After years of the show being characterized as comedy, Bones is finally beginning to make a tonal shift that hasn’t been felt since its early years. This is not to say that the show hasn’t been punctuated with heavier topics over the seasons, but by and large, the showrunners gone for the cheap laugh over the thoughtful pause.
Recently, however, they’ve returned to their more dramatic roots, first drawing awareness to neurofibromatosis, followed by an episode that explored Brennan’s (Emily Deschanel) relationship with her mother in a brush with death. Last week, the subject matter centered around sexual abuse victims. Tonight’s episode held little levity as the team solved the murder of a former child soldier.
From the previews, it seemed as if this episode would be more in line with the morbid humor the show has often indulged in, but within the first ten minutes, it’s clear just how far from the truth that was. The identification of Symchay Conteh is one of the easiest the team has had - there aren’t many West Africans in the missing persons database - despite his body being encased in a soap-like substance inside of a hazardous waste barrel. Booth (David Boreanaz) and Sweets (John Francis Daley) discover that he was a refugee from Sierra Leone who was trying to put his past behind him and build a new life in the US.
It’s Brennan and intern-of-the-week Arastoo (Pej Vahdat), however, who fill in the details – like the broken bones healed in childhood that scream “abuse” and the wounds on his shoulder that indicate repeated use of an AK47 from a young age. It’s here that the story takes off, unfolding through the eyes of a lawyer who helps settle refugees, a photojournalist who covered the war, and Symchay’s friend and fellow child soldier, Brima Chalobah (Kareem Grimes).
If a picture is worth a thousand words, than Bones composes a tome as the camera pans smoothly, yet purposefully, through photojournalist Singer’s (Annie Fitzgerald) gallery of photos from her war coverage. Brennan, too, has pictures of child soldiers that once protected her during her time in Darfur. Both women are passionate that this way of life should not be considered normal for children and both speak words that stir the heart against social injustice.
Even more moving are the personal testimonies given by Arastoo and Brima Chalobah; each working through their own pain as they are compelled to describe the horrors that no child should ever have to face. The most heart-crushing moment is when Chalobah moves through the exhibit gallery, naming the children and telling their stories. Then he falls to his knees in front of one of the photos, identifying the man as a former General wanted for war crimes, who Chalobah has seen working as a janitor in Symchay’s apartment building.
This episode captures the flavor of the first two seasons of Bones so well that it only seems fitting they bring back guest star Danny Woodburn from season 2 as State Department official Alex Radziwill.
Last time Radziwill was one of the main adversaries in the case, but here he’s an ally, and though he might call Booth’s interrogation of former General Mbarga (Ntare Mwine) into question, he is equally invested in seeking justice. When it’s discovered the refugee lawyer, Hamilton (Adam Kulbersh), is the one who killed Symchay, Radziwill in on-hand for the arrest and stays to speak with the bewildered and frightened refugees.
Only two things make this episode feel slightly off-balance. The first is the ongoing discussion between Booth and Brennan about where – and why – they should vacation, which at least came to a suitable resolution. But even more so off-balance is the romance between Arastoo and Cam (Tamara Taylor). Their relationship feels like a forced love in a cheesy romantic comedy through most of the episode and even Arastoo’s moving testimony about his cousin is lessened as the focus shifts too quickly to everyone in the lab suddenly realizing the two are dating.
Other than that, however, this is a solid episode that showcases the writing and acting talent Bones has at its disposal while bringing to light some of the social injustices we tend to ignore in our comfortable lives.
Bones airs Mondays @8pm on FOX.