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.
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