September 25, 2014

Bones Review - Season 10, Episode 1

Welcome to Season 10, Bones fans and haters. I’m back for another season of unabashed snark and secret fan-girl-ing. My own week was full of Bones-style adventures – mystery human remains and an FBI agent! So join me in knocking back a couple dirty martinis while we hatelove on a new year of Bones.

The Conspiracy in the Corpse
Episode Summary
Booth has been in jail for an indeterminate amount of time (but my guess is about 3 months over the summer).  For the sake of narrative convention, the other inmates have just started hating Booth. He gets into a fight with someone who threatens the safety of Brennan and Christine.  Brennan sees a freshly-injured Booth during visitation and decides to use some of the blackmail material she has to convince Brady, the federal prosecutor, to let him out.  He does, and Booth is free; however, he is still treated as a pariah at the FBI because he killed three colleagues in last season's finale.

"I think I see some conspiracy in this corpse!"
While all that's going on, Brennan, Miss Julian, and the Jeffersonian team got a warrant to exhume the body of Howard Cooper, who died 16 years ago and who they think might have been near the center of the original conspiracy. He ostensibly died of leukemia.  A fancy mini-CT scanner slash facial recognition thingamajig gives them a positive ID. Hodgins and Edison work on cleaning the bones, but they notice that there is quite a lot of urine or ammonia in the coffin and on Cooper's suit. They speculate, based on how the bones crack when they try to remove the copious adipocere, that someone specifically put urine in the casket to ensure the bones would be damaged if the adipocere was removed. Edison notes in a broken tibia that the leukemia had not progressed to Cooper's bone marrow; he did not die of the disease. He further manages to get the adipocere off the bone without the bones' crumbling.  Cooper's body was washed in a stronger-than-normal germicide before burial, possibly to get rid of evidence. Edison notices healed fractures to the ribs and sternum about 5 years before Cooper's death. Saroyan notes that the only meds in the tox screen were cancer drugs and pain and nausea medicine. 

Booth meanwhile, freshly out of prison, decides he needs to go talk to Hugo Sanderson (argh, I know that actor, but can't place him! it's killing me), whose chemical company was initially denied some sort of permit but then got it after Cooper's death. Sanderson insists he is untouchable.  New FBI agent Eyebrows McGee James Aubrey follows Booth and gets the patented Booth take-down.  He has been tasked with keeping an eye on Booth by Always Off-Camera Stark, the FBI director. Booth enlists the help of Sweets to find out more about Sanderson. They're surfing the web in Sweets' apartment when a heavily pregnant Carla Gallo Daisy comes in.

And then Brennan does her thing--by "her thing" I mean, she finds an awesome little bit of evidence that has been previously overlooked (by Edison), but that only leads to more questions, and then she happens to find another little bit of evidence previously overlooked (this time, it's her own fault, although she won't admit it). Yes, narrative convention.  Yes, annoys me every time.  Just do a thorough analysis of the bones to begin with, damnit.

Anywho. She finds bilateral Smith's fractures on Cooper's radii, and she and Angela work to model the car accident that must have caused them. Based on the healing, the accident happened about 5 years prior, and Brennan thinks it was covered up.  Booth and Brennan go talk to Dr. Durant, the ER doctor who treated Cooper for a fall down the stairs.  He initially hedges, but they also find out that in the same ER that night was a homeless man who died from a hit-and-run, also worked on by Durant.  They confront him, and he admits that he was blackmailed into the coverup but does not know by whom. There are indeed pictures of him on that dead guy from last season's microchip-nipple-ring.

Damage to Cooper's carpals--hamate and triquetral--suggest he was pushing away an assailant just before he died. Brennan finds a scratch to the spinous process of C7 with perimortem hemorrhagic staining.  The scratch was likely from an IV line, and the scratches on the clavicle and left scapula suggest Cooper fought an assailant who was trying to poison him while he was undergoing chemo. But Cooper's remains have to be returned because a family member claimed the Jeffersonian was defiling them. Hodgins was freezing the os coxae and the scapula, though, for Brennan's histological analysis, so he didn't return all of Cooper's bones. Saroyan finds that Cooper was injected with a kind of antacid that would have been metabolized quickly but also would have killed Cooper because of a fatal interaction with his chemo meds. The antacid was being manufactured by Sanderson Chemical.

Brennan and Booth go to a retirement community to question Gerald Norsky, head of security at the hospital where Durant was working and Cooper was treated.  Norsky claims to have been assigned the job as an undercover FBI agent working under Director J. Edgar Hoover. Booth and Brennan don't have time to check out his story, though, because they are called to a parking lot by Agent Aubrey.  Sweets was trying to serve someone papers and was shot.  His injuries are substantial, and he bleeds out with Brennan and Booth beside him.

Sweets' body is immediately rushed to the Jeffersonian, where Saroyan, Brennan, Hodgins, and Daisy vow to work on him to find out who killed him.

