Bones - Season 6, Episode 3 (Review)
The Maggots in the Meathead
A body is found on the beach by a metal detectorist who locates a distinctive heavy gold chain with giant gold cross. Brennan and Booth are called to the scene, where Saroyan and Brennan note the advanced state of decomposition - and the victim's wallet with ID. Back at the lab, Hodgins comments on the "cheese skippers," the larvae of scavenging fly. Initially, Saroyan thinks that the advanced decomposition could be related to the victim's lack of body fat or his ingesting a lot of stimulants. To start the forensic analysis, intern Fisher (who has returned after a psychiatric issue) notes veneers on the central and lateral incisors and, more importantly, a depression fracture at the cranial vertex with no sign of bony remodelling to indicate the victim was still alive after the impact occurred. Fisher plans to model the microfractures in the skull. A bit later, Fisher reports damage to the first and second cervical vertebrae, more specifically fractures to the transverse and spinous processes. Brennan confirms this and further explains that the processes were likely broken off through contact with the edge of the foramen magnum. Basically, the cervical spine of the neck was forced into the victim's skull, and the vertebrae penetrated his brain, killing him instantly. Fisher finds a fragment of concrete embedded in the depression fracture, leading him and Brennan to think that this might have been a case of blunt trauma (such as a fall from a height onto a concrete surface). When Brennan and Booth arrive at the shore house, they note people tossing one another off of porches into a swimming pool, which Brennan notes could have caused the blunt injuries in the victim. After a rather entertaining interlude at a bar where Brennan waxes anthropological about the "guidos," particularly their displays of masculinity, we return to the lab. Fisher notes a perimortem bruise near the depression fracture, and Saroyan confirms that the subscalpular hemorrhaging (a phrase I've never come across before) indicates the victim was likely struck twice in the head, meaning it was blunt force trauma. The lab staff further determines that the weapon had a curved edge and was likely cylindrical. Bone fragments from the top of the skull show additional evidence of a foreign substance - this time a yellow plastic. Sweets combs through text-speak between the victim and a woman (4Q!), and in questioning she points Booth to the bouncer at the club. Brennan and Booth show up at the club and assume that the murder weapon was a pole for the ropes that restrict entry, as the poles are set into yellow plastic buckets with concrete in them. The bouncer has an alibi, though, and Brennan brainstorms a reason that there were two days in which the victim was unaccounted for: he was frozen. Freezing a dead body would also explain the speeded-up decomposition. She directs Fisher to check for evidence of microfractures in the Haversian system of the victim's bones, and he confirms that the microfractures exist in the femur. Booth and Brennan confront the ice delivery man, who previously got into a fight with the victim's friend at the bar, and he confesses to killing the victim, without knowing that it was the victim's friend who was always stealing the ice.
Other than the completely egregious sex scene at the beginning, this episode was actually fairly good. It wasn't heavy on the drama, there were only hints at the will-they-won't-they relationship, the anthropological interest in the victim was not unwarranted, everyone was given something to do that was entirely reasonable and within the purview of their job descriptions, and the writers/directors more or less accurately handled a simple blunt force trauma case.
Blunt trauma is probably the injury to the skeleton that is most well-known and well-understood by forensic anthropologists. Blunt trauma is, simply, when force is directed at a bone over a relatively wide area (as opposed to the narrow focus of a sharp or projectile trauma); blunt force trauma refers to a blunt trauma that was inflicted by someone else (a blow to the head, for example, as opposed to a head hitting a windshield in a car accident or the ground in a fall). In a case of blunt trauma, the forensic anthropologist would first describe the wound(s); then attempt to figure out the size and shape of the object or instrument used and the speed with which it was wielded; finally, a forensic anthropologist would figure out how many blows there were and which blow came first. Brennan and team perform nearly all of these steps and use old-fashioned osteological knowledge and microscopes to do it. Overall, then, the forensics in this episode were very true to real life, meaning my forensic comments are mostly nit-picky.
- The geography of the episode confused me from the outset. Where was the victim found? On the bank of the Chesapeake Bay? Where did Booth and Brennan go to check out the house? The Jersey shore is over 3.5 hours from D.C., yet they keep popping in at the house, the bar, etc. And did the body float from the Atlantic Ocean into the Bay? Did the ice truck driver drop it off? I can't remember if that was covered.
- I was initially disappointed that the victim had ID on him because the more interesting forensic techniques are brought out when the person is unknown (as in last week's victim, who was IDed in part through Sr/O isotope analysis). But this let the writers focus on getting the blunt force trauma details nearly spot-on.
- Good ol' reliable Wikipedia tells me that cheese skipper larvae don't usually show up for months, and I don't think the advanced decomp would matter in this case. Still, it is fun for the audience to see leaping maggots (which actually do leap - see this 5-second video).
- Fisher states that he is going to model the microfractures of the skull, but I think he meant to say the radiating fractures that spider out of the depression fracture. Analysis of the fracture pattern can give you more information on the size and shape of the blunt object that caused the damage and the direction from which the force was applied.
- I was surprised that no one mentioned a ring fracture of the skull. This type of fracture is common in blunt trauma that involves a fall from a height. Ring fractures of the cranial base can be beveled internally or externally, which can indicate if the victim fell (compressive force) or if the victim's head was being yanked off (tension force). If Brennan suspected the victim fell from a height, she might have looked for evidence of a ring fracture. Of course, it wasn't a fall, so it is less likely a ring fracture would be seen.
- I've blogged about this before, but in a show called Bones, every skeleton should be laid out correctly. In today's episode, the left and right clavicles were switched whenever they cut to the victim's defleshed skeleton on the lab table. Of course, I am probably the only person who noticed.
This week's dialogue was snappy and not too heavy-handed (with the exception of the ice truck killer, who complained that "They all look the same to me."). Hannah calls Brennan out on being "quite literal." I actually liked Brennan's anthropological take on the "guido" culture. I've never watched Jersey Shore myself, but I once gave a class an assignment to watch a reality TV show (way back near the beginning of the genre) and critique it anthropologically... possibly just so I didn't feel guilty watching High School Reunion for a season. I even liked it when Brennan "goes native" and says in the lab, "This is so random, yo."
Forensic Mystery - B (the mystery was only about how the victim was killed and not who the victim was, so I had to deduct a letter grade there)
Forensic Solution - A- (a couple missteps with the clavicles and the microfractures didn't really detract from a solid resolution to the cause of death)
Drama - C (Angela felt squeezed into this episode, as did the explanations of Fisher's mental issues, and Sweets and Hodgins really had nothing to do or say)
For more information on all things forensic, see Byers' Forensic Anthropology and Mann's Forensic Detective.