There are no on-screen declarations of love, no furniture is broken, and the supposedly terrifying killer spends most of his onscreen time teaching computer classes at a community college, yet the Bones season 8 premiere manages to be one of its stronger openers in recent years.
The strength of Bones has always been its characters and "The Future in the Present" continues that tradition, delivering a strong ensemble performance. While their goal focuses around restoring Brennan (Emily Deschanel) to the lab, each of the six main characters has their moment in the spotlight.
As the camera opens on a pastoral picnic in the foothills of a very fake mountain, it's revealed that three months have passed since the serial killer Pelant (Andrew Leeds) framed Brennan for murder, forcing her to go on the lam with her father, Max (Ryan O'Neal), and infant daughter, Christine. It appears that all the brilliant forensic anthropologist needed to soften her harsher edges was a progeny because the opening scene with she and her daughter is nothing short of touching. Clearly she misses Booth (David Boreanaz) and is growing weary of a life on the run. Of course she is still the top scientist in her field and she's lost nothing of the essentials of her character, but she has grown and hopefully that growth will only continue.
Meanwhile back in DC, Booth is stuck at a desk, forced to watch Special Agent Hayes Flynn (Reed Diamond) take over his office and continue a full FBI pursuit of Brennan. Boreanaz plays an excellent impatient man, giving the picture of a caged tiger just waiting for his chance to pounce. He and Diamond work very well off of one another, giving and taking barbs and exchanging weary looks that make you believe they've been at this song and dance routine about Brennan's whereabouts for far too long. Not surprising, then, that Booth heads out as soon as there's a body that could be tied to Pelant and he doesn't leave Brennan's side once she finds him. Also, it's good to see the more serious, cop, side of Booth come out to play.
Diamond, meanwhile, does a good job of convincing the audience that while he may be sympathetic to Booth, he's still going to be a professional and do his job. The character of Flynn is one of the first FBI recurring roles to not come off as a patsy since John M. Jackson leant his formidable skills to the role of Deputy Director Sam Cullen, back in the show's infancy. Let's hope that trend continues and that a larger role for Diamond is being carved around the final shot of this episode.
Angela (Michaela Conlin) and Hodgins (TJ Thyne) are also given roles that hearken back to their roots. This is not the shallow, pithy Angela of recent years, but rather a return of the woman who has been firmly on Brennan's team from the very beginning; the one who would rather be put in jail than testify against her best friend's father. Yes, she's got all of the fancy equipment she's accrued over the years, but it's a means to an end here and the major focus is on hers and Brennan's friendship.
Her husband, whose bond with Brennan was sealed in a car trapped underground, gets back in touch with his angry side. Pelant can cite all of the psych reports he wants, but fans know Hodgins will bite worse than his bark if his family is in jeopardy. Thyne's scene where he clinically chokes Pelant could've been over the top, but he reins it in and delivers instead the most intense scene in the episode. The scenes between he and Tamara Taylor's, Cam, also crackle with energy, convincing the audience there's nothing Hodgins loves more than a twisted conspiracy of his own making.
Speaking of Cam, this was one of her better outings as well. Too often Taylor is underused and while she did utter her usual "send these results to Booth" line, at least this time it proves to be a salient plot point, rather than something to transition the show from point A to point B. She demonstrates great range of emotion here too, especially in her scenes with Clark (Eugene Byrd). Though let's hope that her taking him out for drinks doesn't foreshadow a coming relationship between the two. Angela already proved how awkward boinking the squinterns can be.
If anyone did get the short end of the straw in this ensemble piece it was Sweets (John Francis Daley), but not in a bad way. Sweets has come from being the annoying shrink to a guy Booth trusts not only to play his straight man in their subterfuge against Flynn, but also to protect Brennan at the lab - Not a role Booth hands over lightly. His insights on Pelant are what keep the serial killer tension from sagging.
Three guests stars are also so tightly woven into this piece one forgets they aren't part of the regular cast. The ebullient Patricia Belcher brings as much spunk and vivacity to the small screen as she has in each of her other twenty-seven appearances as federal prosecutor Caroline Julian. Her acerbic wit is unmatched and her blatant political incorrectness is a refreshing breeze amidst the stench of death and decay. It is for this reason Bones fans secretly hope Belcher never gets her own series; or that Hanson will one day cave and hire her himself.
Eugene Byrd is another familiar face in the Bones universe. His character Clark has always been the scientist on the outside looking in at the crew of the Jeffersonian, but always with an air of professional pride in his work. Here, Cam points out that he is not petty, nor does he shy away from essentially working himself out of a job by solving Brennan's case. The binders are a great running gag that didn't get too out of hand and are even validated by Brennan in the end. For his years of hard work it's fulfilling to see Clark being rewarded with permanent employment.
Finally, Ryan O'Neal returns as Brennan's father, Max Keenan. The criminal side of Max was hinted at in the season finale last year but is now in full bloom. Where Brennan is becoming sentimental, Max is the rational one; keeping them on the run and making sure they are one step ahead of both Pelant an the FBI. Running from both the law and the bad guys is how he lived for decades, so it tracks that he thinks much more like a criminal than Booth does. It will be very interesting to see how his insight that Pelant needs to be dead pans out alongside Sweets' warning that Pelant wants one of the team members to kill him. Max also knows a thing or two about creating a new identity so perhaps he will play a role in helping to prove Pelant should not be relinquished to the Egyptians.
The Bones season 8 premiere was a strong one. It tied up some of the loose ends from season 7, while setting up an arc for the rest of the season. It establishes Booth and Brennan as a solid, yet realistic, couple and reminds us just how tight-knit the Jeffersonian crew is as a family. The Pelant story wasn't as weak as it was in the finale nor as strong as it was in "The Crack in the Code" but now they have an opportunity to expand his backstory and personality. Let's hope the writers opt to develop him more like Howard Epps (Heath Freeman) than, say, Gormogon.
Bones airs Mondays at 8/7c on Fox