Bones - Season 9, Episode 22 (Review)

The Nail in the Coffin
Episode Summary
A family out camping has a corpse fall on them. Saroyan calls Booth but asks Brennan to stay home, since she thinks there may be a Ghost Killer link.  Brennan disobeys and comes to the scene anyway. Edison, who is on the scene first, notes the lack of a prominent glabella, suggesting the victim was female.  Based on predation, blowflies, and road beetles, Hodgins estimates she's been dead 8 to 10 days. Brennan immediately looks for an avulsion fracture on the third distal phalanx of the right hand, but Edison points out that all the fingertips have avulsion fractures. Traces of adhesive show that the victim had real nails affixed to her own. 

"Guys, is this really the best time to play 'Stand, Sit, Bend'?"
Back at the Jeffersonian, the team finds multiple sharp force traumas as well as blunt force trauma, mostly to the thorax. Brennan notes the forward jutting of the mandible and hazards a guess: the victim was Stephanie MacNamara, Trent's sister.  He too had mandibular prognathism. Saroyan tests Stephanie's tissue and finds evidence of a homemade anesthetic made from common plants. Booth and Brennan go to question the MacNamaras' gardener, who doesn't seem to have noticed the scratch marks, blood, and heel marks indicating a struggle, both old and recent, in the horse stable. Stephanie had been locked in the stable as a kid and had clawed at the wall, irreparably breaking her nails. There are also 16 separate sharp force traumas to her torso and neck, a more violent crime than the other Ghost Killer victims. The gardener denies killing Stephanie, but Brennan notices a slight prognathism on her as well. She suggests that the gardener may be Giles MacNamara's illegitimate child, who would then stand to inherit the fortune. 

The fingernails match the DNA of all the other suspected victims of the Ghost Killer.  Angela runs a bunch of files that the FBI obtained from the SEC, which had been investigating the MacNamaras for years, and found that the victims matched up with Stephanie MacNamara's travel records.  She was the Ghost Killer, and she took the nails from her victims to replace her own, which she lost through abuse by her father. The final fingernail they found on Stephanie matched an old murder: Maya Zinkow, a girl who went to school with them and Hodgins, and whose murder was pinned on high school teacher Herman Kessler. The Jeffersonian is allowed to exhume Maya's remains, which are mummified. Brennan sees clearly that she had multiple stab wounds.  The coroner's report, however, does not note them, and the body was never given to the family or to a funeral home. The ME who signed off on it was the same one who did Lara Brewster's (S09E12) postmortem (and who had been paid off by Giles MacNamara). The wounds to Zinkow's body are very similar to the ones to Stephanie's body, suggesting Kessler was behind this as a revenge killing for being wrongly incarcerated for 20 years.  Saroyan finds evidence of a rape in Zinkow's cervix and vaginal tissue; she then finds sperm and gets a DNA match: Giles MacNamara raped Maya Zinkow. Stephanie was in a way jealous of Maya for getting her father's attention, so she killed Maya.  Giles found out and covered it up so that he would not get in trouble. 

Meanwhile, Booth tries to find Kessler because documents in his apartment suggest he wasn't planning to kill just Stephanie MacNamara. The other blueprints are traced to the home of a congressman, who 20 years ago was the judge who convicted Kessler. The entire time he was in prison, Kessler knew that Giles MacNamara was behind the coverup.  Brennan and Saroyan work on Congressman Palter's body and find similar wounds to those on Stephanie and Maya. Various nicks to the ribs suggest the shape of the murder weapon: Angela's fancy computer says it's a tobacco scythe, which fits with the trace evidence of tobacco that Hodgins found on Stephanie and Palter. Old pesticide and asbestos suggest to Brennan that Kessler may be hiding out in an old cigarette manufacturing building. Booth and Brennan head to the condemned Old Dominion Cigarettes building and find Kessler about to hang himself.  Brennan tries to get him to talk, since he clearly knew something about an FBI agent who was working for or paid off by MacNamara 20 years ago.  Kessler decides to jump, but Booth shoots down his rope.  Booth and Brennan later celebrate having solved the Ghost Killer murders.

