Bones on Poly

I may not have started (or committed to) the Media Project just yet, but I’ve been ruminating over “The Man in the Outhouse,” the latest episode of Bones, for several days now, and I decided to write about it. I doubt that all of the Media Project posts would be this in-depth, unless I basically gave the website over to the Media Project for a year, but this might be a taste of what could be happening here next year.

For those of you who are not familiar with Bones, it’s a procedural based on the Kathy Reichs novels (loosely). It features a forensic anthropologist named Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and her FBI partner, Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz), along with a killer supporting cast which includes Dr. Sweets ( John Francis Daley), who I’m stoked to see back in a regular role as a psychologist who counsels Brennan/Booth and offers profiling advice. I love the show because it’s smart, it’s funny, and it’s really interesting to watch the relationships between the characters, and to look at the cases they examine.

However, I often have problems with the ways in which the show deals with nonconventional sexuality and relationships. Brennan is a strictly pragmatic character, who often approaches these issues from a scientific perspective, while Booth is a devout Catholic, who examines things from a moral perspective. You think that would be a setup for a very interesting point-counterpoint, but Bones often falls sadly short of the mark, and that really bums me out.

In this particular episode, it is quickly established that Brennan is dating two guys at once, one for his intellectual abilities, and one for his more, ah, earthy qualities. There was a lively discussion of polyamory, in which Booth expresses his discomfort, and for the rest of the episode we see him trying to trip Brennan up, obviously dealing with his own subverted affection for Brennan. Which makes for decent television, and is all fine and good, and I was initially quite pleased to see a polyamorous relationship portrayed in a reasonably positive way on television.

However, in the grand denouement at the end of the episode, the two men meet each other, and we learn that Brennan hadn’t actually discussed her relationship and boundaries with either one. Friends, this is not polyamory, this is cheating, and it is an entirely different kettle of fish. I was pretty damn disappointed in the Bones writers for totally mischaracterizing what polyamory is, and for having Brennan express the idea that it’s “not working” in the scene with Sweets at the end of the episode. It also set up the scene for an awkward almost-declaration of love from Booth, but why did they need to slander poly along the way? (Also, can we agree that having B&B get together would be awful for the show? I was actually quite pleased to see Brennan dating, becauase I thought it would add a new dimension of excellence to the show. Alas, I sense a B&B hookup, and I think that would totally kill the show.)

Polyamory is all about communication and open discussion, and what Brennan was doing was pretty much the opposite of that. How much more interesting it would have been if Brennan had been modeling a healthy polyamorous relationship, discussing issues with her partners and working them out, instead of just sneaking around and stringing two men along. And how very sad that Bones viewers who aren’t well-informed came away with a very negative view of polyamory after Wednesday’s episode.

The whole theme of the show was infidelity and its consequences, but the writers apparently fell short of the mark, because polyamory isn’t infidelity.

2 Replies to “Bones on Poly”

  1. Just watched the show on fox.com and I see what you mean. It would have been better if the men involved had known up front. Though I am not sure how one would do that. Also, being in my 50s, well, that’s how things were in my day. Sexual revolution notwithstanding, generally you didn’t tell all in such situations. OTOH, as two out of three persons once involved in just such an outing, my husband and I had some reminiscent chuckles.

  2. Well, the big problem was that her relationships were represented as polyamorous, and they very clearly weren’t. In a poly relationship, these things are discussed up front, so there is no confusion.

    However, I still really like Bones, and I think it’s one of the best procedural shows out there.

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