Honest Science vs. False Friend: A Contrast Study of Temperance Brennan and Angela Montenegro

I thought it was time to do some cross-analysis. I’ve made quite a study of this series, and approaching it from every angle at my disposal, I’ve noted some key traits of characters, and some glaring errors that have been made in reference to these characters, by viewers who seem to be missing the nuances of character trait and development.

There’s one, in particular, I’d like to set the record straight on. The friendship between Brennan and Angela, and how unbalanced it really is.

Viewers always complain that Brennan’s an obnoxious know-it-all.

I disagree, most vehemently, and I can prove it.

I can’t even count how many times over the years she’s admitted “I don’t know what that means” or “I don’t understand.” When she does know something, yes, she comes across as overly scholarly and almost overbearing. But that comes more from intense focus than any obnoxious desire to be right. Because she’s devoted so much time and effort into learning the subjects she speaks with great authority about, her confidence in her knowledge and ability can come off as overbearing to those who don’t understand the type of intellect involved. Find me a world-renowned expert in anything who doesn’t come off as either overly bookish or overbearing when talking about their area of expertise. They are a very, very rare breed.

Besides, if one gets to the core of Brennan’s character, one finds there’s a deeply compassionate and honestly passionate woman there. Someone who is dedicated to her field not out of some desire for notoriety and acclaim, but because she genuinely cares about bringing identities and closure to those whose remains she studies. If she didn’t care, she couldn’t do what she did throughout most of the early seasons (and before, that they allude to within the series), spending all her free time in dangerous, even potentially deadly, situations, trying to bring peace, dignity and identities back to the victims of genocide and tragedy.

 

From "Tiger in the Tale," when Brennan discovers the animal trafficker has killed a tiger.

From “Tiger in the Tale,” when Brennan discovers the animal trafficker has killed a tiger.

She has a reverence for life and compassion for all living creatures, illustrated nowhere better than in “Tiger in the Tale,” when she flew into a rage over a murdered tiger, then collapsed in tears in Booth’s arms, mourning for the slain animal, or in “Finger in the Nest,” where the discovery of a dog fighting ring angers and saddens Brennan, and where she attempts to adopt the dog used to kill the victim, only to discover he was put down. The funeral for the dog was heart-wrenching, and showed just how deep Brennan’s reverence for life goes.

She also loves her friends and family very deeply. Even when her father was a fugitive, accused of murder, she put her own life and freedom on the line to save his life. And her love for Booth has been awe-inspiring, even back when she was unaware of her own feelings. She quite often puts the emotional needs of those she cares about ahead of everything else. There are literally dozens of examples of this, even times when she put a case or the results of pure science on the line for the safety, welfare, or peace of mind of those she cares about — especially Booth (who I would argue is not just her husband, now, but also her real best friend), but also her supposed best friend, Angela.

Brennan may be the tops in her field, but she’s also quick to admit when she doesn’t know something. She’s deferred to Hodgins and Cam many times in the past, over things that are their field of expertise, not hers. She admitted on more than one occasion that Booth is the true expert at interrogation and, in recent seasons, she’s begun to acknowledge that her early derision over psychology may not have been well-informed, and she views Sweets as an expert on doing the right and compassionate thing. She trusts his advice a great deal on matters pertaining to the heart, as evidenced by her turning to him when she was in a tailspin over the change in her and Booth’s relationship after she returned from being on the run, in “Partners in the Divorce”.

By contrast, if I had to choose a character from the show who represents the obnoxious know-it-all, I’d choose Angela. She spouts a lot of nonsense as if she’s an authority on human emotion and motivation, and most of the time, she’s wrong, or her advice ends up causing more trouble than it solves. She loves to gossip, and stick her nose in everyone else’s private business, in ways no decent human being would have the gall to. She causes a lot of friction among the other characters because she can’t keep her over-inflated and under substantiated opinions to herself. She pushes these suppositions and even outright fabrications (such as her assertions to Brennan in the Season 9 premiere that Booth was cheating on her) on people like facts, rather than the malicious opinions they are.