  • Forensic
    • "... this is a rare genetic marker known as prognathism."  Oh, Bones.  This is why I can't quit you.  I suppose to be fair, there is a form of mandibular prognathism that is pathological and tends to be heritable, but it also tends to be really dramatic, along the lines of acromegaly. But jeez, prognathism is a massive continuum, and large chunks of the human population have what we call prognathism.  It is a bit of a loaded term, since it is commonly associated with the racial classification Black and was used historically to attempt to show that blacks were closer evolutionarily to apes than were whites (e.g., this drawing).  There are probably other observable heritable conditions they could have given the family, like, I dunno, clubfoot or something.  So no, this feature cannot confirm a familial link much less an ID of a victim.  Also, slight prognathism wouldn't suggest that the gardener's father was Giles MacNamara.  Just ugh.
    • So Clark finds 10 tiny avulsion fractures to the tiny distal phalanges (in the field, without a hand lens, of course) and yet the only method he uses to estimate sex is the lack of a prominent glabella?  Come on. There are at least four other markers on the skull alone, not to mention the entire pelvis.
    • Maaaaaybe I could buy that Maya Zinkow's mummified corpse still showed evidence of a rape, but sperm?  Sperm that could give a DNA match?  Puh-lease.
  • Plot
    • Do the horse stalls never get hosed out?  Why is blood still there from, like, 20 years ago?
    • Why did Stephanie take the same fingernail from each victim when she was trying to replace her 10 fingernails?  I guess the third fingernail could be shaped and filed down for the smaller ones, but not for the thumb.  Also, did she put the nails on herself, or did Kessler?  If the former, how did she not lose any nails in 20 years?
    • I do like how Booth just decides to go in alone to a creepy old warehouse with a serial killer in it.  And lets Brennan, who is unarmed and his wife/mother of his child, follow him in.  Because that's totally safe.
    • Wait, who killed Trent?  Stephanie or Kessler?  If the former, why?  She was given a motive for murder, sort of, but there was no explanation for how/why she chose her victims.  And she'd never killed a man. And we're fairly certain someone killed Trent, right, since he was missing a fingernail?  What were the similar injuries Brennan saw to the sterna of two of the victims (some sort of puncture wound)?  Why was there a pattern with some, but not with others (e.g., Lana was drowned, Trent was shot)?  So confused. It's honestly like the writers were gearing up for a Big Bad this season but then got tired and half-assed the rest of the season.
    • There's still someone rotten at the FBI, right?  Is the deputy director trying to send Booth to Germany because it's him?  What does Kessler know, and will he tell anyone?
  • Dialogue
    • I swear, "This is a rare genetic marker known as prognathism" will henceforth be bandied about in my household as often as we say, "It's a Unix system!  I know this!"  Glad that Mr. Dr. PbO and I both have such terribly fictionalized professions.  (Also, I really want an animated GIF complete with subtitles of Brennan saying the prognathism line.  Someone make it so!)

Forensic Mystery - C.  Each new finding was quickly figured out. I know this is a procedural, but it really felt like it this week.

Forensic Solution - C. The solution mostly came from the FBI getting a bunch of files, Angela doing some fancy computer work, and Saroyan finding magical undead sperm.

Drama - C-. I was looking forward to the Ghostface Killah episodes.  And then they just up and dispatch her?  Lame.


Merritt Langley said…
Thank you very much for summarizing episodes, I was at work just listening to the episode when I saw this and didn't feel like going back through and paying attention for 45 minutes of dialogue I already heard. The details were foggy but this cleared them up for me.

For your comments, I want to say that most of the things you seem to think are oversights really aren't. I'm sure you get that cinema over-dramatize facts, it's hard to be completely realistic and make a compelling story (and sometimes it's just hard to fit a puzzle together when you can't just make assumptions, like Bones just assuming the MacNamaras were related because of the hereditary condition you say is too common to link blood lines too).

But another thing I wanted to say is, in 90% of the episodes, yes the team can just look at the pelvis and determine sex, but that makes the show stale after 190+ episodes. If every sex and age determination was "Oh this pelvis is that size they're [age] and [sex]," it'd just get boring.

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