1. GREAT: Lead character Temperance “Bones” Brennan defied stereotypes about how women should act. In other words, she was rude as hell.
For 12 seasons, Bones — which has its series finale March 28 — gave us a female protagonist who was gruff, self-centered, and brilliant. Before TV’s craze of prickly male heroes like Mad Men’s Don Draper and Dexter’s Dexter fully took hold, Temperance Brennan, PhD, (Emily Deschanel) was compelling because of her shocking arrogance and the stiff, rude interactions she had with the people around her.
“You’re not always the smartest, Bones,” her partner Booth said at one point. “But I am,” she replied. And it was true! More so than some of TV’s other procedural female geniuses — Garcia the hacker on Criminal Minds, Abby the forensics marvel on NCIS — Brennan’s stunning intellect was never rendered toothless with childlike warmth.
Instead, the series made her abrasive, and sometimes allowed her to visibly intimidate the men around her. In a memorable episode in Season 1, she proves her former professor and sex partner wrong in front of her staff, smiling cockily after she outwits him; in the end, he has a meltdown, chasing her down a hallway trying to deliver an apology as she ignores him. She was, after all, always the smartest. Brennan proved #MasculinitySoFragile before tweens were talking about it on Snapchat.
2. GREAT: She was smarter than everyone, including a man who was okay with it.
In her partnership with Booth (David Boreanaz), Brennan had a man who was generally comfortable with supporting her. It was a variation on a classic theme of logic (Brennan) meeting emotion (Booth).
“The story engine is an age-old story, which is a rational empiricist versus … someone who went on gut and instinct and feelings,” Bones creator Hart Hanson told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview. “Traditionally, the male would be the math guy and the female would be the feelings guy. I thought, let’s turn that around for once.”
Thus Brennan is unrelentingly cerebral, and when she eventually finds a romantic partner in Booth, she’s still the smarter one.
3. UGH: And yet the show contained so much ignorance.
She may be smart, but Brennan has some enormous inconsistencies in her thinking. Despite being an extremely well-educated genius, she almost always equated the law with justice, rarely questioning her alignment with the FBI (and never criticizing Booth’s extrajudicial killings in the line of duty).
She was a scientist who pontificated — loudly — about her vast knowledge of other cultures, and yet seemed to know next to nothing about her own (and much of what she did know about US norms, like social niceties, she held in disdain). For example, in Season 2, as she investigates the death of an Asian woman, Brennan casually demonstrates she’s just as well versed in Chinese practices as a cultural anthropologist who specializes in China. And yet she doesn’t know who Michael Jackson was, or the meaning of the idiom “to get one’s ducks in a row.” These contradictions effectively naturalized American culture and exoticized all others.
Similarly, the series (and Brennan herself) saw science as apolitical and pure, while blithely throwing around terms like “mongoloid” and reiterating the false (and eugenicist) notion that a person’s race is written in every skeleton. Race, as real forensic anthropologists will tell you, is not a concrete category, but Brennan was able to instantly see the “race” of virtually every victim. (ICYMI: Science has been used for political ends like everything else.)