For 12 seasons, Bones feverishly mixed together every genre it could; the showrunners called it a "romantic crimedy," which is a fancy way of saying "Fox procedural." Bones, bless it, wanted to offer something for everyone. A recent study concluded that Republicans and Democrats all like Bones, and maybe in the later years you could argue that this is because the show had settled into a neutral middle ground, but in the early years it's because, and I mean this as a compliment, Bones was all over the place. I loved it most in those early seasons, when the rom-com elements and the dramatic crimes were still uneasy with each other. The series was an endearingly weird mashup of conflicting ideas trying to work in harmony, a union mirrored in its central couple: Brennan (Emily Deschanel), the liberally open-minded scientist with a clinical approach to death, and Booth (David Boreanaz), the Catholic FBI agent and former Army Ranger sniper desperate to right his "cosmic balance sheet" by catching murderers. No matter where Bones went, Booth and Brennan were always there, and although they changed along with the show, their dynamic remained the best part of it.
Bones, which ran on Fox from 2005 to 2017, staked its appeal on the procedural genre's most hallowed ground, the will they/won't they relationship. Brennan, who worked as a forensic anthropologist at the Jeffersonian Institute (a barely fictional Smithsonian), consulted on murder cases with Booth at the FBI. As a pair, the rational, scientific woman and the emotional, intuitive man were so obviously indebted to The X-Files' Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Mulder (David Duchovny, who also directed an episode of Bones) that in the pilot Booth just got it out of the way and admitted as much. But while The X-Files fought tooth and nail against making its core romance explicit, Bones gave in to the sexual tension. Booth and Brennan's dynamic evolved from bickering to genuine trust to romantic pursuit; then, at the end of the sixth season, Brennan announced that she was pregnant, and that was that. Bones ran for so many years that it managed to string along its central couple for six full seasons and then air another six seasons of (mostly) domestic bliss, thumbing its nose at the Moonlighting Curse. (The later seasons weren't as good as the early years, but that's largely unrelated.) Booth and Brennan had a kid, got married, had another kid, and kept solving crimes, and people kept watching.
What set Booth and Brennan apart from so many other TV duos — aside from Boreanaz and Deschanel's magnetic chemistry — was the show's dedication to exploring why they made sense together. Bones wasn't content to simply shove the partners into enough high-stress situations to pass for common ground; it wanted them to really connect. I always come back to the show's best episode, Season 2's "Aliens in a Spaceship," which trapped Brennan and Hodgins (TJ Thyne) underground while Booth and the rest of the team worked together to rescue them. Booth could have just as easily been the one buried with Brennan, but Bones wasn't a show about two people stuck together who learned to get along. It was more interested in the idea of two people who cared about each other and, with their friends' help, found a way to bridge the gaps between them.
Professionally, Booth and Brennan were engineered to work as a team. She identified victims; he caught killers. They wanted justice from opposite ends. Personally, they shared symmetrical traumas that felt organic to the show because of how well the characters' backstories justified who they were and why they fit together. They were both orphaned, in a sense. Brennan's parents were career criminals who assumed new identities shortly after she was born, then abandoned her and her older brother to keep the kids safe when their cover was blown. Until the end of the first season, Brennan knew only that her parents had disappeared without a trace; she relished her job with Booth because it allowed her to give people the closure she didn't have. "I say their names out loud," she told Booth in Season 1. "I return them to their loved ones. And you arrest the bad guy. I like that."
As for Booth, his dad was an abusive alcoholic; he and his younger brother were eventually raised by their grandfather. On the scale of TV's tragic backstory revelations, this one came late; Booth didn't open up about his father until Season 4. (Before that, the show was mostly focused on the emotional conflict between his loyal patriotism, which often felt like the most Bush-era thing about the show, and his guilt over his actions as a former sniper.) But it felt immediately integral to his personality that Booth had been raised by his Pops. Booth's past explained the tension — the mix of chivalrous, old-school masculinity and heart-on-his-sleeve vulnerability — that made the character so interesting in the early seasons. An ex-jock who felt most secure in his manhood when he was fixing things, Booth sometimes seemed like a relic surrounded by a crowd of forward-thinking female scientists. But at the same time, he was unselfconsciously sensitive, unwilling to glorify violence, and in awe of Brennan's super-smart brand of radicalism.