  • Forensic
    • I don't think that a fancy-CT-scanner-computer thing meets the Daubert standard for positive ID.
    • Unclear why Hodgins saved two flat bones for a marrow study; why not a long bone that had lots of marrow?
  • Plot
    • I know they're married, but can Brennan really take some of Booth's money and buy a house?  He might want to get that retitled in both of their names when he has a minute. You know, protect themselves in case they get sued.
    • Too many confusing parking garages in this episode.
    • Why are Cooper's bones not being studied inside the fancy central ring that people have to swipe a card to get into? They seemed to be in a room off the front door.
    • I guess Sweets' death is supposed to be unclear, because they're going to solve it later in the season?  But that choice made his death seem capricious.  At least Nigel-Murray was killed by a serial killer angling for Booth; that made a senseless murder make some narrative sense.  Although I love John Francis Daley, his death didn't feel as unexpected or crappy as Nigel-Murray's did.
    • Also, how did Booth and Brennan get to Sweets before the ambulance did?  It's not like they were anywhere nearby.
    • Carla Gallo is (was?) actually pregnant, which was pretty obvious from her face.
  • Dialogue
    • Brennan on Booth's injuries: "You've clearly suffered trauma to your greater trochanter and sacrospinal ligaments." (Although I'm not sure how; I didn't see Booth getting his butt beaten.)  "Your coracohumeral ligament is strained."
    • "There's some logic behind the pseudoscience you practice." - Brennan to Sweets
Forensic Mystery - B.  There's certainly a whole lot of mystery this episode.  But some of it relates to confusing writing.

Forensic Solution - C+.  They solved Cooper's cause-of-death, but nothing else.

Drama - B+.  This rating is so high solely because of John Francis Daley's dying-face, which was superb.

September 18, 2014

Holding Hands That Aren't There

This photo has been circulating wildly of late, purporting to show a couple "that have been holding hands for 700 years" (according to the University of Leicester's press release).

The dig blog is a bit less, erm, truth-stretchy, labeling them as "a man and women [sic] buried side by side with their arms crossed together."  Which is good because, well, where are their hands?

Holding hands is a nice story.  And it could be true.  Buuuuut... one corpse's arm could have just been thrown on top of another corpse's arm.  I'd really want to figure out where the hands are (?) and what the precise stratigraphy is first.

Related:  Holding Hands into Eternity (PbO - 21 October 2011)

September 8, 2014

Roman Bioarchaeology Carnival XLIV

I'm rather tardy in posting the August RBC, but classes started up again and I'm behind in pretty much everything at the moment.  Not sure if I just didn't keep on top of the news last month or if there really were only two stories about classical bioarchaeology.

  • 19 August - Roman gold coin discovered in Sweden (Archaeology Magazine). Archaeo magazine goes the opposite headline route, downplaying the Roman-era (400-550 AD) gold coin found in a house where several people had been killed.  It's possible the individuals made up a family and they were killed by thieves, archaeologists concluded.

And since that's all I've got from last month, here are some more cool bioarchaeology stories from further afield, both geographically and chronologically, that I enjoyed last month.  [As always, I post more than Roman bioarch over at Powered by Osteons on Facebook, so do come "like" the page to stay up-to-date.]

  • 11 August.  The case of the missing incisors (Archaeology Magazine).  An Early Bronze Age skeleton from Lake Baikal in Siberia was found to be lacking two central lower incisors, and there is a stone projectile point embedded in the bone.  Very cool archaeo-forensic case!

  • September 2014.  From the September edition of Smithsonian Magazine comes a long-read called "The Kennewick Man finally freed to share his secrets."  It's a great primer on the case up to now, covering the basics of one of the most famous skeletons in the U.S. (and great fodder for teaching about ethics in osteology).

September 5, 2014

"Can I just drop my death trophies off at your office, Dr. Killgrove?"

I popped into lab late yesterday afternoon, since my new TA Andrea was helping some students study for their first quiz in Human Osteology. Noticed an odd box on one of the lab tables--clearly handmade, not very well, of lightweight, stained wood with five holes poked in the top. I asked Andrea if it was hers, but it wasn't. It wasn't there Wednesday when we had class, and Andrea knew the TA for the Thursday afternoon intro to biological anthropology lab hadn't brought it in either.

We opened the box cautiously given our uncertainty about its provenience. To be honest, we were preparing ourselves for a toad or a mouse--live or dead, who knows. Fortunately, Andrea is either more curious or less afraid of creepy crawly things than I, and she opened it.

Inside, in addition to a couple of leaves and other detritus of nature, were three things: a small container of human teeth; a small container of what could be bone, shell, or other; and what appears to be an old pepper grinder with a chunk of perhaps charcoal in it, wrapped in a copper wire.  I recognized the smaller containers immediately, as I have one of these containers at home for powder foundation.  They're sold in makeup sections of drugstores.

Andrea and I looked at each other.  I took a deep breath and went to find our forensic anthropologist to see if she knew the story of the box.

She did not. 

