Bones writers Kathy and Kerry Reichs spoke with me recently about “The Woman in the Whirlpool,” their third co-writing endeavor on Bones, following “The Witch in the Wardrobe” and “The Beaver in the Dam.” Most interesting during our discussion was the marriage of science and “universe,” or “arena,” which Kathy explained is key to the design of every Bones episode. “The Woman in the Whirlpool” weaves together the science of hydrodynamics on bone, and the universe of cookie jar collecting. In addition, the obsessive collecting angle provides a comparison to Booth’s gambling addiction and has everyone pondering their own obsessive behaviors as well.
Two episodes away from the 10th season finale, “The Woman in the Whirlpool” has the Jeffersonian team investigating the death of a woman whose remains are suspected to have been caught in an unforgiving whirlpool of one of the only class five rapids east of the Mississippi, where people have been known to disappear for long periods of time.
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What’s Cookie Jar Collecting Have to Do with a Gambling Addiction?
“There’s always the crime, but we want to visit a different arena in every episode whether it’s the world of bowling or ballroom dancing or motorcycles or mini-golf or kayaking,” said Kathy.
“For the universe of ‘The Woman in the Whirlpool,’ we introduce the world of obsessive collecting,” she continued. “A mania for collecting has qualities similar to hoarding, but is distinctly different. It lends itself to interesting biology-versus-psychology questions we thought Brennan, Booth and the squints could debate. Given the arc about Booth’s gambling addiction, an episode about obsessive/compulsive behaviors dovetails nicely.”
“Also, you could perceive that all the characters in the lab are obsessive in their own way,” added Kerry. “You know, Dr. Brennan is obsessive in her pursuit of justice, Hodgins is obsessive with his love of bugs and slime and science. Everyone has their thing. So at what point do you cross the line from diligence and interest into somewhat of a mania?”
Here’s Where the Gambling Addiction Comes In …
“With Booth struggling with his own addiction, it becomes an interesting foil to have these conversations and to look at these characters and to see how we all manage our compulsions in healthy ways and unhealthy ways,” continued Kerry. “You are going to learn a little more about the private lives of the squints, including their own collecting habits.”
As a spoiler, Kerry was willing to spill that one of the other characters in this episode reveals a fairly unique and impressive collection of their own. Something “fantastically scientific and nerdy,” she said. Of course, my brain goes immediately goes to Hodgins, but that would be too obvious. Who else might it be? You’ll have to wait and see.
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How Does Brennan Handle Booth’s Addiction in the Episode?
We saw in “The Eye in the Sky” that Brennan understands that Booth is an addict. How does her head knowledge of addiction and her experience of what he’s going through right now inform her heart and help her to deal with him?
“That is the core struggle that Brennan faces in processing how to deal with the addiction,” agreed Kerry. “And it’s one of the things we actually use in the death in our episode as a nice foil. [The question arises], was this obsessive collecting related to a physical or cranial…”
“A physical explanation verses purely psychological,” explained Kathy more succinctly.
That, my friends, is a mightily interesting question that all Bones fans will be pondering come Thursday evening. I know I will.
How Far Down the Rabbit Hole Must Booth Go Before He and Brennan Get Back to Normal?
“I think that’s exactly what we want fans to be asking themselves, so to give a spoiler about just how low he goes, I’m not sure that’s in the [fans’] best interest,” demurred Kathy. “He goes through a very rough patch. And, of course, if he does, she does.”
“You can also measure it by the fact that we’ve recently aired his troubles with his gambling addiction and there are many episodes between then,” added Kerry, “and our own episode where it’s still an issue. You know, this is not something that emerges and resolves in a short timeframe. This will continue on in a multi-episode arc.”
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What Other Repercussions Can We Expect from Booth’s Addiction?
The fandom wants to know if Brennan and Booth will ever be the same. This knowledge was not something either writer could speak to, for reasons I am sure we all understand. Part of the joy of life is the journey more than the destination. In my humble opinion as a Bones fan, I also appreciate the element of surprise when it comes to my all-time favorite ship. That being said, Kerry had this to add:
“I think, again, something that you are seeing in the multi-episode arc increasingly is Brennan and Angela looking at the environment in which they work. Brennan is at the point where she’s thinking, we’ve been shot at, my husband has gone to jail, our house has been blown up and now this addiction is entering in. Is this really the right working environment to be raising a child? This is a multi-episode arc for her — thinking about as her life is changing personally, is her professional life continuing to be a good match for that?”
Who Determines How Affectionate Brennan and Booth are During an Episode?
Before we moved off the topic of Brennan and Booth’s troubled relationship, I couldn’t resist asking the million dollar question. Why isn’t there more kissing? Why don’t they touch each other or wake up spooning? Where has all that sizzling eye sex gone? Keeping my professional hat on, I eschewed the accusatory directness of those three questions and simply asked the question: Who Determines how affectionate Brennan and Booth are During a Episode?
“For both of us, screenplays are outside our comfort zone,” said Kathy. “There are quirks to television writing that don’t exist in novels. For example, we might write a show featuring one intern, only to find that actor was unavailable and scramble to rewrite the episode for a different character. Or we have to scrap an idea because of budget or location restrictions. In our episode, we couldn’t include scenes of whitewater because while the DC setting has plenty, the locations for filming in LA have none.”
