Bones - Season 9, Episode 8 (Review)
The Dude in the Dam
A couple teenagers in an environmental science class go check out a beaver dam and find a dead body in the middle of it, covered in goo from a bunch of giant slugs. At the scene, Brennan assesses the dead person as a Caucasoid male age 28-32 based on the (thick) supraorbital ridge, narrow (and tall) nasal aperture, and minimal dental wear. Based on insect activity, Hodgins puts time of death at three days prior.
Back at the Jeffersonian, after Wendell cleans the sticky goo off the bones, Brennan notices that the victim was missing his lateral maxillary incisor, an unusual genetic marker. He also sustained a spiral hairline fracture to the right humerus, suggestive of extensive rotation of the articular capsule as would happen when one's arm is twisted behind one's back, but the fracture shows remodelling indicating he sustained it three months ago. The missing incisor coupled with the victim's demographic profile means a positive ID: Sean Nolan, a male model, who was 30 years old and had a girlfriend. The girlfriend thought that Nolan was in Charlotte on a shoot, but his agent confirmed he hadn't booked anything.
Angela "runs an algorithm" to break into one of Nolan's online file-sharing accounts. She finds a bunch of pictures of children taken with a telephoto lens while they were playing at Hobart Park. Booth and Brennan go to the park to investigate, and Brennan immediately notices that three of the kids in the playgroup, who also appeared in Nolan's photos, have a similar genetically-linked trait: Darwin's tubercle of the ear. One of the mothers confirms that the playgroup is for kids fathered by Donor 562 from the Camus Sperm Bank.
Booth then investigates Judith Lynn Franco, the manager of the sperm bank. She noted that Nolan was a donor but that he was fired because he lied about his credentials. He didn't graduate from Yale, so he couldn't be a sperm donor at that exclusive bank. Meanwhile, the staff of the Jeffersonian notes that the thickening of Nolan's femora and tibiae means he had been taking testosterone - HCG - for the last few years, likely to increase his sperm production so he could donate frequently. Booth then questions Nolan's gym trainer, who has priors for selling drugs. He initially denies it but then admits he was selling HCG to Nolan. He also inflicted the arm-twisting injury three months prior because Nolan owed him money. He did not kill Nolan, however, and puts Booth on the trail of a Mr. Robertson, who had bought Nolan's sperm off craigslist and was upset because his wife didn't get pregnant. Interestingly, it was Franco of the sperm bank who told the Robertsons about Nolan, which leads Booth to suspect Franco isn't being entirely forthcoming about her relationship with Nolan.
The Jeffersonian staff still needs to find cause of death, however. Blunt trauma all appears to have been caused perimortem, when the body was thrown down the hill from the rest stop to the stream. Cut marks on the cortical surfaces of several bones, though, suggest that sharp trauma inflicted on Nolan killed him. Specifically, there were deep, wide, V-shaped cuts to his left fifth metacarpal, right phalanges and metacarpals, left ilium, and right femur. There are different, shallower cuts to the left pisiform, hamate, and anterior superior iliac spine. Wendell initially thinks there may have been two killers. Saroyan suggests that the large cut to the proximal femur was cause of death: if the femoral artery was nicked, Nolan could have bled out in a matter of seconds. But the implement used was likely a three-edged hoe, a kind used by the highway department and that would be located in a rest stop. Based on the use of a weapon of convenience and the location of the wounds - suggesting Nolan defensively covered his pelvis while being attacked - Sweets thinks the killer was a woman.
Booth calls Franco back in for questioning, and Brennan notices from her physical attributes that she is pregnant. Franco admits to being pregnant with Nolan's son. After speaking again with Nolan's girlfriend, who says that Nolan never wanted kids, they talk to Franco one last time. Brennan has also found a piece of fingernail embedded in Nolan's left infraorbital margin, and Booth has a warrant to get a DNA sample from Franco. But they get her to admit that she killed Nolan; he laughed at her when she revealed she was pregnant with his child, and she snapped.
In the B story, Brennan is in a manufactured flame war with Tess Brown (played by Nora Dunn), who also writes forensic mystery books but doesn't have Brennan's academic credentials. I interpreted this as a thinly veiled reaction to Patricia Cornwell's Scarpetta series. Cornwell's books aren't as good as Reichs's, in my opinion, because she doesn't have the same solid forensic background Reichs does (also because her writing isn't as good). And it just so happens that Cornwell's latest book came out yesterday, the day this episode aired. Temperance Brennan would say that that's not a coincidence...
And finally, in the C story, Hodgins got bitten a month ago by Dermatobia hominis, the human botfly, and is letting its egg incubate in the back of his neck. He's already gotten an ultrasound of it and compares being a host extensively to sustaining life and giving birth. This results in a lot of awesome-gross close-ups of the botfly larva hatching from his neck, and Angela eventually has to help him hatch it. He ends up with a special mention from the Journal of Entomology for this wacky caper, and insists that this will help move research forward. (Doubtful. I mean, don't these things infect people all the time? Why is he special?)
- Using dental wear for estimating age-at-death is imprecise at best and negligent at worst. It's just not useful when assessing age of a person in a population with as varied diets as we have in the 21st century.
- Caucasoid (and Mongoloid and Negroid) are problematic terms, even for many forensic anthropologists. They're just not used that often anymore.
- It's actually unclear how frequent Darwin's tubercle is in the general population. I've only seen one study, done on a Spanish population in the 1980s, that puts the figure at 10%. Since I have this trait (as does my mom and my elder daughter), I'd like to have more recent figures from a broader population.
- But hey, loads of points for using two different genetically-linked traits and dental records to ID the victim.
- Histological examination of the femur actually could tell them approximately when Nolan started and stopped using testosterone. Surprised they didn't mention histology, since it was actually relevant to this case.
- How did Franco, who seemed fairly petite, haul Nolan's body away from the rest stop? He was supposed to be, like, 6'2" and very muscular.
- What happened to his clothes? He was only dead three days, and his body was fairly well skeletonized (which I suppose I can buy, since there was a lot of animal and insect activity), but where did his clothes and other personal effects end up?
- "You've been letting a fly grow in your neck for a month?" - Angela to Hodgins
- "I'm running an algorithm to see if we can break into his TopCloud account." - Oh, Angela...
- "It reminds me of garments prostitutes were forced to wear in shame under the law of the Lex Julia." - Brennan, apparently not remembering that lex means law, or that in classical pronunciation, it would be you-lee-a (Lex Iulia). I'm not an expert on Roman jurists, so I don't know if the law required prostitutes to dress differently. Wouldn't surprise me at all, though.
- "I saw The Fly, and it did not end well." - Wendell
- "When the time comes, it will detach its anal hooks and slide out to greet the world." - Hodgins
Forensic Mystery - A. Pretty solid mystery this week. I hadn't guessed the identity of the killer or her reason for it.
Forensic Solution - A-. Dropped this half a grade for using lame forensic indicators for the demographic assessment, but it's still an A because they actually confirmed the ID and because the injuries were well documented.
Drama - B+. The plot was interesting and snappy, but there was no sense of urgency to it, so it doesn't get an A.
Congratulations, Bones writers! This is the first episode that I've enjoyed non-ironically in a while.