I took the box on a little promenade through the department in the waning hours of the afternoon right before our annual graduate student meet-and-greet, and one of our adjunct instructors, a thickly be-moustached archaeologist, said, "Oh yeah. Last night one of the lab instructors--the black-haired one--came and showed it to me. We concluded there were human teeth."

After uttering a "What the everloving fuck?", I went back to the lab to see what I could find out about the box and its contents.

The teeth appear to be modern, probably extractions from someone (more likely from someones, but I haven't had time to thoroughly look at them) with poor dental health. There's even a little bit of bone attached to a couple. I haven't yet pried the container with the fragments open; after slicing my finger with a dental pick (irony?) during my attempt yesterday afternoon, I gave up and went to the grad student meet-and-greet, as per my duty.

After putting the kids to bed last night, an email pinged into my phone from the TA who had received the box and left it in the lab classroom.  It didn't particularly help with the context.  She told me that a guy--not one of her students--simply came into the department just before her 6pm bio anth lab and was looking for someone to give the box to. He claimed to have found it in the parking lot outside the anthropology building.  
We're in a pretty special location here in Building 13, just in front of the head of the campus nature trail.  In the two years I've been here, the nature trail has produced everything from a dead body to rotting shark flesh (two separate incidents!) to curious circles of stones.  And in all those cases, our diligent admin assistants have fielded calls from campus police.

So this morning, before class started, I called campus police to fill them in.  The dispatcher told me to call back with more information about my random bits of human after teaching my three-hour lab on random bits of human.

I called back while eating my lunch.  The dispatcher put me on hold for a bit, and instead of hold music, I got an interview with Joan Rivers.  Yup, a dead person's voice in my ear while staring at a box of bits of a possibly dead person.

Two campus police officers showed up a short time later.  Neither introduced himself, but both were intensely curious about my call.  As I explained the story, one stood quietly and the other slowly started grinning. One asked if they were possibly false teeth (nope), and the other was thankful he'd already eaten lunch.  They suggested I keep the box and its contents--"You know, to show the students what happens if they don't do well in your class!"--and left chuckling.

I put the whole story and pictures on Facebook this morning, and one of my colleagues from the second floor just commented that she noticed the box near the stairs a while ago, possibly two months ago.  So a weird box with half a dozen human teeth in it has sat outside, just feet from my office, since the summer.  I guess I can blame @_Florida Man.

On the one hand, I guess I'm glad I get some free teeth--after all, I was just about to have the department buy some more for teaching purposes.  On the other hand--this is intensely creepy.  Just really really weird.  I don't want random remains showing up at my office.  Ever.  Without any provenience, without any explanation, well, I just have to call the police.  So please don't drop your death trophies off at my door.  (But if you recognize this box or its contents, get in touch, I guess.)

UPDATE -- 24 September 2014

After my blog post, a cadaver dog instructor at Western Carolina University got in touch with me by email.  He recognized the form of the box as a homemade "hot box" that instructors use in cadaver dog training.  The holes poked in the box and the shaker containers suddenly made a lot of sense -- the dogs could smell the remains but not get at them.  He sent some emails to contacts down here in Pensacola and very quickly located the box's owner.  As the owner was out on a job, he promised he'd forward my contact information to him to retrieve it.

Today, I got a visit from the cadaver dog handler (in broad daylight, but he turned out to be lovely and not at all creepy).  He and his team had been doing some basic demonstration for the police here in the parking lot next to my building (as just past the lot, it is heavily wooded and swampy).  They got a call that they were needed immediately and must have lost a "hot box" in the shuffle.

I asked him what the items were -- teeth, obviously, in one container.  Another one had cremains.  Even though these are human bones that have gone through an intense, hot fire, dogs can scent on them, he said.  And the most freaky part of the box -- the old salt shaker with a wire wrapped around it?  That, he said, is to help train them on "high" finds -- the wire allows them to hang it in a tree.  "Are there lots of bodies found 'high'?" I asked.  He said that, yes, they're mostly suicides and plenty of people commit suicide by hanging outdoors.  This particular former-salt-shaker contained tree bark onto which a corpse had... uhm, juiced?  I'm sure he used less gooey terminology.  Regardless, it made me glad I hadn't opened that one.  Dogs can scent on all of the things in the box, but he said that trainers prefer teeth above everything else -- dogs scent on blood, bone, and tissue, and teeth have all of those things.

I asked him about his job, and he works with KlaasKids, which helps the police and families search for missing and trafficked children.  He also helps coordinate large field efforts, when there are numerous cadaver dogs searching a wide area.  I didn't probe much into why his efforts focus on kids because, honestly, I have two little ones and the topic is far too depressing and anxiety-inducing.  But it sounds like noble work trying to help people.  I was only too happy to return his creepy box of death trophies--er, his "hot box" to him.

And then at lunchtime, I was visited by the FBI.  Completely unrelated to the box of teeth, but boy, my day has been like an episode of Bones to be sure.

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