The Big Bang Theory season 12 episode 23 & 24 review: a warm hug of a finale

The Big Bang Theory drew to a close with a sweet, understated finale that gave fans a low-key but mostly satisfying exit. Spoilers ahead...

This review contains spoilers.

12.23 The Change Constant & 12.24 The Stockholm Syndrom

So here we are, looking back on a story that’s taken years to unfold, over which fans have argued, bonded and thrown things at the TV in frustration. No, I’m not talking about Game Of Thrones, but rather The Big Bang Theory, which also drew its last breath over the weekend.

The simplest thing to say about The Change Constant and The Stockholm Syndrome (which function well as a single episode) is that they do what they need to. No more, no less. Sheldon and Amy win the Nobel and get to celebrate with their closest friends. Amy wears a tiara to the ceremony. Leonard slaps Sheldon. We finally see the Wolowitz kids. Sarah Michelle Gellar is here for some reason.

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Aside from one obvious flip-flop I’ll get into in a moment, I can’t imagine any former or current Big Bang Theory fan being upset by this finale. It’s nice in a really unfussy way and does a few things we rarely get to see in the cut-throat era of peak TV. It doesn’t create needless drama or focus on characters we don’t care about. It zeroes in on the core four (with Howard, Bernadette and Raj as back-up) and gives them the episodic equivalent of a long, warm hug.

Taken as a whole, no matter its overall failings (a lot of which I’m sure will be discussed in the comments), it’s problematic elements and its ultimate failure to own up to any of it, the fact remains that a lot of people worked really hard on this thing for much longer than most of us stay in a single job. It’s not just the actors or even just the writers, but the hundreds of people that make a massive endeavour like this run week to week.

To them I say kudos. With all the talk of the monoculture disappearing in a post-Game Of Thrones, post-Avengers: Endgame world, we also have to acknowledge that The Big Bang Theory was part of that too. It may not be discussed on the internet in the same way, but 18 million people tuned into this single episode of TV on Thursday night. That just doesn’t happen anymore.

The Big Bang Theory never really cared what nerds thought of it because they had a mainstream audience. That may ensure a future omission from the cultural canon, but I’m not sure it should. The show was born in a landscape where the network was king and streaming not yet a serious competitor, and also at a time when female scientists, ‘quirky’ people like Sheldon and, hell, Indian people outside of The Simpsons‘ Apu, weren’t really on television.

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to get annoyed about in this finale alone. Penny being pregnant is a massive insult to her character, and doesn’t play at all well considering the current news cycle. It smacks of the writers not agreeing on the story they had told earlier this season, in which she decided for herself that she didn’t want kids. It wasn’t about what Leonard, or her father, wanted. It was about Penny.

Let’s say it loud for people in the back – accidental pregnancies don’t have to result in babies for women who truly don’t wish to be mothers. Guff about the showrunners wanting to ‘honour’ this relationship by having them spawn is nonsense. Have them buy a house, or get a puppy. Anything but this.

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On the flip-side, I’ve actually come full circle on my feelings regarding a single Raj. It sucks that it’s the show’s sole minority who doesn’t get a romantic resolution when even Stuart’s love life was handled with care towards the end, but the scene between him and Howard in the previous episode actually makes this quite a hopeful ending for the character. He hasn’t found the right person yet, and he’s not going to settle. Good for Raj.

In the end, the show’s failure and its triumph was refusing to change with the times and continuing to draw huge ratings long after we were all supposed to be engaging with ‘empty’ sitcoms and static narratives. The Big Bang Theory is an old-fashioned show, and its commitment to that alienated a lot of its core fans over the years.

The thing that struck me most about these final episodes was how simple and humble it felt, and maybe that’s because I, like so many of us, have been trained to expect series finales to be some big, epic, sweeping summation of all that’s come before. But whatever this was, it wasn’t that. It was sweet and small and kind of perfect.

The reveal that Sheldon and Amy have won the Nobel Prize comes even before the credits, and the remaining 40-minutes are spent with characters dealing with the anticlimax of it all. Sheldon freaks out in anticipation of a change, but the shifts in this world are small and pretty insignificant. We find out that Penny’s pregnant two months after she and Leonard do, nothing of note has happened to Howard and Bernadette, and Raj is still single.

Unlike Friends – the show most appropriate for comparison – no one almost moves to Paris, no one has a baby, and no one makes any life-altering decisions. The only grand declaration of love is from Sheldon to his friends. All of these characters are Joey in this context, still figuring things out and happy enough with their status quo.

Of course, there’s some finale fan service, just that it’s peripheral to the story and characters. Kripke and Bert get their victory laps, Leonard reveals that he’s been chilly for twelve years because he still hasn’t dared change the thermostat, and the elevator finally gets fixed. All of this is great, and the non-existent stakes allow the audience to enjoy them for what they are.

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That final zoom-out was perfection, and really shocked me in the nicest way. It reminds us that the end of a story doesn’t have to be the end of characters’ lives (except, you know, in the literal sense). They don’t have to die, or win, or lose or even reach major life milestones in order for their stories to matter. They can just be eating Chinese food and chatting, loving and accepting each other for exactly who they are, and reminding us to do the same.

Anyone for a takeaway and Superman movie marathon?

Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, The Maternal Conclusion, here.