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The Real Reason Sweets Was Killed Off On Bones

Even though it deals with spectacularly grisly murders, the Fox show Bones has rarely featured the kind of shocking main cast member deaths that other shows of its ilk are known for. That all changed during the season 10 premiere, though, when longtime series regular Lance Sweets (John Francis Daley) was killed at the end of the episode in a moment that left fans of the long running procedural shook.

Sweets, an FBI psychologist, wasn't necessarily as beloved as series protagonists Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and FBI agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz), but his youthful demeanor and long-gestating father-son relationship with Booth earned him plenty of fans. So why would the show kill off such a popular character? Avid TV viewers know the answers to that question are never as simple as "the story called for it," and the truth behind Sweets' departure from Bones is indeed rooted in some behind-the-scenes developments that left the showrunners little choice.

The circumstances of Sweets' death on Bones

At the end of Bones' ninth season, Agent Booth was attacked in his home by three men after an investigation into the death of a conspiracy blogger revealed a shadowy blackmail scheme targeting high-level government officials. Booth was able to turn the table on his would-be assassins, but after being treated for the wounds he sustained in the attack, he was arrested. He protested that he was acting in self defense, but was told that the three men he killed were FBI agents. The assassins, it turned out, were part of a larger governmental conspiracy, and whoever was pulling the strings used them to successfully frame Booth for capital murder.

As season 10 began, Booth was in prison, while the rest of the team — including Sweets — attempted to uncover who was trying to frame him, and why. Booth was eventually exonerated and freed from jail. He vowed to investigate the conspiracy further, but before he got far, he and Bones were called to a parking garage where they found Sweets bloodied and dying on the ground.

Sweets had been in possession of incriminating files that were stolen by his killer in an attempt to put an end to the team's investigation into the conspiracy. Before he succumbed to his injuries, Sweets told his troubled friend Booth, "The world is a lot better than you think it is," in a touching final moment between the two.

The real reason for Sweets' death

Of course, the plot developments of the show itself are only half the explanation for why Sweets was killed. The reason the show decided to kill off a main character for the first time ever had more to do with actor John Francis Daley's burgeoning directorial career than it did a fictional, far-reaching government conspiracy. In an interview with TVLine, executive producer Stephen Nathan revealed that Daley had been hired to co-direct a remake of National Lampoon's Vacation (eventually released as Vacation in 2015), and his schedule made it hard to keep the character on the show.

As for the decision to kill off Sweets, as opposed to merely sending him on some kind of extended sabbatical, Nathan said, "It gives us something very rich and very emotional to play with in the first half of the season. Everybody's affected very deeply by this."

Although the decision was likely hard for everyone involved, even the series creator and former showrunner Hart Hanson agreed it was a good move. He told E! News that if he was still in charge, he wouldn't have been able to bring himself to kill off Sweets — but that "it obviously was a good idea."

John Francis Daley's thoughts on Sweets' demise

So how does the man who brought Sweets to life for seven seasons feel about his character's end? He told TVLine that while he would have liked to have figured out some kind of scheduling compromise, he understood why it was better in the long run for the show to have closure. He explained that ultimately "it would be more satisfying for the fans to conclude Sweets in a dramatic way rather than for it to be up in the air and have him come back midway through the season."

Daley described his decision to leave the show and take on his directorial debut as "not something that I could walk away from" and "a huge opportunity." So far those hunches have turned out to be spot on. Vacation was a bit of a critical flop, but performed well at the box office, making $107 million on a $31 million budget. His follow up was 2018's Game Night, which he directed and co-wrote with his Vacation collaborator Jonathan Goldstein. Game Night was not only a financial success, it was one of the best movies of 2018, as well — proving that Daley's lateral career move was a wise one.

Sweets and Booth's friendship on Bones

The character of Sweets premiered on the third season of Bones after the FBI demanded that Brennan and Booth see a psychologist. His relationship with both is comically antagonistic at first, as he attempts to offer psychiatric counseling to the two extremely unwilling patients, but over the seasons, Sweets becomes a fixture on the team. He and Booth form a particularly strong bond. Sweets' young age and relative lack of real-world experience allow Booth to step in as a mentor figure in his life, and by the end of Sweets' run on Bones, the two men had fostered a very touching friendship.

John Francis Daley cited his character's relationship with Booth as one of the hardest parts of walking away from the show. In a September 2014 interview with USA Today, he said, "There was a brotherly relationship that Sweets had with Booth, a real bond, a real friendship." Daley added that while filming the scene where Sweets' says his final words to Booth and Brennan, all three actors were very emotional, and he "cried like a baby for a minute."

Fan reaction to Sweets' death on Bones

Sweets' death was in the works behind the scenes for a while, and Nathan was reportedly surprised the news didn't leak before the episode aired. When fans finally did witness the young psychologist's death, they were understandably aghast at seeing one of their favorite parts of the show so brutally disposed of, especially on a series not known for killing off main characters. The night the episode aired, Twitter was alight with Bones fans expressing their disbelief — with some even claiming that they would never be able to watch the show again without Sweets involved.

In a post-death article on BuzzFeed, Ariane Lange summed up why fans were so attached to Sweets. His kindness, abundantly expressive face, giddy love of science, and "charmingly dorky" persona clearly brought a lot to the series. In a subsequent interview for Vulture, Daley acknowledged the fan reaction to his character's death: "I'm very flattered by the response from the Twitter-sphere. It's really cool. It's really cool to know that it had an impact on a loyal fan base."