Meet Market Monday: Temperance Brennan

Courtesy Fox

As we mentioned last week, TYLL will be hosting a weekly feature on an awesome character we think you should get to know. On this Labor Day Monday, why not join us in celebrating another inspiring lady on our airwaves? This week’s subject may reside on the small screen, but her accomplishments, and her personality, are larger than life!

Name: Temperance Brennan (Née Joy Keenan… It’s a long story. Also goes by “Bones” by a certain someone. Get it?)
Occupation: Forensic anthropologist at the Jeffersonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; FBI consultant
Show: Bones

Whether it’s fending off the army in a Tibetan jungle, surveying genocide grave sites in Darfur, writing the next New York Times bestselling crime novel, running away with the circus (yeah that happened), or generally kicking ass, she’s a woman of action you don’t want to mess with. Yet she’s got a heart of gold that makes you keep coming back for more.

Meet Temperance Brennan!

Temperance Brennan (played by Emily Deschanel) isn’t exactly a shrinking violet. She’s a genius and she never lets you forget it. She’s blunt and she doesn’t take “no” for an answer, ever. She’s often obtuse, and spits out judgments that can cut you to the core. She has no time for pleasantries, and if she can’t understand something in scientific terms, she may just rip you a new one for it.

She’s also the most loyal person you will ever meet.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

Brennan (as she’s known by her co-workers-slash-best friends at her lab) is a study in contradictions. She can tear down colleagues for failing to produce results in a timely manner (by her standards), but she can also offer them support when no one else understands what they’re going through. She can fail to understand social conventions amongst strangers, yet connect on the most visceral level to a child she and her partner are interrogating. She’s an abandoned girl who was left to fend for herself in foster care and created a wall of emotions to keep people out, but she’s created a loving extended family (blood and otherwise) for herself as an adult.

I’ll admit it right now: Brennan isn’t strictly speaking an easy character to love, at least not on the surface, for all the reasons I mentioned above. She can come across as grating or prickly, and sometimes you want to smack her over the head for the things she says. Heck, even I dismissed her, and her show in general, when I first saw it. However, the more I saw of Bones (and “Bones”), the more endearing I found those very traits.

The thing to remember about Brennan is that she doesn’t have a mean bone in her body (sorry for the bad pun). Sure, she still manages to hurt people once in a while, but it’s never in the spirit of attacking them, and when she has hurt their feelings, she does try to make amends. She might not ever apologize for her stance, but she’ll certainly feel contrite for causing pain unto others, which is why those closest to her stick around and love her for it. They know that often, the insensitivity is just a mask for a deep well of emotions.

Another reason to love her: she loves Wonder Woman, and owns her own Wonder Woman costume. / Courtesy Fox

Another reason to love Brennan: she loves Wonder Woman, and owns her own Wonder Woman costume. That’s badass.  / Courtesy Fox

What’s refreshing about a character like Temperance Brennan is that she doesn’t apologize for who she is. To be fair, yes, other characters call her out on her actions, arguably to a disproportionate degree. But the show is about her, after all. She’s the title Bones, and she’s the one whose journey we’re on. The thing is, though, even when she amends her behavior, she does it in a way that doesn’t compromise her beliefs; she might know why she’s “right” empirically, but she’s open to learning why someone else holds a different point of view, and why hers might not be the be all and end all. Besides, if she didn’t really want to learn from her experiences, she could easily go, “Peace out, I’m done” and leave everyone trailing in her dust. But she cherishes this growth, more every season, and continues unfolding like a flower.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

And oh, how she’s unfolded. A nomadic academic when we meet her in the pilot, we’ve seen her put down roots at the best lab in the country. (Or world, at this point.) She’s gone from finding herself alone and putting people at arm’s length to avoid getting hurt, to not only creating a loving family in her fellow “squints” at the lab, but starting a new family of her own with her husband, daughter and stepson. She may not use her impressive karate moves on suspects much these days, but she can still wield a gun without missing a beat to have her partner’s back. (Her partner also being her aforementioned husband as of this past season.) She used to consider relationships ephemeral, bound to disappoint her when they ended, but now she actively opens her arms, and her heart, to those she feels need a metaphorical home. (Or physical one, when need be.)

