Temperance Brennan is an interesting character, because, of course, like most characters of her era, she is never actually diagnosed with anything. Fans say she is autistic, the creator says that they chose not to diagnose her because they didn’t want any bad mojo to impact the show because of people’s prejudices, and that she based the character off of someone she knew with Aspergers (supposedly, I’m not real hip on following Hollywood or TV news, honestly, but this was sorta what I gathered during some of my research, feel free to correct me if you know better!).
To back up a wee bit, Bones first aired in 2005, and I first watched Bones in probably 2009 or 2010. I was definitely immediately drawn into the entire show because of Temperance Brennan. Never in any show have I ever related to a character half as well as I relate to this lovely character.
Can she be overwhelmingly annoying at times? Hells to the yes. She definitely puts entirely too much emphasis on IQ being almost an actual measurement of a person’s value, which is just incredibly obtuse. But, I’m known to be a little bit of a know it all and don’t always know when to stop talking and when it is really better to just let the mild differences between what someone said and what I think or know to be true just slide on by without saying something, so who am I to talk?
In the early episodes, Temperance is brusque but damned good at her job (the best in the world, as she’d love to remind you). Her inelegancies are more than made up for by the fact that she is literally unmatched by any other forensic anthropologist in the world. And of course she is a beautiful and somewhat naïve woman, albeit very liberal in her views on romantic dalliances.
Throughout the many seasons of Bones, Temperance makes very few good first impressions on anybody (unless, of course, it is men who want to sleep with her, because you know, it looks good on TV). She puts people in their place, corrects them, often bluntly and somewhat rudely. She has no patience for fools or inaccuracies or well, pretty much anything that is irrelevant and takes her time away from doing things that actually matter (like, you know, her job).
Learning about her is a little bit of a love story in and of itself, its a slow burn. You don’t get to know her just by watching one season. You learn that as a teenager she had a special interest in anatomy and would perform dissections in the basement of her high school with road kill and that all of the other kids would bully her for it. She had heaps of family drama and spent some time in foster care (because her dad was on the run.. it’s TV drama y’know).
Over time you get past the prickly exterior and the brusque outer shell and you learn to see the inner workings of a character with an inner wealth of empathy. A woman who has untold depths of empathy for kids who are in foster care and the challenges they face and have to endure. A woman who has to be cold and look at the facts because if she stopped and saw the bones on her table as a person she would never be able to find their killer. A woman who almost never understands her best friend but always stands by and supports her anyway. A woman who comes back multiple times from once in a lifetime anthropological finds to help someone else’s career and who helps save a former intern and friend held hostage in Iraq.
Watching her deal with romance was even more enlightening for me, as it was like holding a mirror to myself. Some things came easily for her, others not so much. Letting down her guard and actually allowing herself to fall in love? That was definitely in the “not-so-easy” camp.
Somewhere in the middle of the seemingly never-ending amount of seasons, Temperance and Booth nearly have their moment for a serious relationship. Booth tells her that he is the gambler and he knows that she is the one and he wants to make this work. Temperance tries to brush it off with a casual, “No, the FBI won’t let us work together” because she doesn’t even know how to process this moment. But Booth won’t let her do that and pushes back and she breaks down and tells him that all of this time he thought she was the one that needed protecting, but the truth is that he is the one that needs protecting — from her.
Special Agent Seeley Booth : Protection from what?Bones – “The Parts in the Sum of the Whole” (Season 5 Episode 16)
Dr. Temperance ‘Bones’ Brennan : From me. I don’t have your kind of open heart.
She’s crying, and I’m crying because I can’t even tell you how much I relate to that line. I remember every single heart I have broken in my time. Each one takes its toll on me, because many of them I didn’t want to break and I don’t know how I did it or any way to prevent it. Breaking them was like breaking a piece of my own heart and each time I would get sick afterward. I started trying to come up with ways to protect people I cared about from myself, because there must be something wrong with me. I had convinced myself for a long time that I must not be worthy of love because it seemed like all I ever wrought was pain.
Over time and throughout the seasons, she slowly opens herself up to the family she created with her friends, the love she wanted but was afraid of, and even to the family she yearned for but felt she didn’t want her (her father and brother). We watch her grow and develop skills that were missing in the early seasons while still keeping her sometimes oafish blunt edge about her.
I’ve basically already written an entire book about Temperance at this point, but there are two more major quotes that I really think that pretty much any autistic person can likely relate to, but I especially do.
After the years of slowly opening herself up to the hurt that other people can (and will) cause her, Temperance realizes that she has grown beyond what she was and how she perceived herself.
For so much of my life my intelligence was all I had. I may not have had a family, but I understood things that nobody else could. My brain, the way I think, is who I am. Who I was.Temperance Brennan – Bones – “The Final Chapter: The End in the End” (Season 12 Episode 12)
This entire quotation hits me in a way that is hard to explain. For so much of my life if you had asked me what the best thing about myself was or what my strengths were, you would pretty much only get one answer – “I’m smart”. Being smart was pretty much my identity, even though I tried very hard not to rub it in people’s faces (which is hard when you’re a know-it-all-type). And it’s true. I am smart. I have had so many people comment on it, call me smarter than they are, all of that lovely jazz. But it’s not all that I am.
I am extraordinarily compassionate, I am slow to trust and loyal to a fault, I will fight your battles for you when you aren’t sure you are strong enough to fight them anymore. I have a knack for pattern recognition and a fantastic memory, sure, but they aren’t what make me a good mother for my child, they aren’t what make me a good spouse or a good friend.
And, when her father dies, Temperance’s friends are doing kind friend things where they keep trying to check up on her. Lovely people and all.
Angela: How are you?Bones – “The Final Chapter: The Grief and the Girl” (Season 12 Episode 8)
Brennan: Everyone keeps asking me that, I don’t know how to answer that question.
Hearing this quotation, even in the context of the episode honestly made made me laugh because I have pretty much literally answered that exact same thing verbatim in similar types of situations. It’s such a complicated thing to answer in such hard situations but people expect you to be ready with something on the go.
I definitely need time to process everything and I would be much happier if people would just let me do my thing and come back around when I am ready and have processed what I feel (and maybe figured out what I feel) instead of trying to hound me about it.
So there you have it, honestly, probably a bit too in-depth, but it is what it is. I definitely love Temperance Brennan and have spent way too much time thinking about her in the universe she lives in and how I relate to her.
There are definitely more of these to come, as I have a couple of these “probably autistic” characters that have always been super close to my heart.