Angela always wears this same half-smug kind of smile when she knows she's getting her way.

Angela always wears this same half-smug kind of smile when she knows she’s getting her way.

Angela shows the classic denominators for a narcissist. She is focused almost exclusively on what she wants, and what makes her happy. This is seen repeatedly. Her relationship, engagement, and attempt to marry Hodgins, without even bothering to tell him that there might be a complication, or that she’d ever been married before, whether legally or not. Then, instead of doing her best to make the relationship work after the whole annulment of her first marriage (oh, yeah, and she got what she wanted there, too, didn’t she?), she just walked away, and tripped merrily on to have a passionate fling with Wendell, right under a clearly-miserable-but-trying -to-do-the-right-thing-and-make-Angela-happy Hodgins’ nose, and also her rekindling her relationship with Roxie. Both of those relationships were classic examples of her narcissism. In both cases, it was all about what Angela wanted out of the relationship. It didn’t matter how the rest of them felt.

Another classic tell of narcissism Angela displays is her manipulative nature. She manipulates everyone (she flat-out admits to manipulating Hodgins, in “Warrior in the Wuss”). However, nowhere is her manipulation more telling than when it comes to Brennan. Angela’s apparently had no problem hurting her supposed “best friend” so many times over the years, all in the name of Angela looking good. She’s given Brennan perfectly dreadful advice numerous times, and filled her head full of nonsense at others, rather than actually helping Brennan sort it out for herself, which could have been accomplished by encouraging Brennan to open up and talk her feelings out. That task (one done by someone who truly cares about a person) always falls the Booth, meaning he’s a better friend to Brennan than Angela ever could be.

Yet another classic example of narcissism on Angela’s part is in her telling everyone around her what they want, feel, need, etc. If she can’t use her body to manipulate someone, she uses her domineering “I’m always right” attitude. She had no problem telling Brennan that Booth was cheating on her (even though he wasn’t, and never would, and Angela had no evidence or facts), and then turning around, with utter gall, and, in order to get her own way and be the one calling all the shots for Brennan’s wedding, told Brennan that A) Booth would be okay with it if Brennan was, because he loves her (she’s right in this case, but the gall of it all is that she has the nerve to say this after she spent all that time telling Brennan he was lying to and cheating on her in the Season 9 premiere), and B) when Brennan said she wasn’t sure she (Brennan) was okay with it, Angela’s response was “I’m your best friend, honey. Trust me, you’re okay with it.” To me, that sounds more like “we’re doing this because I say so, and I want everyone to see what a good friend I am by throwing this wedding for you, whether you like it or not.”

 Not the actions of a friend. Instead, it read more like the actions of someone obsessed with their own wants and needs.

And then, after all that time trying to drive a wedge between Brennan and Booth, when Booth proves he’s the better person (without intending to… he just wants Brennan to be happy and keep her friendship with Angela, if it makes her happy) in “Mystery in the Meat,” Angela finally feels compelled to apologize. Only, it’s no apology. It’s a “hey, look at me. I’m such a good friend to your wife, I’m here pretending I’m sorry, only I’m not going to say what for, and I want you to tell me you understand and everything’s forgiven, so I can continue to look like the best friend in the world. And, oh, yeah, if I wasn’t such a good friend to your wife, I’d jump you, right now, regardless of the fact that I’m married, too, just because that would make me feel better about myself because I could manipulate you.” (Not that it would work. Angela doesn’t hold a candle to Brennan, in Booth’s eyes… or at all, for that matter).

The relationship between Brennan and Angela has always been an unbalanced one. Angela only ever seems happy for Brennan whenever it somehow makes Angela look good or right, or gives Angela more fodder for her gossip-obsessed self. Because Brennan, at her core, is a generous, loving, and compassionate person, I think she allows herself to be manipulated by Angela, without being consciously aware of it, because she honestly cares about Angela, and is trying to be a true friend.

