“The Conspiracy in the Corpse” episode from the Fox television series Bones was the season 10 premiere that aired on September 25, 2014. The popular character, Dr. Lance Sweets, is unexpectedly killed off. The online fan community erupted with oppositional viewpoints on social media and on fan websites, which caught the writers and producers of the show by surprise.
Dr. Lance Sweets was an FBI agent who was a psychological profiler. He joined the show in season 3 to provide counseling to Dr. Temperance Brennan (Bones) and FBI agent Seeley Booth (Bones Wikia). His role evolved to become Booth’s partner. Sweets became a major character in the show and was beloved by fans because of his caring personality, characterized by his “belief that broken people can be saved by people with good hearts, which is why he becomes a psychologist” (Bones Wikia). His character was a counterbalance between the scientific personalities of the “squints,” and the tough physicality of Booth. Of note, Sweets was the first major character to die in the show.
Sweets was portrayed by John Francis Daley. Daley’s career as a writer was taking off in the few years prior to the start of season 10 of Bones and he had indicated that he wanted time off to direct the 2015 movie, Vacation, a remake of National Lampoon’s Vacation. Bones executive produced Stephen Nathan revealed in an interview: “It was a complicated and very difficult decision for us. . .We didn’t know what to do. And then we realized that this fit in very well with the conspiracy arc [that landed Booth in jail]. It gives us something very rich and very emotional to play within the first half of the season” (Ausiello, 2014). Nathan added that Sweets’ death made the most sense since it would have be difficult for him to disappear for several months while he was co-directing and co-writing Vacation. He also expected that this experience for Daley would likely lead to additional opportunities to write and direct (Keveney, 2014). The producers and writers felt that they could tie Sweets’ death to the FBI conspiracy theory that was developed at the end of season 9 and causes Booth’s suspension. One twist on this plotline is that a major character is killed off at the beginning of the season. In addition, Sweets and his longtime love, Daisy, were about to have a baby. Understandably, longtime fans of Bones were shocked at Sweets’ death.
Hall (1980) defines three main decoding positions: dominant, negotiated, and oppositional. Viewers taking the oppositional position understand the literal action and connotative meaning of the episode, but interpret it in an entirely way with an alternative frame of reference. The producer and writers represent the dominant position. The reactions of fans demonstrate an oppositional position to the dominant position. Bones viewers vented their frustration, shock, and sadness on social media. Jenkins notes Jenkins notes: “The fans’ response typically involves not simply fascination or adoration but also frustration and antagonism, and it is the combination of the two responses, which motivates their active engagement with the media” (in De Kosnik, 2012, p.102). Many Bones viewers vowed on Twitter to never watch the show again:
Caitin Kelly @purplehrdwonder (25 September 2014 ) “I legitimately am not sure I can keep watching the show after this #Bones.”
Nick Hamze @NickHamze (25 September 2014) “Never watching bones again.”
Joey Schneider @_JT_Schneids (9 October 2014) “Bones has officially jumped the shark. After 9 seasons Bones is dead to me. #RIPSweets”
Diane Ross @DianeRo62762689 (4 October 2014) “JFD wanted to come back. Exc. producers chose to kill Sweets off.. Terrible decision. #RIPSweets Aubrey is a poor..rushed replacement..ugh.”
Fans posted their farewells and comments on YouTube, blogs, and Facebook. A typical example is Jesscahhh who posted on YouTube (6 October 2014) that “I did not expect Sweets to die. That came as a total shock to me! So sad. I really did love that crazy kid a lot. So I felt it only fitting to dedicate a video to the amazing guy he was. I hope you guys enjoy. I’m still so emotional about it all” You can view the video here.
Social media had rare comments that could be characterized as representing a negotiated position, a position according to Hall (2008) in which the viewer accepts the dominant generally, but at the particular level “operates with exceptions to the rule” (p. 60):
PGA @theboyArnold (15 January 2015) “1st episode of Bones new season was epic. #ripsweets”
ForensicMama (2 October 2014) posted on the blog “Bones Spoilers” that “his presence on Bones was a subject for great debate among those who follow the show religiously. Why? Because Sweets took precious screen time from the dynamic duo, especially in the later seasons as he began to train under Booth as a field agent. Bones is at its best when Brennan and Booth share the screen.”
Although it is unclear how many viewers actually stopped watching the show as a result of Sweets’ death, there are fans who are still upset by this episode.
In conclusion, fans of Bones expressed overwhelming oppositional position to “The Conspiracy in the Corpse” episode in which Sweets is killed and did not accept the dominant position of the show’s producers that the character’s death was necessary to the plot from the previous season. Social media provides an accessible outlet for people to express their fandom.
Ausiello, M. (25 September, 2014). Bones premiere shocker: Find out why [spoiler] had to die. tvline.com. Retrieved from http://tvline.com/2014/09/25/bones-sweets-dies-john-francis-daley-leaving-season-10-death/.
Bones (season 10). (25 November, 2016). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Bones_(season_10)&oldid=751365808.
De Kosnik, A. (2012). Fandom as free labor. In Scholz, R.T. (Ed.) Digital labor:The Internet as playground and factory (pp. 98-111). London:vRoutledge.
Keveney, B. (26 September 2014). Exclusive: Bones star reacts to dark twist. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/tv/2014/09/25/bones-star-and-producer-react-to-premieres-dark-twist/16238351/.
Lance Sweets. (n.d.) Retrieved on December 12, 2016 from the Bones Wikia: http://bones.wikia.com/wiki/Lance_Sweets.
#ripsweets hashtag on Twitter. (December 13, 2016). https://twitter.com/hashtag/ripsweets.
Sims, Andrew. (September 26, 2014). ‘Bones’ viewers vow never to watch show the again after last night’s shocker. Retrieved from http://www.hypable.com/bones-season-10-premiere-sweets-dead-killed/.