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Bones, season 8 episode 2: "The Partners in the Divorce"

Over the years Temperance Brennan's Asperger's (as near Word of God as we're likely to get [0]) has varied from subtle eccentricities to verging on caricature, but in the episode which showed here last night, "The Partners in the Divorce", they damn near nailed the core of the condition.

The plot is ostensibly about the investigation into the murder of a man whose body was found burning in a 44 gallon drum under a bridge. But that's incidental to the personal interactions going on. And the biggest one is between Booth and Brennan, dealing with recent events.

The context is that Brennan has just returned from three months on the run from the law, trying to clear her name after being framed for a murder. (She, of course, arranges for this to happen.) But in the meantime, she and Booth have been separated, and Booth has neither seen nor heard from Brennan or their baby, which Brennan took with her on the run.

When we first see them in this episode, Brennan is cooking breakfast, and we can see that Booth is trying to hide how upset he is. Brennan is cooking breakfast, usually Booth's job.

When they get to the crime scene, Booth is further upset when he steps in brain matter and his shoe is bagged as evidence, and snaps when Brennan starts giving orders relating to police procedure. He angrily starts giving orders relating to forensic procedures, and hops off. Brennan knows that he's upset, but has only the vaguest idea why.

As the case progresses, and they discover that they're investigating a Divorce Lawyer, she further upsets Booth (a Catholic) with her statements that marriages often end in divorce, and it's a good thing they aren't married.

Things get more and more tense, with Brennan aware that something is wrong, but unable to figure out what it is. When people hint at the reason, she rejects it as a stupid reason: she gives Booth the credit of being as logical as she is. But still, they are snapping at each other, both getting more and more upset at each other, and themselves.

The turning point is when Booth talks to Brennan in her lab, and they are calm and rational about things, they give each other a peck, and Booth leaves. Brennan is relieved that things are calming down (which is the interpretation I gave the interaction as well), until her intern asks what's wrong. When Brennan asks why, the intern says that whenever his parents are that polite to each other, it means things are about to explode.

And that's the moment when she realises that he could be pretending to be calm, and that she needs help to figure out what's going on.

Later that night she arrives home late. Booth is drinking. He asks her why she's late, primed to see something to get angry at, but this is defused when she says she was meeting with Sweets the psychologist, asking him for help to learn what she should do. And she says so with "There's something wrong with me."

That was what made the episode for me. It was the recognition that Aspies get into trouble because we can tell (sometimes) that someone's upset, but not be able to tell what they're upset at, and we get caught when someone else tells us that things are "fine", we can't tell that that's a lie. And when we realise what's going on, it's us with the malfunctioning systems. It's our fault that the other person's upset, because if we were better at being functioning human beings, we would have been able to tell that they were upset, and figured out at what, and known how to fix it.

It was the look on Brennan's face when she realised how little she knew about what was going on around her, and how close she was to everything unravelling around her, and her largely oblivious. Because that's a feeling I've had myself.

Is this what it's like to relate to a character on TV?

"If we were on cable, we would have said from the beginning that Brennan has Asperger’s," Hanson says. "Instead, it being a network, we decided not to label a main character, for good or for bad. But those elements are in there."
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