The beauty of this episode of Bones is the way it slowly unfurls so that you don’t catch the true weight of its significance until the very end. The writing and acting are especially strong here, which is remarkable considering how many characters this episode featured. Not since Booth’s (David Boreanaz) coma dream in season 4 have so many of Brennan’s (Emily Deschanel) squinterns been gathered all at once, but each one is given their due, and together they – along with the other Jeffersonian regulars – tell a moving tale.

It begins innocuously enough. Brennan, having swapped Nova episodes for basketball games, decides to model her leadership techniques after the great Phil Jackson so she can turn her group of highly individualistic students into solid team unit. Clark (Eugene Byrd), Arastoo (Pej Vahdat), Wendell (Michael Grant Terry), Finn (Luke Kleintank), and the ever-dour Fischer (Joel David Moore) at first treat the task of identifying old remains in bone storage like a game, each one trying to out-perform the others.

Amid the hubbub, Arastoo is stymied by the remains of a homeless man found beaten to death behind a parking garage. When asked to explain why the others are ahead of him in the numbers column, Arastoo asserts that this victim is no less worthy of his attention than anyone else. Slowly, he pieces the details of the man’s life together, drawing on the help of his colleagues until they are all pulled into the case.

From the moment Booth identifies the man as a fellow soldier in the Gulf War, he is determined to uncover what happened to him. The intensity doubles when he learns the man was wounded at the Pentagon on September 11th. With this discovery, the tone of the episode shifts and the tension between the squinterns builds until Finn and Arastoo reach a breaking point. Both the writing and the acting of this touchy conversation between a Christian and a Muslim are superbly handled with class and respect for both groups. Even more touching are the recollections given by each of the squinterns, weighing in on how the day affected them.

The victim, Tim Murphy, was a soldier who suffered from PTSD after coming home. Alienated from his wife and son, he was known only as a nuisance who stood outside of the Pentagon, yelling nonsense at those who walked past. Except it wasn’t nonsense. He was calling out the names of the three buddies he lost in the war because his letters petitioning them for a silver star had gone unanswered. But when the plane hit the Pentagon, Murphy entered the burning building and rescued three people. In the end, the squints determine that his heroic efforts were what led to his death. Together with Tim’s family and the people he rescued, the Jeffersonian team attends Tim’s funeral, where a uniformed Booth gives a moving eulogy.

This is one of the most powerful episodes Bones has put forth in eight seasons; one that fans can go back to time after time and appreciate, from Aratoo’s impassioned speech to Brennan’s tearful meltdown. While other shows might choose more popular holidays as a theme, this Veteran’s Day episode suits Bones well thanks to the writers, the actors, and the true veterans who inspired them.

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Bones returns next Monday with “The Bod in the Pod” @8pm on Fox.