What I love most about Brennan is that she screams yes you can. She doesn’t stand for patriarchal bullshit (pardon my language). She’s the best in her field, and refuses to amend that qualification with “for a woman.” She demonstrates qualities that are typically described as male: she’s headstrong, she’s arrogant, she is blinded in her pursuit of her work, she takes no prisoners and doesn’t understand “why” she can’t do something. Except, there is nothing on the show that indicates that those are, in fact, “male” — they’re just human. And she isn’t made to apologize for that, at least not by her inner circle. She’s a prominent scientist who is admired not just for her sex, but for her intelligence, plain and simple — and not one of her interns would tell you otherwise.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

Yes, she’s softened as the past nine seasons have gone on. She’s entered into a heteronormative relationship, leading to an eventual marriage and children. But the remarkable thing about Bones is that none of those changes were a result of the dreaded “biological clock” that is usually the case for the women who grace our screens. Brennan stated in the first season she didn’t want children and saw monogamous relationships as antiquated, but her perspective evolved gradually, mainly because it was obvious from the pilot on that a lot of her feelings on relationships, romantic and platonic, were a result of trauma. As she formed friendships with her colleagues, she began to crave the feeling of belonging that entailed. As she spent more time with partner Booth (David Boreanaz), she developed romantic feelings that initially scared her off, but eventually fulfilled her spirit. After spending so much time with child witnesses over the course of their work, she decided for herself that having kids could be something she found rewarding, provided it was under the right circumstances for herself.

Throughout all these changes, though, her core qualities have remained the same. She’s still fiercely protective, especially when it comes to her loved ones. She is single-minded in the pursuit of justice — and not once has she been told that’s a bad thing. (In fact, when she’s up at three in the morning at a crime scene because she’s figured out how to crack the case, most of the time her partner/husband is right by her side, praising her dedication.) When she feels strongly about something, it’s not up to her to change her mind for your benefit; she’s an atheist not because of some past grievance with religion, but simply because she sees no evidence of a higher power, and is never made to justify her beliefs. She can beat up men twice her size in self-defense, but she’s also got a childlike innocence and vulnerability that endears her to the rare few she allows in. She boasts about her intelligence because she is that smart and that is a good thing. Can’t handle it? Then she’s got no time for you. Stick around, and she’ll be the strongest ally you could ever hope to have.

Yeah, that's a potato bazooka. Deal with it. / Courtesy Fox

Yeah, that’s a potato bazooka. Deal with it. / Courtesy Fox

In a sea of female characters on TV who are victimized and left helpless, dependent on the male leads to save them week after week, it’s unbelievably important to have women like Temperance Brennan on our screens, who make it clear why they are the heroes, too. (One woman, I might add, of many awesome, unique ladies on Bones. But that is for another week.) Her direct approach might scare you off, but that’s why you probably need her around, too.

Don’t worry about being schooled by Brennan. We’ve all been there. It might sting a little at first, but it’s going to be the best class you’ll take.

All images courtesy of Fox and found at

Bones’ tenth season premieres Sept. 25 at 8pm on Fox. The first eight seasons are available on DVD and Netflix, and season 9 will be released on DVD and Netflix on Sept. 16.


Nels knew how to operate a TV remote control before she knew how to talk. As a result, she has spent an inordinate amount of time pretending she actually lives on a soundstage. When she isn’t watching whichever show is currently capturing her heart, she is writing about how said show is currently capturing her heart. She loves pie.

7 Responses to Meet Market Monday: Temperance Brennan

  1. Bea says:

    Thanks! of course there are a lot more things to say, but these are enough to start understanding Temperance Brennan.
    “I assure you, if I knew how to convey how I feel, I would.
    It seems to make other people’s lives much easier.” (Temperance Brennan, 6×21)

    • Nels Nels says:

      I always loved that quote! I feel like sometimes Brennan needs to have that captioned over her head so some people “get” it.

      If I said everything about why I loved Brennan, there’d be a novel here. I figured this was a good enough Cliff Notes version!

      Thanks for commenting! You’re our first!

  2. Alecia says:

    My #1 on my list of TV characters

    • Nels Nels says:

      She’s right up there with mine, too.

      Thanks for reading! We’re gonna try to cover more Bones this fall once the season starts and we have more to say.

  3. Cassidy says:

    Such a great piece, Nels! It’s hard to introduce Brennan as a character to the general public because she has so many layers and such a fantastic character evolution but I think you did an amazing job to give a Cliff Notes version, as you say.


  4. Yessssss to all of this. YES. It literally took me until season 6 to realize that Brennan was my favorite character on the show, but now I’d fight anyone who doesn’t love her. She cares SO deeply, and she never apologizes for who she is. We all need her.

    • Nels Nels says:

      Totally agree! I went from thinking “man, that Brennan is a pill, and why is that actress coming across so cold?” to having All The Feelings and unable to contain my gushing and unconditional love for the character (and actress). Layers, she has many.

      (I have gotten into more than one argument in real life over my defense of Brennan. I regret nothing.)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: