‘Bones’ Series Finale Postmortem: Showrunner Michael Peterson on How This May Not Be the End (SPOILERS)

Bones Series Finale Postmortem
Patrick McElhenney/Fox

Read no further if you haven’t seen the series finale (for now) of “Bones.” Spoilers ahead!

There are any number of ways to end a series. There’s the flat cut to black; the reveal that this has all been a dream. Most of them involve some level of controversy after the fact. But when it came time to end “Bones” after 12 seasons on Fox, showrunners Michael Peterson and Jonathan Collier wanted to send their characters riding off into the sunset fully intact. And so we ended not with a bang or a whimper, but with Booth and Brennan bantering into the black. Peterson called up Variety to discuss the very last episode of “Bones” — and why it may not be the very last episode of “Bones.”

Unlike some finales, we don’t get a special last line of dialogue — it’s more akin to the end of a regular episode. When did you decide that was what you wanted to do?

It’s way tough. I was so honored when they were like, “You and Jonathan get to be responsible for the finale.” That’s great. But then you think, “Oh, we’re responsible for the last line of dialogue for the series, maybe I shouldn’t have said yes.”

But in the end, we felt it would be best to do one those fade outs where they’re doing their back and forth. Sometimes it’s scripted, and sometimes it’s David [Boreanaz] and Emily [Deschanel] doing their thing. David asked for some room for him and her to do their thing, in the finale, and we said absolutely.

Was that the last thing you guys shot?

That final shot was not the actual final shot — we had intended it to be the final thing we shot, but, well, that’s TV in a nutshell. That big action scene with the helicopter was supposed to be earlier, but there ere some crazy winds, so we had to reschedule, and that ended up being the last day of shooting, that crazy helicopter stunt.

And you wrapped this in December. Has it sunk in yet?

It’s complicated. There’s continual denial, because we live in a time when “24,” “X-Files,” all these shows are brought back. And so you go, it’s the end, but it’s not the end.

I was on the show for eight-and-a-half, nine years — that’s a lifetime in TV. Once we figured out what we wanted to do a 12th season, I always give credit to David: He said to go back and rewatch Season 1 and embrace who those characters were. It was ultimately about Booth dealing with his guilt and Brennan trying to figure out who she is.

That became the driving force of Season 12: Booth dealing with the worst kill he had to make in his career, and Brennan losing her father and really having to look at how she defines herself in regards to family, and redefines herself now that she’s with Booth. So once we had those things figured out, the final episode just wrote itself, in a weird way: Booth dealing with this Kovac danger and Booth helping Brennan through losing her ultimate identity, her intelligence, and realizing how much more she is. It’s satisfying because it’s honest to the characters. So I wasn’t as nervous. [Executive producer] Stephen Nathan came up with the story, and Karina Rosenthal came back to contribute and help make the finale as character-driven as humanly possible.

Did you ever consider leaving Brennan without her intelligence, at the end of the day?

Not really. I think it’s more important that the lesson was learned — that she is more than just her intelligence — than the ultimate damage.

Were there any stories you didn’t get to that you really wanted to see onscreen?

It really was tough for us. When we took over, the plan was to see this thing through to Season 18. There’s something about the storytelling, about these characters, that we could’ve written them forever. There’s a million stories, but at the same time, what Fox gave us by saying, “This is the last 12 episodes,” is, we got to focus on what we could get in versus what was left behind.

Although I will say, we didn’t ever find a skeleton in Bora-Bora, and I’m deeply resentful of that. [Laughs] No, the way Fox handled it, I give them a lot of credit. There’s shows that just kind of end and they were very respectful to us. 

You have killed off a main character before — John Francis Daly’s Sweets — and maimed others. Were you thinking of doing that for the finale?

I don’t know if I’ve forgiven us for Sweets. The network asked us if we wanted to do anything like that, and we called up [creator] Hart Hanson and agreed at the end of the day that we’re just not that show. We did it that one time, but we wanted to be the “riding off into the sunset” kind of show and stay true to that DNA. Why does the audience watch? Why do they love it? It’s about this makeshift family. You can blow up the house, but not the people.

Everyone saw the trailer for the finale and started freaking out. I give credit to Fox for putting together an effective trailer. When you start getting calls from family members going, “What have you done?” that means you’re doing things well. Or you’re a horrible person.