Deconstructing BONES: When Television Becomes Art-Worthy and Makes Us Want to Weep With Joy

By: Tiffany Vogt

In a recent episode of BONES entitled “The Doctor in the Photo” (written by Carla Kettner), one particular line stood out and resonated.  It was when Dr. Gadh quoted, “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” (which is a line from the famous T.S. Eliot poem: “The Waste Land: The Burial of the Dead”).  When Dr. Dadh explained, “We do not actually fear death — we fear that no one will notice our absence — that we will disappear without a trace,” it echoed just as loudly.

It is a rare and magnificent feat when television is written with this kind of literary intensity.  When it is, we pick up our ears in disbelief.  For suddenly, whatever we are watching is no longer just a television show, it has risen to the level of art.

Frequently there are scenes so emotionally portrayed that we are touched to our core by the actor’s performance or by the storyline so delicately laid-out.  But it is not always the words themselves that grab our attention.
So I challenge you, when was that last time that a specific line or phrase grabbed you by the throat and made you want to cry with joy?  If you are like most viewers, it is virtually impossible to conceive of any such language.  We may recall a funny line, or a great one-liner  — something used to zing or highlight the moment.  But to feel so overcome with the words that we think to ourselves, “that needs to be written down” or immortalized in some way so that the essence of what was said or written is memorialized.

It should not surprise me that the words that caught my attention were from one of the world’s most renowned poets.  But hearing them so surgically inserted into an episode of BONES was astounding.  When famous authors or poets are typically quoted throughout television, it feels done with little grace.  So special credit should be given to Ms. Kettner for the deft use of such famous words.  Not to mention, her own phrasing accompanying it was beautifully done.
Any writer can insert a quote in a script.  What elevated this particular use of such a famous quote was how apropos it was the episode for which it was used.  In “The Doctor In the Photo,” Dr. Temperance Brennan had over-identified with the victim, who had essentially died and no one noticed.  The theme struck a chord within all of us, as this too is our greatest fear.  To have lived a life un-loved, and without leaving our mark upon it, is terrifying.  It has been noted that rich and powerful men are more concerned about their legacy than keeping their wealth.  Money is fine, but you cannot take it with you when you die.  Thus, all that one will leave behind is our name – who we were and what we did in our lives.  Legacy, therefore, is of utmost importance.  Similarly, for most of us, our legacy is measured by whether we are loved in our lives.  Does someone love us enough to notice if we disappeared?
Ms. Kettner could have easily written this episode differently.  She could have elected to make the same points without the use of T.S Eliot’s words.  Yet the fact that she did elevated it.  It made the episode feel infused with electricity.  It zapped us and held our attention because she chose to use such poetic words – and the fact that she used them at such a specific point to give them maximum effect.  The entire episode was written as if it were painted on a canvas.  The foundation was laid with broad strokes and then the details carefully placed to draw attention as needed. But the crowning achievement of any great art is adding the one element that will draw the viewer’s attention.  Whether it is in visual art or hearing words from a television show, accentuating the key piece with such nuanced precision is what makes it exceptional.
These are the words and moments that we should remember.  So much of television is lost in the sands of time simply because there is so much of it.  It is elusive and continuous.  It is hard to highlight a rainbow, which vanishes within moments of being seen.  Yet, for this moment, I would ask that you remember how beautifully T.S. Eliot’s words were used in BONES.  If only more television writers aspired to create more moments of pure joy.  It is one thing to entertain for but a moment; it is another to be remembered for eternity.

Tiffany Vogt is a contributing writer to The TV Addict. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).

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  • Teresa

    Beautiful article, thank you for sharing. You are right “If only more television writers aspired to create more moments of pure joy”… that’s so true!

  • AHA

    A very nice article, I didn’t think that deeply about the episode when it came, but I did think it was perhaps the best Bones episode of the season so far. Thansk for giving it further depth!

  • Pacavana

    Great article, Tiffany! I like the quote: “We do not actually fear death — we fear that no one will notice our absence — that we will disappear without a trace.” It struck me when I first heard it, and stayed with me throughout the episode. It echoed again at the end when Bones tells Booth she doesn’t want any regrets, and he turns her down because of his new love. I think it was one of the best episodes ever. Thanks for this article!

