My favorite part of Christmas is Christmas episodes of television. I’m a sucker for any sentimentality in media in general. I get teary listening to folk songs. I’ll cry at a well-made coffee commercial. So Christmas episodes are really my jam. My weepy, cathartic jam. IRL I’m lukewarm on family holidays, but give me a jaded teenager learning the true meaning of Christmas or a miserly man opening his heart and I melt like a marshmallow in cocoa. Thus have I taken on the task of reviewing every Christmas episode of television and rating its Christmas-ness. I have compiled a list of the 21 most Christmas-y tropes (I may add more as this project continues) and will use them to assign every Christmas episode of television a percentage score. And of course there will be bonus points for the ultimate Christmas test: Did it make me cry?
A first season episode of a formulaic procedural show about a cop and a forensic anthropologists who work together to solve crimes probably seems like a strange place to start in my exploration of Christmas episodes, but The Man in the Fallout Shelter is my absolute favorite Christmas episode ever. (At least as I start this journey. I’ll see where I end up after I’ve cataloged every Christmas episode ever.)
At the episode’s start Angela is trying to get everyone excited for the Jeffersonian Christmas party. Hodges and Zack are distilling pure alcohol in anticipation of the celebration and building a robot respectively. Brennan is steadfastly resisting Angela’s Christmas cheer. When Booth brings Brennan an ancient body found walled up in a 1950’s fallout shelter, Bones leaps at the distraction, dragging Hodges and Zack with her.
This sequence of events leads to Zack sawing into the bones with a drunk, non-face masked Hodges in the room, unleashing a cloud of deadly valley fever and triggering lock down protocols. The lab goes on quarantine and it looks like the Squints and Booth will be spending Christmas in the lab.
Angela decides that she is going to make Christmas for everyone. She asks Brennan to help her, but Brennan is not interested in the holiday. Trying to break through her apparent indifference, Angela connects with her by talking about the tragedy of the man in the fallout shelter (hey, that’s the title of the episode!). He had two tickets to Paris in his pocket and a woman’s wedding band sewn into his suit. Angela tells Brennan to imagine the woman somewhere waiting for him, wondering what what happened. Brennan reminds Angela that she doesn’t have to imagine because her own parents disappeared mysteriously Right. Before. Christmas! Oh snap, Angela. Bet you feel a little like a bitch now. Brennan decides that the best way to spend Christmas is solving a murder. It’s what her backstory demands.
The team uses their anthropological super power to discover what befell the dead man, who they dub Careful Lionel because of the fastidious nature of his belongings. They deduce that he was most likely stopping in DC on his way to Paris. Lionel was leaving for France because he was a white man who had impregnated his black girlfriend in Oklahoma in 1959. France was one of the only places where they could be together. He met with the owner of the fallout shelter to sell his coin collection for funds, but was killed for it instead.
Brennan and Angela have a heart to heart where Brennan explains in a bit more detail why she approaches the holiday with such trepidation. It’s not just that her parents disappeared around Christmas. At first her brother was taking care of her. He decided (much as Angela did) to make Christmas for her. But when she came downstairs and saw the tree and the presents, she thought her parents were back. Finding out that they weren’t was devastating and her reaction made her brother decide that he was not enough family for her and leave, relegating her into the foster system.
This time is different though. Although it goes unsaid, it’s clear that Angela IS enough family. And Angela knows what Brennan needs. Brennan needs to find Ivy, the woman Lionel left behind, and give her the answers she wishes someone had given her about her parents. Although it is Christmas Eve (and into Christmas morning) Brennan makes dozens of calls, locates Ivy, and is able to tell her that Lionel kept his word. It’s a Christmas miracle. He loved her and always planned to bring her to Paris like he promised. Also, he held back one coin, worth about $100,000 that Brennan gives to Ivy so that her granddaughter can go to med school.
Also, no one has valley fever.
How Christmas-y Is This Episode:
Can’t Get Home: Literally locked in the lab.
Chosen Family: The Squints and Booth may be thrown together family more than chosen family, but their deep love for each other is clear. And of course Angela and Brennan choose each other.
Holiday Hater: Brennan. For admittedly pretty good reason.
Holiday Lover: Angela dresses like a Christmas elf and is determined to spread the joy of the day.
Homemade Gifts: Booth makes Goodman a paper dove. Angela draws Zack a picture of his family. Zack gives Booth his robot.
Improvised Celebration: Angela makes decorations out of lab equipment and programs a tree into the holographic computer.
Last Minute Gifts: Goodman gives Hodges a scarab sculpture from his office, Hodges gives Angela a print of a microbe.
Reunited Family: This trope is doubly fulfilled in this episode. Once it becomes clear that our heroes will not be leaving the lab before Christmas arrangements are made for the family to meet them in quarantine. For the first time we get a glimpse at the bigger lives these characters live outside the lab including Zack’s large, mid-western clan, and Angela’s father. Who is apparently Z.Z. Top.
And of course Ivy is reunited not in body but in spirit with her lost love Lionel.
Secret Santa: In true Bones fashion the scientists argue trying to determine ever more complex manners to select Secret Santa until Booth with his street smarts has them all draw names.
9/21 Christmas Tropes
But did it make me cry?
You better believe it. I ugly sob when Brennan tells Angela the story of the first Christmas after her parent’s disappearance. I also get misty when Brennan tells Ivy the fate of Lionel.
Total Christmas Score: 53%