I caught an episode of “Bones” the other day, “The Daredevil in the Mold” from Season 6. One of the sub-plots is that Booth asks his girlfriend Hannah to marry him. That’s pretty much the only scene I saw that day, so there may be some issues surrounding the proposal I’ve forgotten. But by the end of that episode, I was shaking my head. This was bad drama and lazy writing. Even worse, it shows a limited grasp of relationship possibilities. First, the setup:
- Booth unilaterally decides to ask Hannah to marry him
- DESPITE the fact that Hannah had told him she wasn’t the marrying kind
- DESPITE the fact she’d told him this repeatedly
- DESPITE the fact that her job took her away often (iirc)
- Hannah says no
- Booth, shocked, shocked I tell you! that despite all of her earlier declarative statements regarding not wanting to get married that she does note want to get married. Being all butthurt, the mopey Booth ends the relationship and kicks her out of the apartment
Lazy writing. I’m guessing that, as fun as the Hannah character was, the writers needed to get rid of her in order to make room for Bones and Booth to get together in the next season to give an explanation to Emily Deschanel’s real-life pregnancy. I’ll give them this: they kept Booth’s actions consistent with his long-demonstrated reactionary approach to relationships as well as his less-than-stellar record of actually paying attention to the women in his life. Sure, it served the dramatic purpose of breaking them up, but BORING.
But what fascinated me most (having almost zero investment anymore in “Bones”) was how easy it was to use the “relationship escalator” as a convenient (and lazy, don’t forget lazy) shorthand to create a dramatic break between characters. The audience all knows the escalator and most even sympathize with Booth for attempting to “take it to the next level” and being shot down by the woman who just doesn’t understand how wonderful a life filled with Booth ignoring their explicit statements detailing their wishes would be.
Unfortunately, the writers reward Booth for his simplistic and immature behavior towards Hannah and “give” him Brennan to create the family he wants (regardless of the fact that it wasn’t anything that Brennan wanted. What women want isn’t held very highly by the writers/producers of “Bones.”) He fails “upward” in his attempts to stay on the relationship escalator. Boring. Lazy. Safe.
Especially galling is the fact that so very few relationships fall into the standard narrative anymore. And we all know this! Not everyone gets married. Hell, a bare majority of adults are married in the US. Not all families are made up of one each, male and female. There are unmarried people with families and remarried people with families, chock full of step- and half- siblings and parents and guardians. Most states still don’t allow gay people to get married and not all gay people would marry if they could. The escalator no longer describes most of us, and yet most of us seem happy to let that model be our definition, even if it means feeling like a failure for not being in a relationship that matches that model.
In my writing, I try to depict different relationship models and structures. It isn’t that I think no one should be a couple made up of male-bodied and female-bodied people. Far from it. What I want to show is that the effort people put in to deliberate relationships will make it more likely that everyone involved has a good shot at long term happiness. Why? Because the effort expended is most often about what will improve the odds at happiness. They don’t simply assume that riding the escalator all the way to the top will result in happiness. Instead, they question their own needs and desires, they interrogate the needs and desires of the people in the relationship with him, and together, everyone involved seek the path that will maximize the happiness of all those involved.
This is not to say that Booth would be good at any other relationship structure. For one thing, his identity is based on doing the “right” thing without ever actually questioning what that means. He constantly gets rewarded for being unimaginative, anti-intellectual, and unevolved. I’m not saying all successful polyamorists are highly evolved individuals, but few successful polyamorists are as unevolved as Seeley Booth is. I’m sure the writers will make sure that Booth is happy with Brennan. But that’s only because the writers are fine with so completely rewriting Brennan’s character as to make her fit with Booth. It’s her show, but his narrative, and that’s not only boring. It’s annoying.