In response to unedopinion, who asked the following question: I’m interested in your thoughts on Bones cause I haven’t been able to describe what exactly it is that changed but something has felt off for quite some time, and hadn’t thought of Brennan being the focal point. Could you possibly illuminate further?
OK, so: bearing in mind that I stopped watching in the middle of season seven, and therefore can’t speak to any changes that have happened since, for me, the show underwent a noticeable shift as of season four. Partly, I believe, this was due to a change in writing staff; Bones was one of the shows that ended up with a short 2007-2008 season because of the Writer’s Guild Strike, and as the presumable result of this, given the timing, many writers who’d worked on the first three seasons were replaced from season four onwards.
More saliently, though, there seems to also have been a conscious decision to change Dr Brennan’s character. In the pilot episode, Bones is described as having “a disturbingly steep learning curve”: she’s fiercely intelligent, and her brusque manner is characterised as being a joint consequence of her focus on her work, her disinterest in small talk and her habit of distancing herself from potential pain, given her traumatic early life. As such, while she sometimes does badly in social situations, she still has a high degree of emotional intelligence and deploys it when the need arises.
But from season four, this steadily changes. Instead, Bones is characterised as someone who’s strongly implied to have a condition like Asperger’s syndrome: she misses increasingly obvious facial, social and behavioural cues, which is played for laughs, and rather than being simply pop-culture illiterate - the original source of her famous and often-repeated “I don’t know what that means” - line, she’s written as being literal to the point of not understanding well-known idioms and phrases.
Now, on the one hand: this later iteration of Bones is an unquestionably important character, inasmuch as she constitutes a rare, positive example of a non-neurotypical woman on TV. But on the other hand, and particularly as the show goes on, her competence is steadily whittled down to the point where Booth is constantly having to lead her by the hand, explaining basic social cues and rescuing her from danger. Early Brennan has a black belt in karate and carries a gun, but later Brennan seems to have lost all skills in self-defence. And not only does her disturbingly steep learning curve go right out the window, but we see her loosing skills she was already shown to possess. In The Double Death of the Dearly Departed (4x21), for instance, the running gag for literally the entire episode is Brennan’s inability to behave with appropriate tact or sadness at the funeral of a colleague, despite the fact that, in the first three seasons, we see her attend multiple such functions without a problem.
In conclusion, while there’s a lot I loved - and still love - about Bones, the version of Temperance Brennan who won me over in the first three seasons pretty much disappears in season four, and while I won’t fault anyone who prefers the person she turns into - successful, non-neurotypical women on TV aren’t exactly thick on the ground - I can’t get past how jarring the transition was, how great a retcon it involved, and the extent to which her cluelessness seemed to keep growing with every season. There were other issues, too - pretty much every character had their background retconned, sometimes in the space of successive episodes; the crimes became steadily more ornate and ludicrous - but this is ultimately what turned me away from the show.
tl;dr: Brennan starts out like Lara Croft, and ends up closer to Amy Farrah-Fowler, and that is really not what I signed up for.