The Big Bang Theory season 10 episode 14 review: The Emotion Detection Automation

The problems with Raj aren't going away, in the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

This review contains spoilers.

10.14 The Emotion Detection Automation

Even by its own standards for strangeness, The Emotion Detection was a very weird episode of The Big Bang Theory. In a lot of ways it was business as usual, with Penny and Leonard (and even, for a while there, Raj) having their stories invaded by Sheldon, and in others it felt like a recalibration of some of the ways the show has been dealing with certain storylines this season and beyond.

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Sheldon is relegated to the B-plot for the first time in what feels like forever, as an emotion detection machine allowing him to tell what his friends are feeling without having to work for it. This is a dream come true for someone who finds such things near-impossible, until he accidently stumbles upon an unspoken tension between Penny and Leonard.

That tension isn’t necessarily resolved here and, along with last week’s shallow exploration of some potential problems in their marriage, I wonder if we’re heading for a more serious storyline for those two. I thought the same of Howard and Bernadette last season, and who knows what would have become of that had real-world events not shifted their trajectory.

The scene between Sheldon and Amy is very sweet and, even though it doesn’t touch on anything new, an insecurity from Sheldon about the extent of his own character development is a nice twist on an old song.

Now, Raj.

The first thing we hear is that Raj’s girlfriend who we met once and seemed to be popular with audiences (and an immigrant with an entirely different story to Raj’s, which would be very welcome in 2017) has broken up with him. He doesn’t know why, which doesn’t ring true because we spent an entire episode looking at how their relationship might challenge Raj to be less selfish and more aware of his many privileges, but I guess this is one of those things we just have to accept.

But it starts the episode off on a sour note and, knowing that this was going to be Raj-centric – which is what we’re calling episodes that feature a storyline for Raj now – it didn’t exactly fill me with hope. Instead of moving forward with the character and seeing him in a relationship that could change him in the way that the others’ have, it seems we’re back with him single, and clueless about why that is.

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Enter the gathering of ex-girlfriends, which was entertaining to me if only because it reminded me that Switched at Birth’s Katie Leclerc was once on this show. This kind of storyline is a trope of sitcoms that usually comes about through some hijinks, but here it’s simply Raj summoning the women of his past to tell him why they dumped him.

We all know the real reason is that The Big Bang Theory writers has never known what to do with the character. He started off not being able to talk to women and, when that was wrung dry of jokes, he became a pseudo-alcoholic. Since then, he’s been floating and, while the rest of the characters get love interests and a storyline every week, Raj does not.

It’s pointless, and it’s even acknowledged as such in the episode.

Then there’s that final scene, which was one of the strangest things I’ve seen on TV in a while. A simple moment between Howard and Raj on the face of it, the scene was constructed in such a way that there was a constant buildup of tension that ultimately just hung in the air, unresolved.

Howard jokes that the two of them should ‘give it a go’ if things don’t work out between he and Bernadette. They tease each other about getting fat. Howard escalates things by eating dip with a serving spoon. They finish with another joke about being ‘future husbands’ and getting invited to ‘all the parades’. I thought they were either going to have a food fight or make out, and then it faded to black.

What the hell was it? Even the laugh track felt off, with the actors infusing their performances with a tenderness that could be read as friendship if not for the context of the scene. It reminded me of that moment between Raj and Stuart in the comic book store, when they both considered dating for a split second before the show’s heteronormativity resumed in full force.

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I’m being very generous to the show here mainly because there’s always a glimmer of hope that they might, one day, go there even in a clumsy, half-hearted way. But the most likely explanation? This is just queer-baiting, and it’s not a new thing at all. Like every Raj storyline since the dawn of time, it’s treading the same tired beats and expecting a different result.

Which, of course, is the plight of the Big Bang Theory viewer. This episode felt like it was setting up a few things for future exploration, but if the last decade has taught me anything it’s that the show isn’t interested in pursuing much beyond what it has already. If it proves me wrong, I’ll be first in line to apologise.