“Writers tend to work in isolation, so collaboration is healthy,” she also mentioned. “It reminds us that the best ideas are forged through back-and-forth, where others are testing flaws, poking holes and pushing you to make your story as tight as possible.
“Finally, we have to adopt a ‘visual rhythm.’ What a novelist might describe in five paragraphs of internal monologue, an actress can convey with the lift of an eyebrow. When I’m the writer, I’ll be more involved on the production side, offering input on casting, props, tone and so forth. In screenwriting, restraint is key: you’re the writer, not the director.”
Kerry added that as a writer, one of the most important skills to master is knowing when enough is enough and then trusting your readers, or viewers, to understand or fill in the blanks. So, in answer to the affection question, Kerry offered this:
“We may make a suggestion that a kiss would be good here, but ultimately it’s up to the director and the actors.”
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Where Did They Get the Idea for a Whirlpool Death?
Bones has delivered over 200 unique deaths over the course of a decade. How do the writers continue to come up with new ways for people to be killed?
According to Kathy, “Story ideas can come from anywhere. It can be something in the headlines like bullying [such as in ‘The Lost and the Found’] or it can just be some weird thing that somebody read about bot flies, as in our previous episode, ‘The Beaver in the Damn’ which BuddyTV voted the all-time most disgusting episode of Bones. One of the fun things for a novelist is that when you write a screenplay, you break the story collectively in the writers’ room. So there are ideas just winging all over the place. So, where do our ideas come from such as bullying? It could be anywhere.”
Added Kerry, “As a non-forensic scientist, I can say that being around it, you start to see interesting ideas for death. I’ll read an article and say, hey, did you know there’s a python epidemic in the everglades. You [Kathy] should think about writing something about what if a bone was digested by a python. That’s what her e-short Swamp Bones is about. I’ll see an article about these kayakers and we’ll talk about if that’s something that could be done in a story.”
“Kerry lives in DC and she’s aware of the kayaking community,” added Kathy. “Also, indirectly, I live in Charlotte, NC, which is the home of the US National Whitewater Center where our Olympic team trains for whitewater kayaking events. So we both, I guess you could say, had whitewater on our brain a little bit.”
“In our episode,” Kerry went on to say, “the idea of the state of the body definitely came from the kayaking community here in Washington DC. It’s a very active community. It’s one of the only class V rapids east of the Mississippi, and the Great Falls is a very dangerous and treacherous water navigation strait. They have these pockets where people have been known to disappear for years, forever, or for a couple days. I was always fascinated by that. My mom and I started talking about it. We were thinking, ‘What would that do to a body and what would that do to the bones?’ That was the scientific premise for our current ‘Woman in the Whirlpool.'”
“Expect to see a water baptism that leads to a more grisly picture of the afterlife than eternal salvation,” they both agreed.
How Did You Find Out What Effect Hydrodynamics Has on Bone?
Did the Bones team dunk a side of beef into a whirlpool? Did they then leave it there until all the viscera was eroded away and the water made its mark on the bone? How do they figure this kind of thing out, I wondered.
In answer to my question, Kathy chuckled. “We’re not Hodgins. We don’t do experiments. Well … sometimes!”
“We let the others do most of the research for us,” continued Kerry, “particularly the grisly stuff. No, if we’re going to propose a scientific angle on the show, a scientific Bones novelty, we will do all the research first and bring it in. With our previous episode in season 9, we wrote about the universe of sperm donors and brought all this interesting information about how they screen them and the impact of testosterone on sperm production and what the related medication would do to a physical corpse, to the bone, and to any of the tissue that remains for the lab team to work with.”
“Also, we have incredible researchers,” added Kathy. “If someone throws out an idea of, for example, what impact would pounding, swirling water have on bones, they can ask me that, and if I don’t know, I know the professional journals to send them to to find the answers. It’s all done through research.”
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What Happens to Their Idea in the Writers’ Room?
“You come to the writers’ room with a fairly fleshed-out idea of what our corpses look like,” explained Kerry, “and then they push back. They love the expression, ‘I’m bumping up against this here or here.’ And then you all collectively hash out how to overcome some of the ambiguities. Sometimes, it’s a combination of being both accurate and easily conveyable to the general viewing public, both on the human side and the anatomical side, when the person watching the episode might just go, ‘Huh. I’m having a hard time following that.'”
“One thing the writers’ room does is, as these interesting ideas cross your brain waves, they keep lists of potential body finds or universes that they want to explore,” she added. “At the time that an episode seems a good fit for something that’s been on the list as something they’d like to revisit in greater depth, they’ll pair them together.”
She went on to say, “This was a case where the science and the universe evolved separately. We’d been wanting to explore obsessive collecting and we’d been wanting to look at hydraulic impact on bone, and we thought, Oh, hey, we could put these two together here! This may be an episode where we can work on both the science and the universe in harmony!”
There you have it, Boneheads, straight from the mouths (and keyboards) of two of the most acclaimed Bones writers!
Bones airs Thursdays at 8pm on FOX.
(Images courtesy of FOX)