The Big Bang Theory season 6 episode 2 review: The Decoupling Fluctuation

Review Kaci Ferrell 5 Oct 2012 - 07:47

Can The Big Bang Theory write women? On the basis of The Decoupling Fluctuation, Kaci isn't convinced...

This review contains spoilers.

6.2 The Decoupling Fluctuation

Much like last week's premiere episode, this week's The Big Bang Theory is all about relationships (and space pranks). And while I'm not tired of relationship-focused episodes just yet, I do worry that this will be a trend for this season. I don't know how I'd feel about an entire season of dating woes. 

As expected, Howard's fellow astronauts are picking on him by making him clean the space toilet (at least he knows his way around it, having engineered a space toilet himself, right?) and scaring him with alien masks. (I'll wait while you go Google "astronaut screams for nine minutes." Hurry back!) Bernadette, who is tragically underused while Howard is off in space, recommends that he stand up to them, which only leads to Howard's face becoming their personal graffiti board. Sometimes a guy just can't catch a break.

Neither can Stuart, who begins his integration into the group this week when Raj asks him to tag along since he's going to the movies with two couples. Sheldon, who hates change, isn't thrilled to have a new guy tagging along and insists that Stuart behave as Howard would. And, shockingly, Stuart proves to be rather like old school Howard when he and Raj announce their intention to go try to meet women at a bar, referring to the two of them as "coffee and cream." It's a nice throwback, but it does remind me of how much everyone else on this show has progressed from their initial characterization, save for Raj. Here's hoping that his new friendship might inspire him to expand his horizons and grow a little. 

Speaking of growing, not only is Sheldon dealing with the change brought about by Stuart's induction into the group, but by the threat of a possible Leonard/Penny break-up. Distraught about the impending change, he tries first to warn Leonard using a Transformers metaphor that leaves Leonard under the impression that Sheldon himself has "transformed" into a new person due to his relationship with Amy. When that fails, Sheldon asks Penny not to break up with Leonard, first explaining his aversion to change, but finally admitting the true reason why the situation bothers him: "Please don't hurt my friend." It's a nice moment of growth (and wouldn't it be nice to see Raj have a moment of his own) as well as an ironic counterpoint to Sheldon's aversion to change throughout the episode, given that it wouldn't be happening at all if he hadn't grown into it. 

But the bulk of the episode rests on Penny's shoulders as she works through her feelings for Leonard. Apparently, she did not tell him that she loved him after Raj's outburst last week, and admits that she doesn't really know what she feels for him. When Bernadette and Amy press her for more information, Penny reveals that not only does her relationship with Leonard not match up with Penny's previous experience of love, but she even goes so far as to describe her feelings towards him as "boring." Ouch. 

I've never been a fan of the way the writers handle female characters on this show. In fact, I'm pretty sure that most critics would agree with that statement, to varying degrees. But unless the writers are holding a trump card in their hands and refusing to play it just yet, I think this arc of Penny's feelings towards Leonard takes the cake. We never really delve all that deeply into her feelings, or into why she does or doesn't love Leonard. Even if the answer is simply, that for whatever reason, that spark isn't there, we need to go into that and explore it so that we as viewers can understand where she's coming from. It feels like there's something we're not being told, or else it's just lazy writing to throw an obstacle in the couple's path to create superficial drama. I'm personally leaning towards the latter given my past experience with the way The Big Bang Theory writes female characters, but I'm willing to see how it plays out. I need the show to explore Penny's character and emotions, though, before I can let this issue go. 

By the end of the episode, we learn that Penny wants to break up with Leonard, but ends up having sex with him instead when faced with actually telling him that. And so nothing is resolved which just compounds the problem of this 'drama' feeling hollow since we don't really know anything about what's going on inside Penny's head. 

This episode had a few chuckles, but all-in-all, it's not as strong as its predecessor and suffers greatly due to the increased focus on Penny without an increased attempt to delve deeper into her character. Here's hoping things improve with episode three.

Read Kaci's review of last week's episode, The Date Night

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