This review contains spoilers.
11.20 The Reclusive Potential
There are invariably two consequences of a show running as long as The Big Bang Theory has. The first is that it becomes harder and harder to push characters into new and interesting directions, and the other is that the opportunity for self-reflection and long-form character development arises. Lord knows, we all complain enough about the former, but the latter is also true.
As such, The Reclusive Potential makes the most of how well we know these characters by presenting us with a standard set-up and then flipping it on its head at the last minute.
When Sheldon is invited to the home of a reclusive scientist he’s been corresponding with – one who might help him with his string theory research – Amy insists on him taking Leonard with him for safety. Bernadette then suggests that Howard go to keep Leonard safe, and Raj is quickly included just so he doesn’t get ideas about attending Amy’s bachelorette party.
Once the group set off on their non-bachelor party road trip, a couple of things happen. The episode allows Howard to keep Raj company out of the intellectual loop, and Leonard appears just as interested in the research as Sheldon does. This sounds like nothing, but consistent characterisation is so often missed on this show that it’s noticeable when the group all act like themselves.
Instead of portraying Sheldon as a complete nerd and the others as his too-cool friends who would rather be at a real bachelor party, no one is ridiculed for their scientific interest.
Of course, Leonard assumes that Sheldon would be immediately seduced by the lifestyle of a single-minded woodsman scientist, abandoning his plans to marry Amy to pursue his longed-for scientific breakthrough. It’s something a lesser episode would have treated as the big reveal, having Sheldon’s friends drag him home kicking and screaming so that he could reluctantly return to his average life.
But instead Sheldon realises that he doesn’t want to retreat, even if this worries him. He may be more self-aware than he used to be, but his only context for those thoughts are how he is and how he used to be.
Over on the show starring Penny, Bernadette and Amy, we get a great little demonstration of the friendship that has developed between them. Like the guys and their smarts, it’s always lovely when the show remembers that Penny loves Amy not out of obligation, but genuine affection.
She may not understand how anyone could be into quilting, but she makes sure that Amy has the absolute best, most comprehensive quilting experience imaginable for her bachelorette party. Right down to the polite tea drinking, her and Bernadette buy into it completely up until the moment when Amy reveals she wanted a traditional debauched and alcohol-fuelled night after all.
So they set off to a bar, and lie to Amy about her antics after she passes out in the first 12 minutes. Amy’s right, they are good friends, and I’m forever grateful to the show for creating this little narrative world for them away from the guys.
We’re edging closer and closer to the ‘Shamy’ wedding and, while wishing for a consistent season of The Big Bang Theory is a fool’s errand, the build-up has at least been solid. Three episodes to go – time to dust off those hats!
Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, The Tenant Dissociation, here.