Why Bones Swapped One Bad Habit For Another In Its Hitchcock-Inspired Episode

Watch just about any media from the mid-20th century and you'll quickly notice something: people smoked a lot more onscreen back then — like, a lot more. Those born in the current century would no doubt be shocked to learn that even beloved cartoon icons like Donald Duck would light up a pipe or puff away on a stogie when the occasion merited (and that's to say nothing of commercials like the jaw-dropping marketing campaign where Fred Flinstone gets his buddy Barney and his wife Wilma hooked on Winston cigarettes).

Smoking was a useful visual shorthand for a variety of things. When Cruella De Vil spewed a wreath of putrid yellow smoke from her infamous cigarette holder in Disney's animated "101 Dalmatians," you just knew she was trouble, even before dog-napping entered the equation. Alternatively, when Cary Grant carefully lit Eva Marie Saint's cigarette in perhaps the ultimate Alfred Hitchcock picture, "North by Northwest," it evoked glamor and more than a hint of foreplay. Of course, by the time "Bones" was gearing up to salute Hitch's body of work with its 200th episode in 2014, "The 200th in the 10th," the days of casual smoking in film and TV were long gone.

Directed by David Boreanaz, "The 200th in the 10th" re-imagines Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel), Seeley Booth (Boreanaz), and the other members of the Jeffersonian Institute murder investigation squad as 1950s archetypes in a plot inspired by Hitchcock's 1955 thriller "To Catch a Thief." As executive producer Stephen Nathan explained to TV Tango in 2014, the "Bones" creatives knew that anxious Fox executives would never sign off on the show's heroes happily getting their tobacco fix throughout the episode, the historical accuracy defense be damned. Instead, they gave Bones and Booth something else to indulge in.

Smoking was a no-go for Bones

How do you do Hitchcock without any smoking? If you're "Bones," you let the characters drink like fish instead. In Nathan's own words:

"The network doesn't like smoking, and certain things have changed since 1954. In 1954, there were ads about the benefits of smoking, where you saw doctors tell you that it was good to smoke. I think we wanted to get away from that. It would've been nice to have someone smoking, but it really wasn't that necessary. I think that time was really more about, at least for us, knocking back some dry martinis rather than trying to contract lung cancer."

"The 200th in the 10th" is more of a skin-deep homage to classic Hollywood than a warts-and-all examination of the past, so the lack of smoking isn't necessarily a detriment in terms of what the episode is going for. For the same reason, depiction shouldn't be taken as an endorsement when it comes to characters whetting their whistles. Outside of the sexism that Bones has to deal with as a glass ceiling-shattering detective for the Los Angeles Police Department, there's not much nodding to historical inequalities or other social problems of the period either, save for poor Cam (Tamara Taylor) going from running the Jeffersonian to working as a maid for a rich white socialite. Even in a version of the '50s where people seemingly know better than to smoke like chimneys, the Black woman somehow still gets the short end of the stick.

All things considered, the episode might've been stronger had it picked a lane rather than vying to split the difference between nostalgia and hard-nosed realism in the vein of "Mad Men." Then again, maybe it's better that "Bones" didn't try and bite off more than it could chew.