The Fictional Spectrum: Dr. Temperance Brennan


I’m a member of quite a few Facebook groups for autistic people.  When I announced that I was thinking of writing a series of posts about fictional autistic characters, I asked around for ideas.  One character that was constantly suggested was Dr. Temperance Brennan, played by Emily Deschanel on the Fox TV series Bones. Since I’d never watched the show, I decided to try it out and found it intriguing. I’m only on season 2, and I’m still enjoying it.

Dr. Brennan is a forensic anthropologist in Washington DC. She and an FBI agent named Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) solve murders together.  Helping them are her students, or as Booth nicknames them in the pilot, “squints”.

“When the cops get stuck, we bring in people like you. You know, squints…to squint at things.”–Booth.

Dr. Brennan is based loosely on author Kathy Reichs, who created her in a series of novels. Reichs based the character on her own experiences as a forensic anthropologist.  (However, the book version is somewhat older than her TV counterpart.)

Dr. Brennan is a very engrossed scientist. She sticks with every case to the end. She is especially intense if the case involves children. This ties into her past as a foster child.  It was  a traumatic experience for her, and several episodes touch upon her past.

Dr. Brennan has many traits common in the milder forms of autism, such as the “Asperger’s” variety.  As I stated above, she is task-oriented. Also,  if she is in social situations that have nothing to do with her forensic work, she is rather awkward.  This is especially true if someone mentions pop culture or uses idioms.  In fact, her inexperience in both of these areas has caused “I don’t know what that means” to become both a running gag and a catch phrase for her. As an Aspie myself, I can say I often had trouble with idioms myself.

Brennan also seems to lack tact.  This is part of what makes her relationship with Booth so amusing.  Her blunt attitude often unnerves him, and he tends to chastise her over it.

Of the squints, the one Brennan is the closest to is Angela Montenegro (Michaela Conlin). Angela is the team’s forensic artist.  She is the most social of the squints. In fact, she is the only squint to have anything resembling a social life. She is the most often of the group. She’s often tried to bring Dr. Brennan out of her shell, with little success.

I have so far enjoyed the series. I like the emphasis on Brennan’s scientific approach and her camaraderie with Booth and the squints.  Even though the show’s creators have denied that Dr. Brennan was given characteristics similar to Aspies, she still seems like an excellent example of how Aspies behave.  The show is also positive in its portrayal.  While it does use her social awkwardness for jokes, it in no way mocks her abilities. Dr. Brennan is a great role model for autistics, as she is able to use her interests and skills in order to solve crimes. Her Asperger’s-like traits are not portrayed as a weakness, but as a strength, as her profession requires strict attention to detail and noticing aspects of the cases that some people might miss. I found this series enjoyable, and I would recommend it to any mystery fan or anyone who wants to see an example of Asperger’s.


Author: rocklobsterjwt

I am a Christian and an anime fan. My blog will cover anime reviews and maybe an occasional story

7 thoughts on “The Fictional Spectrum: Dr. Temperance Brennan”

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog about TB but feel the need to take issue with the ‘milder’ form of autism.
    Asperger Syndrome is not a milder form of autism today. In my experience – it is more debilitating than Kanner’s because it is perceived as being high functioning, mild and even savantism…
    DSM 5 is now affecting the support he needs. One can only hope that ICD 11 will not go down the same route because of the research into the differences between KS and AS.
    As social constructs have changed between my education and that of my son’s we are educationally diametric – I thrived in the controlled environment of the 60s-70s: he has been bullied and deprived of his rights to an education because of the lack of régime in a mainstream school (UK).
    I cannot say any more…

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