She’s as intelligent as Dana Scully; as mission-driven as Buffy Summers; and as capable as Olivia Pope. The Jeffersonian Institute’s crown jewel and the world’s foremost forensic anthropologist should be as celebrated as any of those iconic characters. For the next chapter of Bones Week, we’re doing what we two bloggers can to right this wrong. Let’s appreciate the hell out of Dr. Temperance Brennan.
It wasn’t easy to keep this post to the top ten reasons that we love her. Brennan is a superhero, as far as we’re concerned. Her powers are her massive intellect and heart, and fools of all kinds are her Kryptonite. As played by the absurdly underrated Emily Deschanel, she’s also a hard-luck case with a fierce resilient streak, funny as hell, and a somewhat unintentional bombshell. If all women on TV were written as well as Temperance Brennan, this world would be a better place. We’re going to miss her always, except for those four hours a day Bones reruns air on TNT. –Sage
1. LOOK AT HER
It’s not the most interesting thing about her, but Temperance Brennan is beautiful. Breathtakingly so.
It would feel wrong to talk about it if Brennan weren’t so aware of it herself. We get so offended as a culture if a woman who’s attractive dares acknowledge it, even if that’s the basis of her career. But Brennan knows from Western beauty standards and she’s well aware that she fits most of them. She’s collected empirical evidence of the way people respond to her. Her beauty is a fact, and facts shouldn’t be clouded with emotion. It’s never occurred to Brennan to be modest about her looks, though she also doesn’t want to trade in on them to the point where her accomplishments are diminished. (“I don’t want to be a sexy scientist.” “That’s like me saying I don’t want to be a sexy FBI agent. We can’t change who we are.”)
I marathoned Bones HARD this year, and part of what kept me going is that I never got tired of looking at Emily Deschanel. Runway models would murder for that bone structure: the high cheekbones and strong jaw that any number of master portrait painters would like to get their hands on. That shiny, chestnut-brown hair looks good in even the most dated haircuts of the Brennan canon. Her striking blue eyes sparkle with intelligence and curiosity. And she rocks lab coats and hazmat suits as hard as she rocks a cocktail dress. No wonder Booth is always already looking at her when she tries to sneak a peek.
Sometimes female characters are so stuffed, shellacked, and stifled into sex-object-as-defined-by-studio-exec territory that watching them feels like looking at beauty that’s behind glass. Brennan fits the bill of the gorgeous female lead, but everything about her is so ALIVE. She’s Elizabeth Bennet after she walks through the mud to be with her ill sister at the Bingleys’ and gets Darcy SHOOK. She’s Athena – the goddess of wisdom – wearing some hideous necklace she picked up her travels. It’s that spirit that goes along with her loveliness that makes people gravitate towards her, even though she’s “odd,” by certain social standards. Brennan lights up a room, even when it’s filled with dead bodies. –Sage
2. She’s an Actual Genius
When I sat down to reflect on just what has made Bones so damn special, I always came back to this point: the protagonist is a female genius, whose intellect stands unparalleled. Think about it. Mulder, with all his fancy Oxford degrees, was always on the same intellectual level as Scully. Cristina Yang is a genius (“Screw beautiful, I’m brilliant. If you want to appease me, compliment my brain!”) but Grey’s Anatomy was never HER story. From the very first time we see her in the pilot, Bones has always been Brennan’s story, with Booth serving as the interloper/catalyst for change. So often the role of the “Difficult and Misunderstood Genius” is assigned to male characters, especially in a procedural type of show, so Bones subverts the entire genre by casting Brennan in this role. (That’s not to say that Booth is stupid, because he’s not. His smarts lie elsewhere, and even he acknowledges that he’s ordinary standing next to her.)
Booth: It’s too early for math, Bones. It’s too early.
Brennan: It’s never too early for math.