Personal Note:

Angela’s never been one of my favorite characters, though I’ve appreciated some of the elements she brings to cases and situations, but I’ve really developed a problem with her since the start of Season 9. The woman who was the first to notice how Booth felt about Brennan, clear back near the beginning of Season 1, became an even bigger wedge in their relationship than Pelant, between the end of Season 8 and the first couple episodes of Season 9. If Brennan’s a know-it-all, I’ll take her honest, earned variety of it any day, over Angela’s manipulative, “I’ve got the right answer all the time” personality.

 

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10 thoughts on “Honest Science vs. False Friend: A Contrast Study of Temperance Brennan and Angela Montenegro

  1. […] Honest Science vs. False Friend: A Contrast Study of Temperance Brennan and Angela Montenegro  – This is an interesting post examining two characters on a popular TV show, one of which could be perceived as being a Narcissist but isn’t, the other is a Narcissist but may not be perceived as one (because Narcissists are focused on how others perceive them thus they are better able to manipulate their image and control how others view them). Like the person who wrote this, I find the character of Angela Montenegro intensely annoying and distressing (I have been known to shout at the TV when watching this show when her character appears and does her ‘thing’) because she is very narcissistic yet gets away with it, everyone makes excuses for her (including the resident psychologist who is supposed to be very clever) and thinks she’s lovely, very ‘empathic’. Episode 6, season 5 was particularly explicit in showing Angela’s Narcissism and I got intensely angry about how it was handled). This episode reminded me of CZBZ’s post of Puppygate. […]

  2. […] For more of my analysis of the character of Dr. Temperance Brennan, see “Nature in Conflict” and “Honest Science vs. False Friend” […]

  3. Eugene says:

    Hey there! This is my first comment here so I just
    wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I truly enjoy reading your posts.
    Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with
    the same topics? Thanks a ton!

  4. shmeashmea says:

    I think you’re definitely onto something here. I’m nearing the end of season 8, but I am seeing Angela in a whole new light. Having had a narcissistic and abusive father and grandmother myself, Angela’s particular brand of narcissism was not obvious to me at all because her sweetness seems much more genuine and she’s vibrant, confident, beautiful, and artistic, making her quite likable to me, but the signs are there. I think this makes her a far more interesting character. Narcissistic people often have no idea their behaviors are manipulative, truly believe they’re acting out of the best interests of their loved ones, are unable to change and live in complete denial for the entirety of their lives despite friends or family confronting them about their behaviors…I think they could really run with something like that. I’m kind of hoping she becomes more obvious.

    • Thank you for your comments. 🙂
      We’ve seen more and more flashes of her narcissism, and people (including Brennan) calling her on it, the past couple of seasons. She did have a breakthrough of sorts at the end of Season 10, in realizing that she was being selfish in wanting to move to Paris and thereby take Hodgins away from a career he truly loves. But I’m still not convinced that wasn’t at least partially self-serving, since Brennan was leaving.

  5. Rudy says:

    Thank god someone finally sees what I see. I seriously detest her character

  6. Mike says:

    Finally, someone sees her in the same light as I do. She is the most annoying character on the show. Her constant whining about wanting to do her art over her job. Her horrible treatment of Hodgins with their on again, off again engagements & her weird relationships after they broke up. And the worst, most annoying & condescending thing I find… her “sweeties” to Brennan. Every time she says that to her, I just want to punch her in the face. Brennan is far more accomplished than her, yet she talks to her as if she is a child with her “sweeties” & judgmental looks & attitude.

  7. Amanda says:

    I wholeheartedly agree, sometimes I go from liking Angela to tolerating her to depending on the episode and the season wanting to smack her.

  8. CW says:

    Finally, someone who says what I feel, about the horrible character of Angela.
    Wish they killed her off in season 1. She really takes away from the show. Never adds anything good. A fraud. And though this is fiction, her career success and abilities are completely unrealistic even for fiction. There is no merit. And she is completely self absorbed with herself. I liked the show but had to fast forward many of her scenes. She is far too irritating. The show would have held just fine without her. Glad to find someone else who could see through her crap. Too bad the writers couldn’t.

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