The Big Bang Theory season 12 episode 16 review: geeky guest stars galore

The Big Bang Theory welcomes a sci-fi legend to its latest dungeons and dragons-themed episode...

This review contains spoilers.

12.16 The D&D Vortex

As we continue our march to the finish line for The Big Bang Theory (though not for the franchise, with Young Sheldon being renewed for two seasons earlier this week), we’re going to start saying goodbye to some fan-favourite characters. I’m not sure any of us quite remember when and how Wil Wheaton became such an integral part of the show’s supporting cast, but here we are with a fitting send-off (if it is, indeed, the last we see of him) episode.

The instalment happens in exactly the way you imagine based on the title, with Wil hosting a Dungeons & Dragons night that involves a bunch of celebrity friends and – of all people – Stuart. After going to Wil’s house to apologise for an earlier incident that involved him throwing up on William Shatner in excitement, Sheldon catches wind of the gathering and reports back to the guys.

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Of course, they’re all keen to mingle with the genre stars (and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who gets Penny excited) and, once Stuart pulls out due to the outside pressures of being in such an exclusive club, Leonard becomes the chosen one. From Wil’s perspective, this makes a lot of sense, as his earlier podcast recording had already been ruined by Sheldon’s insistence that Shatner address him as ‘Science Officer Cooper’ (thus the puking).

As guest star-heavy episodes go, The D & D Vortex is a fun but incredibly low-key example. The Shatner cameo was heavily advertised for obvious reasons, but he doesn’t fit into the style of the show as well as, say, Mark Hamill did last season. It’s all a bit stilted. And with Shatner, Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin Smith and Joe Manganiello all stuffed into one 20-minute episode, the missed opportunities become more apparent.

I feel like seeing Smith interact with Howard would have been fun, for example, and Manganiello is reduced to a hunky, mute punchline for the girls. Besides that, though, it’s a hoot to see Penny, Bernadette and Amy actually enjoying a game of D&D, even if they wouldn’t have shown an interest had it not been for the presence of sports and male stripping legends.

The group’s relationship with Wil is a strange and somewhat undefined one, with the writers dropping the idea that he is Sheldon’s nemesis a while back and Stuart taking the place of the occasional fifth member. So the issue that he feels he’s used by them for his fame is one concocted just for the episode, and thankfully undercut by Sheldon announcing that he doesn’t actually think of Wil as much of a celebrity in the first place.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Wheaton came back for the series finale, along with a collection of other guest stars and recurring characters who have been a notable presence over the last ten years, but if this is the end for him, then it’s an odd but charming one. And it’s kind of nice to see the show finally get Shatner to appear, as no doubt he’s been the producers’ white whale since the start.

As fun as these star-heavy episodes are, I’m hoping for more character-driven stories for the remaining eight episodes. Season twelve has laid plenty of groundwork for that so far, so we can look forward to seeing it pay off.

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Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, The Donation Oscillation, here.