Sage touches on this in our next point but the most important thing about Brennan’s genius is that she never apologizes for it or downplays it. Brennan RELISHES her genius. Being the smartest person in the room is a point of pride for her and she never lets anyone FORGET that she is that person. She always uses that beautiful brain of hers to her advantage, be it distracting some Men in Black with science jibber-jabber or clinging to her intellect as a shield against the high school bullies who didn’t understand her curious nature or desire to find something BEYOND the insular world she found herself in. In a world where so often women are told to downplay their intelligence as to not threaten The Men, Temperance Brennan stands tall like a tower of strength and for that I am so so so grateful. — Kim
Nothing is more threatening to weak people than a woman who knows exactly how powerful and smart she is and is not afraid to own it. What can be confused for arrogance is trust, in Brennan’s case. She trusts that her colleagues, friends, and partner can handle it and that they will accept her for who she is. And Brennan isn’t just fearless and guileless with them. That’s how she goes through life, and it’s a damn inspiration.
To my ladies reading this: pick a day to be really conscious of how many compliments you deflect, how many times you refuse to take credit, and how many unnecessary apologies you make just for existing. Then implant this filter into your head: What Would Brennan Do? She’ll say she’s sorry, but never for asking someone to do their job. She expects the best out of people who work with her because she’s damn sure giving hers. She doesn’t let impostor syndrome make her feel unworthy of being the boss. And her Squints love her for it, because her high expectations make them better. Modesty is fine. False modesty is not, and neither is culturally mandated negative self-talk.
Booth: Hey, excuse me, you know what, you really need to learn how to speak to human beings.
Brennan: I speak six languages, two of which you’ve never even heard of.
Bones has stayed alive for so long because at its heart, it’s about how book smarts and emotional intelligence inform and complete each other. But everyone is stronger in one of those areas. Imagine how frustrating it must be to Brennan that, though she’s achieved everything she’s wanted to professionally, there are people (including Booth, on their first case) who will ignore those achievements and only focus on where she falls short. When that happens, can you blame her for asserting her extraordinary brilliance?
Brennan’s femininity is so significant. You couldn’t gender swap this character and get the same impact. Booth is the heart and Brennan is the brains – we know this. And though rationality is often incorrectly labeled as a “male” trait, Brennan has never been painted as “one of the guys.” She’s proud to be a woman and never hesitates to bring up the matriarchal societies she’s encountered in her globetrotting, if they’re relevant to the conversation. Her life experience as a female scientist and crime novelist – fated to have to answer more interview questions about her plans to start a family than her work – is an intrinsic part of who she is.
But Brennan isn’t a one-note superwoman character who’s completely impervious to self-doubt. She has no fear in her professional life. The emotional obstacle that she sets up for herself is so poetically expressed in this exchange between Brennan and self-proclaimed psychic Avalon Harmonia from the Season 5 premiere, “Harbingers in a Fountain”:
Avalon: No, the riddle you can’t solve is how somebody can love you.
Brennan: *chuckles* Well, I’m beautiful and very intelligent.
Avalon: The answer to the question that you’re afraid to say out loud is yes. He knows the truth about you. And he is dazzled by that truth.
First of all, holy shit. Secondly, Avalon helps us mere mortals to understand why Brennan takes so long to make herself completely vulnerable with Booth and how much courage it must have cost her to finally do it. –Sage
4. She’s A Great (If Awkward) Friend
5. How Excited She Gets About Acting
Bones made its own fan fic every time Booth and Brennan went undercover together. Whether they were posing as Tony and Roxie, Buck and Wanda Moosejaw, or just slightly altered (and fake married) versions of themselves, my favorite part always comes right before the mission begins. Brennan LOVES acting and is very confident in her abilities. (Much to Booth’s dismay.) Though, let’s be real, she was at her best when acting ass-backwards in love with her partner. –Sage
6. She Just Wants a Gun
The cold open for season one’s “The Man on Death Row” is quite possibly one of my favorite scenes out of near 250 episodes of Bones. On the surface, the scene is hysterical with Brennan’s bluntness about her reasons for wanting a gun (“To shoot people.”) and Booth being caught somewhere between exasperation and overwhelming need to kiss her right then and there. The scene is funny because Bones (once again) flips gender tropes and makes BRENNAN the aggressive partner and the one more likely to fly off the handle when placed in a dangerous situation. But what the whole “give me a gun” thing actually does is speak to her character. Temperance Brennan will not be a damsel in distress. She will not cower in the corner when attacked but instead stand her ground and fight back. It’s not a matter of trust with her, because she DOES trust Booth to protect her, if the situation arises. Wanting her own gun is about her independence. It’s about her being able to rely on herself. It’s about her demanding that she be on equal footing with her partner. (HERO.) And it’s about Booth knowing that she has his back too.
