The Big Bang Theory season 7 episode 16 review: The Table Polarization
Not much changes in this episode of The Big Bang Theory, which is precisely the point...
This review contains spoilers.
7.16 The Table Polarization
Sometimes in life, something starts out small and becomes something huge. Sometimes something huge doesn’t turn out to be everything you thought it would be. And sometimes it seems like something huge is happening, but in fact you come out the other side and realise nothing has changed at all. Sometimes the reason for that is that you are trapped at the mercy of a person with an extreme resistance to change.
This week’s Big Bang Theory played with the idea of change while actually producing the least possible amount of forward momentum in a single episode, even for a sitcom. Sitcoms thrive on stability, but this is extreme even so, as almost nothing happens. The girls suggest getting a dining table so that Raj doesn’t have to sit on the floor while they eat. Leonard buys one, but Sheldon refuses to sit at it, so inevitably everyone ends up leaving it ignored in the corner. Howard is asked to go back into space but manages to manipulate the medical exam so that he doesn’t have to. And so, the sum total of forward momentum here is; Leonard bought a table no one uses.
This is not, however, a sitcom about nothing, as the complete and total lack of change in the episode itself is used to explore the changes the characters have gone through over the course of the past seven seasons. This is particularly clear in the Sheldon storyline, as Leonard and Penny try to convince Sheldon change can be good by pointing out how much he’s changed since getting together with Amy. Naturally, this backfires spectacularly and Sheldon contemplates an action that would constitute the sort of cataclysmic change for the show and the characters that he was so afraid of the table sparking off in the first place, as he decides he must break up with Amy in order to revert to his previous self. He needs to change the changes, as it were.
Fortunately for both of them (and all the neighbourhood cats, if their earlier break-up is anything to go by, not to mention Sheldon’s long-suffering mother) Amy is, as she occasionally demonstrates, an evil genius. Forewarned by Penny of how events have escalated, she is more than able to manipulate Sheldon into blaming Leonard for trying to manipulate him and calling off their break-up. Of course, Sheldon doesn’t really want to break up with Amy at all and deep down some part of him knows that, so he is not overly averse to allowing himself to be manipulated on this occasion, but it’s still some impressively quick thinking from Amy. She pushes it too far when she tries to counteract Leonard’s table by suggesting an even bigger change – the two of them moving in together – but Sheldon knows when to cut and run and simply lets it go. He has changed, he knows he has, and he’s not entirely unhappy with it, but the table is just a step too far for someone who needs to take change very slowly indeed.
Meanwhile, Howard is offered the opportunity to relive his greatest achievement and it takes an intervention from Bernadette, Raj, Bernadette’s father and Howard’s fellow astronaut all together to persuade him out of it, because although it was a great thing to have done, he hated every minute of it. Of all the characters on the show, Howard has changed the most, almost entirely for the better, but he’s reached a point now where another life-changing trip is perhaps unnecessary. Howard is by far the happiest and most stable of the gang – it would probably be best not to jeopardise that.
As everyone tried to remind Howard how much he hated space, it took an extraordinarily long time for someone to make the obvious comparison to the theory that women who’ve given birth forget how painful it was afterwards, and presumably telescope repairs are less of an incentive to go through a traumatic experience again than a second baby. Perhaps one of them should have pointed out how similar the job Howard was being asked to do was to the job Sandra Bullock is doing at the beginning of Gravity, that would probably have put him off completely.
And so, we end this episode back where we began, plus one new table. These characters have grown and changed enormously over the years, but for tonight, they’re standing still. Since they’re still making us laugh while doing so – the discussions of Howard’s experiences in space were a particular comedic highlight – that’s fine by us.
Read Juliette's review of the previous episode, The Locomotive Manipulation, here.
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