Nearly 2.5 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan—and that’s not including a few fictional former soldiers and Marines from the TV schedule. John Reese and Joss Carter from Person of Interest, Sam Hanna from NCIS: Los Angeles, Steve McGarrett from Hawaii Five-0, Auggie Anderson from Covert Affairs, Seeley Booth from Bones, and Nicholas Brody from Homeland have all served in at least one of America’s most recent wars—and many of them still bear the scars. (Person of Interest’s Reese, Scandal’s Huck, and Homeland’s Carrie Mathison prove that TV’s CIA agents also suffer for their service.)
Bones has occasionally focused on Seeley Booth’s military service—as with his recent tour in Afghanistan—but the Fox series deserves special praise for its newest episode, which looked at the hidden toll of war, and was aired on the federal holiday commemorating Veterans Day (the day itself fell on Sunday this year). Executive producer Hart Hanson told me via email that it wasn’t written specifically with Veterans Day in mind—it “was one of the four bonus episodes we shot in Season 7 knowing they’d be placed in Season 8.” But the scheduling was “the network’s (very good) idea.”
Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel), a forensic anthropologist at the Jeffersonian Institute, tasks the “squinterns”—the junior scientists working with her team—with solving as many cases as possible from the institute’s “hall of hopeless cases.” (If you’re not familiar with Bones, it follows a team of elite forensic scientists as they attempt to identify human remains and help the FBI solve crimes.) The way the group came to focus on one apparently unfathomable death was the stuff of Procedurals 101, but the resolution—which involved a veteran who suffered severe psychological damage during his service in the first Gulf War, and his heroic sacrifice following the 9/11 attacks—was unexpected and moving. Even better, it fit beautifully into the Bones mythology. We already knew that many of the Jeffersonian’s scientists had worked to identify bodies at the site of the 9/11 attacks, but this episode showed us how the time they spent amid the rubble still haunts them. It also looked at the ways the events of that day affected the interns, who would’ve been teenagers in 2001.
Of course, it’s not unusual for TV shows to emphasize the public-spiritedness of civil servants. Procedurals that follow the work lives of cops, district attorneys, and federal agents tend to focus on commitment to service—judging from television, you’d think no one ever joined their local police department or signed up for the Army for the attractive benefits package. I understand that viewers would rather spend their TV time watching heroes at work, rather than time-serving pension chasers, but just once outside of the confines of premium cable, I’d like to see a show about a decent public servant who nevertheless had a realistic attitude to his job. But now and then I enjoy an all-out celebration of patriotism—and tonight’s Bones was a great one.