The Big Bang Theory season 7 episode 22 review: The Proton Transmogrification

Review Juliette Harrison 2 May 2014 - 12:32

The gang celebrate Star Wars Day this week, but the death of a mentor hits hard...

This review contains spoilers.

7.22 The Proton Transmogrification

Sitcoms frequently use death to flesh out their characters a bit. If we only ever see a group of people dating or experiencing general hi-jinks, we can’t really get to know them. They have to experience set-backs, difficulties and loss, and death is the quickest and easiest way to explore those issues.

Some shows kill off a parent, which creates a tricky line to walk. Such a deep and serious loss is a difficult thing to portray in a twenty-minute comedy programme, especially when you have to squeeze in some laughs somewhere as well. Of course, in The Big Bang Theory’s case that wasn’t really an option anyway, because it’s Sheldon’s character they want to explore, his father is already dead, and we all love his mother far too much to kill her off. (The prime candidate for parental death on The Big Bang Theory has to be Howard’s mother, a joke that has got rather old over the years). Far better then, to kill off an occasional recurring character of whom the audience are sufficiently fond to feel some affection and sadness at their being passed on, but whose death would not be so horrifically traumatic as to change the tone of the episode substantially.

Of course, the other thing that made Professor Proton the perfect choice is that, thanks to Sheldon’s active imagination, we get to see Bob Newhart dressed up as Obi-Wan Kenobi. We’ve seen Sheldon’s vivid dreams before, and they’ve been used to incorporate major guest stars into the show without needing Sheldon to interact with the actual person (in Leonard Nimoy’s appearance as a talking Spock action figure in season five’s The Transporter Malfunction for example).

This is probably the best use yet of Sheldon’s dream sequences, as the episode is carefully timed to coincide with all the boys watching all the Star Wars films for Star Wars Day (May 4th, as in May the Fourth Be With You). Unable to cope with Howard and Raj’s suggestion that, since none of them actually like it, they should just skip The Phantom Menace, Sheldon works through his feelings about his beloved Professor Proton’s death by imagining Proton becoming one with the Force in the manner of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. Talking with Obi-Wan Proton allows Sheldon to realise that he’s now lost all his father figures, and needs to mourn the man – but it also provides plenty of visual humour and opportunities for Bob Newhart to be snarky, so it works very well.

Elsewhere, Leonard and Penny are doing the will they/won’t they (get married) rounds again, but at least they don’t have a major crisis about it this time. And we did get to see them both more or less pull off the always challenging ‘funny-crying’ during the funeral sequence. The other four don’t have particularly substantial storylines, but we do hear a bit more about what got Amy and Bernadette interested in science, and we discover why you don’t see many spherical cakes, so their barely-a-D-plot doesn’t feel like a waste of time.

This episode continues to move Sheldon’s character forward incrementally, as he goes from rejecting Leonard’s initial (hilarious) attempt to hug him early on (but aware that Leonard’s heart is in the right place) to spontaneously hugging him later. It’s nice to see him move forward emotionally with someone other than Amy. We love Amy, but there are more kinds of love in the world than just romantic love and it’s good to see a celebration of Leonard and Sheldon’s friendship, even a small one. The incorporation of the real Star Wars Day is also fun, providing the boys with an opportunity for geeky enthusiasm that feels real and lived-in.

Most importantly, this episode was funny. From Sheldon’s observation that if he and Amy were in a sexual relationship, they wouldn’t be having sex that night, to Penny recognising Leonard’s ‘propose-face’, to everything Bob Newhart says or does, the episode pulls off the difficult death/comedy juxtaposition with aplomb. We can only hope that Obi-Wan Proton’s assurance to Sheldon that he’ll be there when he needs him means Newhart is able to make some more guest appearances in Sheldon’s dreams over the next three years.

Read Juliette's review of the previous episode, The Anything Can Happen Recurrence, here.

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