do his master's bidding, even to the point of murder. (In a weird bit of amelioration, we learn later that Zack had yet to graduate to the cannibalism level of his initiation, preserving some modicum of his boyish innocence and reducing the viewer's disgust. That's only-in-television convenient.)

The final episode's conclusion is supposed to reveal the subtle logical cantrip that ensnared the cerebral young Dr. Addy. As Dr. Brennan explains in the scene where she and Booth (David Boreanaz) confront him:
Brennan: Zack responds to logic, Booth.

Booth: Really? Because I'd love to hear the logic of killing and eating people to change the world.

Addy: The master's logic is irrefutable.
Oh, this is going to be good, right? Sorry. Here is the word-for-word transcript of Brennan's brilliant counterargument, as she discerns and unravels Zack's highly logical motivation:
Brennan: I've never met anyone more rational or intelligent. But there's a fault in your logic.

Addy: With all due respect, you aren't cognizant of his logic.

Brennan: Assumption No. 1: Secret societies exist.

Addy: Accepted. Hodgins has been explaining this to me for years.

Brennan: Assumption No. 2: The human experience is adversely affected by secret societies.

Addy: Accepted.

Brennan: Assumption No. 3: Attacking and killing members of secret societies will have an ameliorating affect on the human experience.

Addy: Accepted.

Brennan: All of your assumptions are built upon a first principle, Zack. To wit: The historical human experience as a whole is more important than a single person's life.

Addy: Yes.

Brennan: Yet you risked it all so that you wouldn't hurt Hodgins.

Addy: There's ... You are correct: There is an inconsistency in my reasoning.
Yes, he had risked his mission to spare a colleague from danger. Zack sheds a tear as he realizes he was wrong to agree to become the secret apprentice of a cannibalistic serial killer. He has been defeated by the very logic he worshiped. Ironic, no? The silly boy was ready to join a small secret society dedicated to eating the members of other secret societies. It's, like, poetic.


As the ensemble stands around wondering how Zack got caught up in the Gormogon conspiracy, Dr. Brennan underscores the episode's theme with one word: “Logic.” (Shudder.) At least U.S. prosecutor Carolyn Julian (Patricia Belcher) offers a facile refutation: “This happened the way this always happen: A strong personality finds a weak personality and takes advantage.”

That's the slender straw we're left to cling to at the show's end: It was domination by a criminal mastermind of a hyperlogical nerd boy. Nevertheless, we must remember our lesson: Logic kills.

Especially its absence.


arsenchik said...

Of course, those who prefer to live their lives by gut feeling or faith are never ensnared by evil masterminds. Our president, for one, never let logic get in his way of doing uncle Dick's bidding.

Josh said...

This final episode has left me reeling as well. Zack was one of my favorite characters. He stuck to his guns very stubbornly as well when it came to his logic or science.

I just can't suspend my disbelief enough to buy into this story. Sure anything is possible in fiction, but in this case, the characters actions just don't match the character they've created. It makes me wonder if Bones has gone from excellent to jumping the shark in a single episode.

I'll no doubt tune in next season to see if it can recover...

the mad LOLscientist said...

I'm completely flummoxed, not to mention kind of pissed off, by this episode too. It makes no sense at all. Yes, Zack has always been completely socially inept and confused, but that ending took things light-years beyond "suspension of disbelief."

If Eric Millegan wanted out of the series, there would be plenty of more believable ways to do it. Even catching some kind of dread plague from a mishap with the body of someone who died of it would have made a whole lot more sense even though there'd have to be some creative plot-twisting to explain why no one else caught it.

I guess we'll see how things play out. Maybe the series can survive this craziness. (But if Brennan and Booth ever get together romantically, the show officially jumps the shark.)

jessica said...

Having missed last season's finale, I'm just now getting caught up on Zach's revelation as the killer and everyone's response to it. My comments are mainly in response to arsenchik. I believe the overarching theme of the entire show is that life requires a balanced combination of logic and sense to deal with the things we can control, and faith and sensitivity to deal with the things we can't. Booth and Brennan make such a good team because they each represent half of that equation.

Josh said...

having watched the first few minutes of the new season, I couldn't watch any more. By the end of Bones' "speaech" I just couldn't do it any more.

That show has definitely jumped the shark.