The producers compared them to Old Hollywood duos, but Booth and Brennan's throwback rapport — the witty banter, the way they made catching murderers look a little glamorous — belied the show's modern touches. Brennan was a far cooler character than the popular memory gives her credit for being. She was well traveled and curious; as confident as she was in her peerless intelligence, she was equally comfortable admitting what she didn't know. There was no insecurity to her. TV's typical shorthand for a "strong woman" is to hand her a badge and a gun, but Brennan had no badge and almost never had a gun, so Bones rooted her strength in her ideas. She refused to play the role of damsel by rejecting the concept of it. "I took a bullet for you," Booth reminded her in the third season, with his wound still bandaged. But Brennan wouldn't let him lord that over her until they weren't on equal footing. "Once!" she countered. "That only goes so far." Her instinct was to question every position of power. And Booth, through his dynamic with her, became an exploration of how traditional masculinity functions in our time, as Brennan challenged him to expand his own perspective.
Booth was smitten with Brennan when they first met, another detail the show waited a few seasons to reveal. The pilot had teased that their first case didn't end well, but Bones' 100th episode, which flashed back to that case, revealed that Booth and Brennan liked each other right away — the infatuation turned sour after Brennan pulled back, but not before they kissed and almost slept together. (Booth and Brennan made out before the pilot was a Fight Club-level twist.) In light of these revelations, their long history of denial started to look less like cluelessness and more like careful discipline; they were just afraid of losing the unconventional friendship they'd forged after their initial romance imploded. It's a time-honored tradition to drag out a will they/won't they dynamic as much as humanly possible. Bones played the game, but it worked overtime to make the long wait make sense, even retroactively.
At the end of the 100th episode, back in the show's present-day timeline, Booth took a risk and asked Brennan to give their relationship another shot, prompting her to repeat the old cliché that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. "Then let's go for a different outcome here," Booth argued. What he meant was that their partnership was already a different outcome; if their bond defied logic anyway, why not keep taking risks? Brennan turned him down, and Bones, to its great credit, didn't romanticize the idea of Booth pursuing Brennan against her wishes. He respected her "no," moved on, and dated other people. But the fact that they got together in the end proved him right: Their relationship was a series of second chances.
The series waited as long as it could to flip the switch on Booth and Brennan's romance, but when it did, it committed. And while the later seasons watered down their individual personalities — Brennan got less iconoclastic; Booth got less smart — Bones didn't betray their relationship, which remained grounded in the steady foundation the show had built. (Sure, there was one absurd plotline about a serial killer who decided his only mission was to stop Booth and Brennan from getting married, but that was just Bones sowing its wild oats one last time before the wedding.) The couple only separated once after they got together, when Booth relapsed in his gambling addiction in the tenth season, and the show handled their split with empathy. Brennan wasn't responsible for fixing Booth but for giving him a reason to fix himself.
With Booth and Brennan's romance, Bones countered the trauma of their work and their pasts with the hope of a fresh start. There was something both comforting and thrilling in that balance. Brennan hated psychology for reasons that were sometimes irrationally stubborn, but she argued once, very rationally, that a lot of people who have bad parents don't turn out to be serial killers. Her broader point — that no one is just the sum of their experiences — was one the show applied to its central couple as well. For all of the keys Bones offered to explain what made Booth and Brennan tick, the series also celebrated the inexplicable aspects of the spark between them. Their jobs depended on trying to figure people out, but it was the way they defied predictability that made them so compelling.
Bones is streaming on Hulu.