  • Scott Jeffrey

    Well said! That was indeed a great moment in one of the best hours I’ve seen in a long time.

  • Sandi Gath McElveen

    Bones has nearly always had very poinant moments. I am in x-ray which is what drew me in at the beginning. Everything about this show is smart & truly makes you think about life!

  • Sylvia Lawrance

    There are two shows on television that i never miss. Bones and Criminal Minds. At the beginning and end of each Criminal Minds episode is a quote such as the T.S Elliot one that just puts the episode into perspective and makes me think. Some have put that lump in my throat and i have to grab the tissues. Not many shows will ever achieve such poignancy.

  • Amara D’Angeli

    West Wing used to have lines like that all the time. Aaron Sorkin, though reportedly very difficult to work with, is a genius at what he does – that’s for sure. I’m reminded of the entirety of the Isaac and Ishmael episode. That was good stuff!

  • Julie Verhaalen

    I too noticed the depth of that quote, although I did not know where it came from. I wonder if the writer’s thoughts first centered on the quote and then wrote the episode around it?

  • KRC

    I loved this episode. This is a great article. It’s not deconstruction, though.

  • Lost-in-Translation

    I agree wholeheartedly. I have always been an avid fan of Bones, but this particular episode left me with tears in my eyes, aching for more. Everything about it was flawlessly done and I just didn’t want it to end. In fact, I’ve gone back and watched this particular episode again since the first time I saw it, and I think it has become my favorite of every episode I’ve seen.

  • Jessica Lynn Velivis

    I find that this happens a lot with Grey’s anatomy. The format of the voiceover monologues at the beginning and end of every episode lends itself to there being more poignant lines than in the everyday dialogue most shows are limited to; they can be thought provoking, funny, identifiable on a very personal level, or all of the above. You don’t get that from a lot of other shows.

  • Looneybinboss

    I have never made a public posting about an opinion on anything “Hollywierd” has ever produced until the other day when someone mentioned Bones. I HAD to post that I felt like I was blessed to watch a brilliantly written series. One that is nota”cookie-cutter” production, but that actually takes you on a journey into learning human nature. HEAR Hear, Thank you for noticing and let’s give praise where it is well due!

  • Osurickbee

    The episode “The Doctor in the Photo” should be nominated for an Emmy. Brilliant.

  • mrg873

    What a great article–thank you for recognizing what an honestly GOOD show this is, especially this episode. The emotion and honesty put into this episode was masterful indeed.

  • Beaglenose

    Great article!

  • Lillian Perigoe

    Such wise and helpful commentaries take us beyond and help us to appreciate all that is offered in the present, Thank you.

  • Nurse_rockett

    Agree. Possibly the best episode of the season and, yes, the T.S. quote resonated.

  • Michelle

    I know what you mean about lines of dialogue that just jump out and hit you in the face. In a good way. :) This entire episode I think was my favorite Bones one ever.

    The lines you spike of immediately reminded me of an episode of House a few years back when a character said, “Words are permanent. One day you will say something you can never take back.” Literal yet, powerful.

    Great article.

  • Marieblopez

    I totally agree!!! As soon as he finished quoting I googled the words on my iPhone to save the authors name… It was an exceptional poem.

  • Andreamafer2

    Excellent article, the truth is that this episode is very strong and can not help but mourn or you tie a knot in my throat, for me it was the best episode of any season so far.
    We all want to see Brennan and Booth as a couple but we also know that the form it will be the end of Bones as well Some will you accept what they feel both, but others will ask for more obstacles to come to an end Bones. I am between these two options and I want no more excuses but not a quick romance. Bones definitely caught the attention of many other denial to this series but one thing is for sure the fans (myself included) this is a repeat series maybe but exciting, fun and somewhat mysterious.
    Hoping you will enjoy this opinon. I say goodbye. Sincerely a fan … Fer

  • Tink Seagraves

    It is a rare and refreshing thing for American television to have this much artistic integrity.