Mission Accomplished: Fan Reactions to a Realized Ship

Curator's Note

During the sixth season finale of the FOX show Bones, viewers were surprised when leading character, Temperance Brennan, turned to her leading man, Seeley Booth and said five simple but powerful words, “I’m pregnant. You’re the father.”

This moment was unexpected because the show previously hinted that Brennan and Booth were in a relationship, but it was never verified. As the moment of confirmation, we might believe that Booth/Brennan shippers would be thrilled, but that was not the case.

To find out why the shippers were not unanimously elated, I spoke with two individuals highly involved in the Bones fandom, Jennifer Lester, Founder and Administrator of the U.S. based fan forum Bonesology and Beatrice Belli, Founder and Administrator of the Italian fan forum i-bones.net. Lester and Belli explained their personal views about the announcement and summarized fan responses posted on their forums.

Lester and Belli agree that shipper reactions on their sites were polarized. Many shippers were happy because the announcement confirmed the relationship they desired. Others were frustrated because they felt cheated by a lack of build-up to the actual moment. As Belli explained, “this was not the way they wanted it to happen.”

Lester and Belli believe the surprise announcement was the reason both of their sites experienced a “drastic” reduction in activity when the show returned for its seventh season. They believe the happy shippers left because their desires were fulfilled; those people no longer felt a need to participate. The frustrated shippers left because they were disappointed in the way events unfolded.

To further complicate the matter, not all shippers agreed the announcement was the moment of fulfillment. Many shippers who remained proclaimed the pregnancy announcement did not fulfill the ship and they re-focused their energy on a call for a wedding; an event they felt would more appropriately act as the culminating occasion.

This situation shows that paying off a ship for fans might not be as easy or straightforward as we might expect. Here, it is clear that shippers held differing ideas about what constitutes a fulfilled ship and fan activity splintered as a result of the pregnancy announcement.

Do you watch Bones? What are your thoughts on this situation? Have you shipped a relationship on another show? How do the events on Bones compare to other shows you watch? What are your criteria for a ship to be realized?


Evan, this is really interesting. I have not watched Bones, so I'm not familiar with its story arcs or its characters. However, your post reminded me of two other series that I have watched regularly, Castle and the Mentalist, both of which involved the classic antagonistic partners who finally succumbed to each others' charms. It's an old, old romantic narrative plotline (the basis for all those great screwball comedies and other genres in what Tom Schatz called genres of integration), but while it's easier to resolve in films, it does present a lot of challenges for TV narratives. How to keep that sexual and romantic tension going over the course of a season, or multiple seasons? How to satisfy the viewers' needs for progression in the romance, while stretching out the "will they or won't they" for as long as possible? And then, when "they will, and do" and the romance is finally consummated--how to keep the viewers motivated to keep watching? It's a good area for audience research. What do viewers really want to watch? If the show spends three seasons teasing us with the hope that a couple will get together, where does it go, plotwise, when they become a couple? Does it get boring? The Mentalist married off the couple at the end of the series, so we get no post-marriage narrative. Observing the way the writers dealt with Castle's and Beckett's romance was interesting, though the show tried to make some big changes along the way and then seemed to go back to their earlier formula when all else failed. It's been inconsistent. The one series that just finished its first season for which I'm eagerly awaiting the long-term narrative payoff is Outlander. That's because I've read Diana Gabaldon's books, and what this novelist has discovered is to focus on the rich and always developing partnership of a strong love and marriage/partnership. This is something that episodic TV drama is not very good at--our culture tends to focus too heavily on the beginnings of relationships, but then cut away when the marriage gets settled in. What Gabaldon does (and what we hope Ron Moore will do on screen) is to show us as viewers that married partners can be sexy and intriguing and lead fascinating lives, too--even as they pass their ripe twenties and moves into their thirties and forties and (gasp) even beyond.

Pam, Thanks for your comment. I think it would also be interesting to further investigate how producers choose the moment to fulfill a ship and how much control of that decision they really have. One factor I did not mention in my post was that Emily Deschanel, the actress who plays Temperance Brennan, was pregnant in real life at the time of this storyline. When speaking with the producers of Bones, they’ve often told me that, “fans don’t know what they want.” The producers explain that even though fans push for the relationship to be fulfilled, they really want the enjoyment of pushing for the relationship. So, I’m pretty confident that the show’s storyline would have been different if Emily was not pregnant. The timing of her real pregnancy and the decision to use it as a season-ending shocker might have also contributed to the reason some fans felt the announcement was too sudden and why others denounced the pregnancy as “the” moment and focused their energy on calls for a wedding. It seems the producers need to walk a fine line. Fulfilling a ship too early might result in a loss of viewers, but viewers might also defect from the show if waiting too long frustrates them.

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