Once upon a time there was a skeptic and a believer who teamed up to solve mysteries on a popular FOX drama. But, with the X-Files’ cancellation in 2002, television audiences lost the delightful facts-vs.-faith parrying of FBI Agents Mulder and Scully. While Scully often played skeptic to Mulder’s alien acceptance, it was Scully’s deep, abiding Catholic faith and Mulder’s open contempt of organized religions that provided viewers with a delightfully complex, realistic relationship; a relationship of agreeing to disagree.
Thank goodness for “Bones.” The show, starring “Angel’s” David Boreanaz as FBI agent Seeley Booth and Emily Deschanel as Dr. Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist and best-selling author, changes up the format a bit with Booth being the devout Catholic and Brennan the atheist.
In this week’s episode, Dr. Brennan and team are called to a church graveyard whose inhabitants have been unearthed by a water main break only to discover that one of the corpses is a fairly new addition. Brennan and Booth set out to discover the victim’s identity.
The older parish priest, Father Donlon, is offended that Brennan isn’t paying proper respect to consecrated ground. “Am I supposed to walk on eggshells because someone believes that a plot of earth has supernatural properties because someone waved a wand over it,” Brennan asks Booth.
“There’s no wand. The church doesn’t use wands,” Booth sputters, clearly taken aback.
“Fine. Magic water,” replies Dr. Brennan.
“Magic? Holy water,” says an exasperated Booth who decides he doesn’t want to work on the case since Brennan is attacking his beliefs. “Can’t you just be satisfied that if I’m wrong about God I’ll burn in hell,” retorts Brennan.
Thanks to Boreanaz’s and Deschanel’s comedic timing, these lines come off as neither crass nor hollow and remind me of many discussions of religion amongst friends. And when Brennan explains to the curmudgeonly Father Donlon that the Yew tree was, in fact, sacred to the Druids first, you almost believe that she was just trying to strike up “friendly conversation.”
My only problem with the show is that, as an anthropologist, Brennan shows appropriate respect when dealing with other belief systems–Voodoo, Chinese folk practices–but openly derides Booth’s Catholicism; then again, perhaps it’s because they have a personal as well as a professional relationship. And it’s just one of the many delightful tensions fueling their relationship.
Much like “The X-Files,” this science vs. spirituality motif is not often the main plot point, oftentimes simply coloring the corpse-of-the-week storyline. But, no bones about it, when the writers of “Bones” do touch upon matters of faith, it’s a divine dramedy.
Watch “The Priest in the Churchyard” here.