And okay…a little bit of it is about being able to get her ya-yas out. Can you blame her? –Kim
gif sets via drtemperancebrennans.tumblr.com
7. She Sings “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” Better Than Cyndi Lauper
In the style of most Disney princesses, Temperance Brennan has a dead mom. And the Season 3 episode “The Wannabe in the Weeds” gave us the most bittersweet combination of Brennan’s literal sensibilities and her worship of that lost mother. Because she loved her daughter, Christine Brennan told her when she was 13 that she sang “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” better than ’80s pop icon Cyndi Lauper. And while most of us with uplifting parents know now that we’re slightly less impressive than their exaggerated praise attests, Brennan considers this comment gospel. And she holds onto that, even when Booth laughs at her seriousness and Sweets tries to shrink her into reality.
Sweets: It was an expression of affection, Dr. Brennan. Not an objective evaluation of your abilities.
Brennan: Well, I think you’re wrong.
As he always does, Booth does the work to understand where Brennan is coming from. And he orchestrates a chance to bask in that spotlight that her mother thought she deserved. (“This opportunity is a gift from Agent Booth,” Sweets tells her as he points her in the direction of the stage. “Trust yourself, trust your friends.”) I don’t know about better than Cyndi, but Brennan can absolutely sing. And while it was initially funny to Booth that his hardworking scientist partner would identify so strongly with a pink-haired proponent of having a great time, Brennan’s complete commitment to that performance shows him once again how multi-faceted and unpredictable she is. She was always a kid with an eye on her future, but once she was also a girl surrounded by a family who loved her, secure and carefree enough to let go and indulge in a little New Wave from time-to-time. In that karaoke bar, Booth gives her that security and support back and shows her that there’s another family in her life who won’t let her fall. Brennan rises to the occasion, and it’s a big, ol’ Jeffersonian mutual love fest.
And I know this is a Brennan post, but give me just a minute to pay tribute to Booth’s STUPIDLY IN LOVE FACE.
I don’t want to talk about what happens next, so let’s just leave it at that. –Sage
8. She Never Stops Learning
Brennan: Yes. I’m quite strong.
Booth: Yeah, well, you’ve always been strong.
Brennan: You know the difference between strength and imperviousness, right?
Booth: No, not if you’re going to get all scientific on me.
Brennan: Well, uh.. a substance that is impervious to damage doesn’t need to be strong.
Brennan: When you and I met, I was an impervious substance. Now I am a strong substance.
I think that quite possibly my favorite thing about Temperance Brennan is that despite her stubborn appearances, she’s incredibly open to change. But the important thing is that the change comes at her own pace and her own terms as she learns and processes what things mean to her. When we first meet Brennan, she is staunchly anti-marriage. She is unabashed in her refusal to accept traditional gender roles. (“Just because I have breasts doesn’t mean I have magical powers over infants.”) She subscribes to these beliefs because of everything she’s seen on her travels and because it’s how she’s processed anthropological concepts. In her interactions with Booth, who believes in all that yucky love stuff with every fiber of his being, Brennan has a whole new world view opened up to her. And Brennan wouldn’t be Brennan if she didn’t try to understand and learn from it. (I’m just going to quote from my gChat with Sage here: “She needs evidence of things and suddenly Booth becomes her evidence. If she discounted that, she’d be a bad scientist.”)
