Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Review of Bones Episode 2 "The Man in the SUV"

I never intended this blog to review general media items, but I wrote this for another purpose, so I'm putting it up here also.

Bones, Episode #2. “The Man in the SUV” Originally aired: Tuesday September 20, 2005 on FOX Writer: Stephen Nathan Director: Allan Kroeker Guest Stars: Jose Zuniga (Mickey Santana) , Nicholas Massouh (Farid Masruk) , Anne Dudek (Tessa Jankow) , Bahar Soomekh (Sahar Masruk) , Federico Dordei (Ali Ladjavardi) , Said Faraj (Hamid Masruk) , Dave Roberson (Bennett Gibson) , Tracy Howe (Officer Javelona)

Any time I see a dramatic piece concerning violence and Muslims in the U.S., I notice the attempt to appear fair, non-stereotyping and somewhat factual, but more often than not the dramatic piece fails on almost all of these fronts.

The episode begins with Hamid Masruk emerging from a building in front of which is a sign engraved with the words “Arab-American Friendship Council.” He begins driving his SUV. He receives a call on his cell phone from Sahar (a female Arabic name), whom we later find out is his wife. He has an argument (the English speaker would know because of the agitation in the voice) with her in the actor’s accented Arabic, unsubtitled. Sweating profusely, he drives aggressively through Washington, D.C. He parks his car in front of a café, where an explosion from the car kills him and several bystanders.

When the FBI arrives to investigate, we learn that Hamid, as head of the Friendship Council, has recently appeared with the President in an advisory capacity, and thus the FBI hopes that Hamid is innocent.

In the FBI interrogation room, Agent Booth and Dr. Terrance Brennan, the forensic anthropologist “Bones”, question the widow Sahar Masruk and the deceased’s brother Farid Masruk. They both deny vehemently that Hamid is a terrorist and complain that the media and the FBI are assuming Hamid’s guilt. Sahar, in a cheesy foreign accent, cries, “We live just like you. We came to this country because we love it. We are Americans. It can’t be Hamid. It can’t. My husband was not a terrorist.”

Sure enough, the FBI finds out that a bomb had been planted underneath the car and triggered through the odometer, thus indicating that Hamid Masruk was murdered. Dr. Brennan and Agent Booth go to Farid Masruk’s home to collect his medical records. There, he tells them how he converted to Christianity. He also reveals to them that Sahar was having an affair with Ali Ladjavardi, Hamid’s co-worker at the Friendship League. Because Ali and Sahar refused to end their affair, even when confronted, Farid had urged his brother to “repudiate” his wife. When Booth looks puzzled, Dr. Brennan interjects “In Muslim law, it’s a method of divorce, called talaaq.”

So Agent Booth confronts Ali Ladjavardi in the interrogation room, trying to get him to admit that he killed Hamid. During the interrogation, Booth’s superior enters and tells Ali that he is free to leave. After Ali leaves, Booth’s superior tells him that Ali is a Homeland Security mole in the Arab-American Friendship League and Homeland Security does not want his cover blown.
Through excellent lab work, they realize the bomb which killed Hamid was made in Farid’s apartment. When they search the apartment, Dr. Brennan finds a mushaf (a bound volume in which the Qur’an is written), a prayer rug and a tract entitled “Deceit in the Service of Allah is Holy.” Booth asks, “Qur’an?” Dr. Brennan knowingly responds, “No, an Imam’s twisted interpretation of the Qur’an so murderers don’t have to feel guilt.”

Agent Booth, putting together several clues, races to a peace conference where Arab moderates and a congressman are scheduled to speak. He is able to kill Farid before Farid can detonate an even larger bomb.

My complaints are divided into three areas. The first is misinformation:

1. The plot is ethnically confusing. During the autopsy, we find out that Hamid and Farid are Afghani. Afghanistan does not have an Arab population.

2. The dialogue conflates Muslims and Arabs. Muslims profess adherence to a religion, Islam. Arabs are an ethnic group. Most Arabs are Muslims, although significant minorities are Christian and Jewish. Most Muslims are not Arabs.

3. Why does Booth believe that Muslims don’t allow divorce? Agent Booth, positing a possible motive for Sahar, says, “Suddenly Sahar is facing a devout Muslim and a fundamentalist Christian, and nobody allows a divorce, and she’s pushed to murder.” More precisely, how would a Muslim man in the United States prevent his wife from getting a divorce?

4. I’ve never heard of a requirement to gather as many body parts as possible for burial. Dr. Brennan responds to Booth’s chastising her for detailing collection of body parts for Sahar. “If I can retrieve more remains of her husband, Muslim law requires that I do. I spent some time in Iraq identifying bodies. I’ll give you whatever I can so that he can be purified for burial.” As an FYI, if anyone can tell me about how the U.S. armed forces deal with dead Iraqis in Iraq, I’d love to hear about it.

The second is justification for religious/ethnic profiling:

1. Dr. Brennan responds to Sahar’s complaints of how the FBI conducted its investigation by saying “They searched your house because Muslim extremists have declared war on the United States. Preliminary findings made your husband a suspect. … I can’t [understand why Sahar is upset]. She’s been a part of a criminal investigation. That’s all. Her rights haven’t been violated. It’s unfortunate that her husband’s ethnicity’s a factor, but to say that it isn’t would be disingenuous.” I wish the people who think it’s so easy to be questioned by the FBI would go through the experience once. Especially when the FBI appears at the workplace and asks neighbors.

2. Nobody is upset that Homeland Security planted a mole in an Arab-American civic organization. Perhaps Booth or Brennan could have asked the other, “Is that legal?” Maybe people should become familiar with Cointelpro, the FBI’s series of FBI counterintelligence programs designed to neutralize political dissidents. A podcast on this topic is available at

3. And, of course, the bad guy was in fact a Muslim religious fanatic, who lied so much that he even faked conversion to Christianity.

Third, the non-Muslim American, Dr. Brennan, knows Muslim practices and doctrines: divorce, burial and even fringe religious tracts. The Muslim can never speak for himself/herself without the non-Muslim American filtering the information. Farid says “repudiation”, Dr. Brennan translates. Sahar needs more body parts, but she waits for Dr. Brennan to explain this to Booth. Farid picks up his radical doctrines from English-language pamphlets which Dr. Brennan can immediately understand.

Is the non-Muslim American so intellectually superior that reading a few books makes him or her the Muslims' spokesperson?

In fact, the episode has serious holes in it:

1. Was the first bombing planned to kill the bystanders at the café? If so, how?
2. If Farid’s motive for killing Hamid was Hamid’s discovery of Farid’s bomb-making, why didn’t Hamid turn in Farid? Does not that make Hamid guilty, also?

One could argue that many features of this episode show a multicultural orientation. I disagree. Positive multicultural representations show cooperation and shared values.

As an aside, I watched the show because of David Boreanaz’s past work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. I like many aspects of the show, so I hope it continues. I just wish it could think up some better crime scenarios to serve as a backdrop for the characters.

P.S. Report on Terrorism and Drug War in TV Dramas

No comments: