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Bones Retro 1.07 “The Man on Death Row”

In what now has become one of the must-see episodes of Bones, we’re introduced to Howard Epps, a killer who Booth put away. He’s 24 hours away from execution, but doubts are raised as to his guilt. Booth enlists Brennan and team to put those doubts to rest one way or another.

Brennan has put in an application for a concealed weapons license, and Booth is charged with reviewing it. Unfortunately, he doesn’t like the answers. He reminds Brennan that she’s been arrested for a felony before, and Brennan reminds him that he was the one who arrested her AND she only shot the guy because he was going to set her on fire. Booth isn’t having it, though, and denies her request. Is that even his place or part of his job? I don’t get him sometimes. Anyway, as they’re arguing about it, a pretty lawyer, Amy Morton, walks up to Booth. He snarks that he thought she was barred from the building. She’s the new lawyer for Howard Epps, who is scheduled to be executed tomorrow. Since Booth was the main agent involved in his case, she wants him to review some of the questionable things she’s found, specifically the pubic hair that was not the victim’s that was completely ignored in his first trial. He wants nothing to do with it, but Amy appeals to his older, smarter, less angry side, and he agrees to go see Epps. At the jail, Epps speaks tearfully to Booth about what he heard execution feels like and implores him to look at the case again. He swears he didn’t kill April Wright.

Back at the lab, it’s a slow night. Hodgins and Zach are racing bugs, and Brennan is working on some skull restructuring. Angela tells all those losers that she’s going to go have a life”¦ and sex. Booth comes into Brennan’s office and asks if Brennan can review the case. Brennan asks what the deal is with him and lawyers and asks him if this is a favor for him or for the pretty lawyer. It’s a personal favor for him. Brennan agrees. Since she can’t work with the actual remains, she needs all the original evidence. Booth promises it in an hour.

Twenty-nine hours to go until execution. Brennan spots some foreign matter on an x-ray that wasn’t seen before. She sends Zach out to the crime scene to take pictures. April Wright’s father calls Booth after hearing that there might be a stay of execution, so Booth heads to talk to him but tells the squints to keep working. At the crime scene, Zach notices numbers all around on the ground on a picnic area. He realizes that what investigators thought was a phone number was actually a code. April was meeting someone in the spot where she died. When he shares this insight back at the lab, Brennan reveals that the foreign matter on the bones is most likely quartz, possibly from gravel. There was no gravel where the body was found. This is enough to make Brennan think it’s worth exhuming the body.

At the Wrights’, Booth is trying to console the distraught parents without revealing that he’s the one that’s opening this up again. David Ross, a family friend, and their lawyer, is there. The parents comment how April looked up to David and worked in his firm. When David brushes aside the forgotten pubic hair, Booth realizes that David was probably sleeping with April (he had admitted to being with her at work earlier that night). He starts to question David on it, but David asks for a lawyer.

As Brennan and Amy head out to a judge’s home to ask for permission to exhume, Amy presses Brennan on the sexual tension between her and Booth, but Brennan denies being into him. At Judge Caan’s, he’s really pissed about being woken up in the middle of the night, but after looking at what they’ve brought, he agrees to the exhumation order. He just hopes, for their sake, those shadows aren’t just bone. Booth’s got problems of his own, as his boss has called him in, threatening to suspend him for this stunt. Booth says he’s doing this on his own time, as are all the squints; he just wants to make sure all the loose ends are tied off. Boss relents, reminding him not to give Brennan a gun (but suggesting that if she shoots anyone, it’d better be Booth).

After the remains have been exhumed, Brennan finds that is it gravel on the bone fragments, and there’s some particulates on the skull as well. Booth gets a court order and gets some of David Ross’s DNA for testing, and it’s a match. Booth, Brennan, and Amy heads to the judge again, hoping it’s enough for a stay, who complains about a lack of sleep. The prosecutor is there, too, and points out that Amy is just reiterating old evidence that’s already been judged. David Ross hasn’t even confessed to having sex with her yet. Amy urges the judge to hear Booth’s opinion, and Booth says that there are doubts; he thinks there shouldn’t be an execution. The judge agrees, but he needs certainties.

As they head back to the lab, Brennan wants to check the skull again. Amy rails against the barbaric death penalty, but Brennan reveals that she believes in it. She’s seen genocide; the people who perpetrate that deserve to be sentenced to death, but the “facts have to add up,” she explains. The squints have been working on the skull, and the particulates are pollen, transferred from the murder weapon, most likely a tire iron. The only place they’re found is along the Chesapeake Bay.

Booth pulls David in for questioning and tells him that he’s been clouding the investigation by lying about his relationship with April. He claims that he only met her to talk. He didn’t know it was her first time, but she got upset and ran off. He found her eventually, but she didn’t want him to take her home. She called a friend and he left around 2 a.m. What a nice dude.

Brennan wants a dozen agents and GPRS devices to search some areas for the weapon, so Booth goes to ask his boss. He eventually consents, again reminding Booth: no gun for Brennan. With just over an hour to go, they arrive at the marsh and find a tire iron. Unfortunately, they’ve found something else, too. Brennan begins to dig, but Booth doesn’t want to get his expensive suit dirty. Brennan reminds him that she’s been up for 48 hours for him. “Dig.” He does, and he finds a skull. So does Brennan. Both bodies are female, 17-25, blunt trauma to the skull, and both have been dead over five years. Booth doesn’t think it fits with David Ross being the killer and realizes that they’ve been played. Epps saw Ross with April and knew fingers could point there. He knew that pointing them toward Ross would cast doubts on Epps’ guilt if they didn’t find his killing grounds, and if they did, there’d be a stay of execution while the other murders were investigated. Booth picks up his phone and says that if he doesn’t make the call, Epps dies in half an hour. Brennan says these women deserve to be heard: “It’s what we do.”

At the jail, Epps still claims not to have killed the women and thanks Dr. Brennan, but they’re not buying it. He tells Amy he’ll need a good lawyer for all the new cases and explains that he should be dead by now”¦ “It’s all gravy.” By the time they get around to the next trials, there might not even be a death penalty. He reminds Amy that’s her dream, right? Amy leaves, and Epps turns to Brennan. He read her book and knew she’d be just what he needed. He goes to shake her hand, and she twists it and slams it down on the table. “Gonna arrest me for assault?” she asks Booth. Nope – it was self defense; he saw it.

So, Howard Epps. I don’t even know whether the producers were planning it or not, but this isn’t the last time we’ll see Howard Epps, and he starts a grand tradition of killers who sit in the background, popping back up over the course of multiple seasons to haunt our characters (the most epic being the Gravedigger).

Another thing I really like about this episode is that it reminds us that all these characters had lives and careers before this show. Booth might just be a hot FBI agent to us, but he’s had partners before Brennan and put people away without the squints. And this Booth that we are getting to know is maybe a different person than he was before”¦ as Amy says, “smarter, less angry.” The Booth that put Epps away had probably still not recovered from the terrible things he’d seen as a ranger. Even seasons later, it’s still being addressed.

I remember seeing this episode for the first time, and like Amy, I was idealistic. Brennan will get to the end of this”¦ he’s going to be innocent”¦ I’d love to see someone be innocent for once. On rewatch, I couldn’t help but feel bad for Amy, knowing the gut punch that she will get at the end.

By Crystal Coleman

Florida girl living on the west coast. During the day, I consult in social media and community management. I have a really cute puppy (Elphaba) and a British husband (I keep him for his accent) as well as an unhealthy relationship with parentheses.

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