Bones walked a very fine line when it came to Brennan’s character growth because one could easily say that the show sold out by having this incredibly strong woman at the center of their story so staunchly asserting that she didn’t want to be a wife or a mother BECOMING the very thing she said she didn’t want to be. But when you look at the big picture, Brennan’s evolution makes sense. She had a world view that families didn’t work out. Parents leave. Relationships are fleeting and ephemeral. She’s wired to go at things alone because that’s all the evidence that she’s been presented with. And then along came Seeley Booth, who over and over again offered her evidence to the contrary. When she chooses to bring a child into the world with Booth and when she eventually chooses to become his wife (I love that she does things “out of order” too), she’s not throwing all her beliefs in the garbage. She’s making a choice based on what she’s learned about herself, the world around her, and what she wants for her life. And most importantly, she doesn’t let her life choices affect the core fiber of her being. She still firmly believes that not all women are or HAVE to be wives and mothers. You KNOW that Temperance Brennan would be on the front lines of every single women’s march, proudly sporting her Pussy Hat and a protest sign proclaiming scientific facts. Head canon accepted. — Kim
9. Unparalleled Judgey Face
You know that feeling when you, a person with a brain, are surrounded by determined morons? (Think back to college group projects or maybe your last work conference.) That’s how Brennan feels ALL THE TIME. She’s smarter than everybody AND she can’t control her face. The combination of these things make this woman a walking reaction gif. It also does not help that most of her coworkers think they’re comedians.
She has at least six distinct eye rolls. The furrowed brow is a squint’s cue to run. And hoo boy, when she clenches that jaw? You know you’ve made it to her mental catalog of the dumbest interactions she’s had that day.
So brush up on your Norwegian pronunciation, because otherwise you’ll be the target of one of Dr. Brennan’s withering, corrective glares. –Sage
10. Her Faith in Reason
Brennan: When I see effects and I’m unable to discern the cause, my faith in reason and consequence is shaken.
Booth: And then what happens?
Brennan: Two plus two equals four; I put sugar in my coffee and it tastes sweet; the sun comes up because the world turns. These things are beautiful to me. There are mysteries I will never understand. But everywhere I look, I see proof that for every effect, there is a corresponding cause, even if I can’t see it. I find that reassuring.
Booth: And life is good again.
Brennan: Life is very good.
“As difficult and as frustrating as it’s been sometimes, your goddamned strict rationalism and science have saved me a thousand times over.” Fox Mulder may have said that in a desperate plea to Dana Scully, but he may as well have been talking about Temperance Brennan here.
Brennan lives for facts. She finds beauty and assurance in them. She takes comfort in them. She relies on them to inform her choices (and back up the gut instincts she’s often afraid of). It IS what makes her maddening as a character but it’s also what makes her so special. Even Scully, with all her hard hard science, had her faith in God and the untenable concepts that come along with belief in Him. Not Brennan. She sees the world in black and white. She lives for the WHY and the HOW. And for her, there’s a why and how in every Bible Story or Religious Ritual. For her, it’s not about disproving that God exists, it’s about understanding WHY humans believe that He does. It’s about understanding traditions and ritual and how humankind tries to make the unknowable known. (It’s also about getting under Booth’s skin because he’s SO EASILY provoked when it comes to religion.)
Brennan: Booth will find us.
Hodgins: You have a lot of Faith in Booth.
Brennan: No. Faith is an irrational belief in something that is logically impossible. Overtime, I’ve seen what Booth can do. It’s not Faith.
Hodgins: No offense – and I’m not just saying this because you filleted me with a knife – We are out of air. We don’t know if our message got out, much less if anyone understood it and we are buried underground. What you have is Faith, baby.
Read that again. The REASON Brennan’s belief that Booth will find her and Hodgins in “Aliens in a Spacehip” is so powerful is because she views it all as a FACT, not a hope. We all know it’s actually faith (baby) but Brennan doesn’t see it that way. A scientist and study of human nature to her core, Brennan has studied Booth (yeah she has) and she has cataloged all the evidence and she has come to a logical conclusion. Booth will find her. For Brennan, it’s as much as fact as sugar making her coffee sweet. — Kim