Respectless Television

I've been thinking about the last episode of the last season of Bones for awhile now. It bothers me so much, I have to write about it.

In the episode, a mother is dying from AIDS. She believes she will no longer be able to care for her mentally retarded daughter. So she kills her. At the end of the episode, Bones goes to prison and tells the mother, "I understand--your motive was love" or words to that effect.

At that moment, I lost all respect for the writers of the show. Which upset me, since up to that point, I'd considered Bones one of the better written shows on television. But there are a few things I can't stand, and I'm afraid the above plot (as well as Bones' reaction to the above plot) is one of them.

I'm not a politically correct kind of person. If I was, I would have referred to the daughter as "a young person with mental disabilities." Having made that disclaimer, it astonishes me how morally purblind television can be about "children with disabilities."

Let's take a look at Booth and Bones' reaction to a child with "normal" abilities. An ambitious mother encourages her "normal" nine-year-old daughter to compete in beauty pageants--veneering her teeth, buying her a corset. Booth and Bones are appalled, and rightly so. The crazy, ambitious mother argues that her daughter LOVES competing; why should the mother withhold something so fun? I've heard non-fictional mothers make this kind of argument on Dr. Phil and wanted to smack them. When I was nine, my idea of fun was dumping two pounds of sugar on my Cheerios; that doesn't mean it was a good idea.

Anyway, Booth and Bones are appalled and angry and snotty to the crazy, ambitious mother. And they don't change their minds when it turns out that beauty pageant pressure was largely to blame for the girl's death. (By the way, the scene in that episode where Bones teaches anthropological heirarchies, with pictures of skeletons, to pre-adolescent girls is great.)

We turn now to the last episode of the season: the primary caregiver of a mentally retarded daughter decides to kill her daughter. So the mother is a sicko. She decides to commit murder because her daughter couldn't possibly have any kind of life without the mother around, which makes her an egotistical sicko. She believes there is no other way to help the daughter. Murder is a probable and plausible solution to this woman. Which makes her an egotistical, sociopathic sicko.

This is love? This is any sane person's definition of love?

Granted, the kid would probably have been stuck in a state-run institution and granted state-run institutions don't have the best reputation. If I remember correctly, I believe there was a chance the kid would be put into the care of a rather nasty individual. And that's all very bad. But let's look at this another way.

The caregiver of a boy with "normal" abilities is going to die. The seven-year-old boy will be put into foster care. The caregiver decides--out of "love"--to kill the child to spare him from the horrible foster care system.

Okay, now, doesn't that make you want to barf?

So, why is it different when the kid is mentally retarded? Why is it okay to poison and/or push mentally retarded kids onto railway tracks (same plot: Cold Case episode)? Because mentally retarded kids couldn't possibly have or want to live like everyone else? Because their desires can't be easily assertained, so the primary care giver must know best? Because mentally retarded kids never recover from the deaths of primary caregivers? Because death is better for mentally retarded kids than institutional living or even life under rotten conditions? Could it be that the writers believe mental retardation is worse than death and the only thing that makes it okay is the wonderful caregiver?

Politically incorrect questions, and House can ask them because he is honestly trying to understand the underlying moral reasoning to people's behavior. But the Bones' writers weren't trying to understand any underlying moral standard when Bones got all compassionate with the egotistical, morally-depraved mother: they were just falling back on a fictional cliche that is too superficial and stupid to be believed.

What will they do next season? Have a mentally retarded child molested by a pedophile, and then have Bones go to the prison and tell the pedophile, "Oh, yes, I understand--you did it out of love"? You can bet Bones wouldn't say that about a pedophile of a "normal" child. But I suppose the comparison isn't fair. After all, in the hands of the right writer, murder can be made to look as sweet and innocuous and heart-wrenching as sending a kid off to day camp. I wonder if Susan Smith's kids feel the same way under all that lake water?


1 comment:

Eugene said...

I interpret the scene in question in a different light. The series has maintained quite consistently that Bones believes that "love"--especially romantic love, but there is an episode where she dismisses mother-child bonding as the mere work of hormones--is little more than an ex post facto social construct. In fact, she is so lacking in human empathy that Booth would rather she say nothing when meeting with bereaved parents (or in any other situation requiring genuine human emotion).

This is explained as arising out of her abandonment as a child, first by her parents and then by her brother. This was done, she is later informed, out of "love." When her father shows up in her life again, he announces his presence by killing a bunch of people, again out of "love." So in this episode I don't believe that Bones has suddenly grasped the essence of human feelings. Rather, she is saying: "Oh, I get it. You did this out of 'love.'" That she makes the statement so matter-of-factly only deepens the irony.

Granted, I think the writers have a bit of a cake-and-eat-it-too dilemma: how to create a House-like character who puts intellectual understanding over human understanding, and yet remains sufficiently appealing with the audience. Has there ever been--could there ever be--a female "Monk"?