The Big Bang Theory season 7 episode 3 review: The Scavenger Vortex

The Big Bang Theory mines a well-used sitcom seam for this week's episode, the inter-group competition...

This review contains spoilers.

7.3 The Scavenger Vortex

In this week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory, disappointed at the lack of enthusiasm for his murder mystery evenings, Raj organises a scavenger hunt for his friends using a mixture of science clues, geeky clues and puzzles. Everyone insults Penny, everyone ignores Stuart and Bernadette shouts a lot. So it’s pretty much business as usual, at least until Amy and Howard start discussing what to put on the iPod…

Competition has always been a great foundation for a sitcom episode (examples are more than plentiful, but kids, the all-time classic is probably FriendsThe One With the Embryos; while Phoebe is off getting impregnated with her brother’s babies, everyone else spends all day on a quiz about each other’s habits. It’s funnier than it sounds). The Big Bang Theory has got good mileage out of the concept before, particularly successfully in the pie-based climax of The Re-Entry Minimization. To squeeze more juice out of the concept, then, the show needed to shake things up a bit.

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It does so by, as in the season premiere, offering a mixed platter of old relationships that always work well (Penny/Sheldon) with some fresh pairings that provide an opportunity for new material (Amy/Howard, Bernadette/Leonard). Penny and Sheldon’s chemistry is as good as ever; Leonard is mostly playing straight man to something we’ve seen before, Scary Bernadette, but Scary Bernadette is always welcome, especially when she gets quietly mad. Her delivery of “a willow” is great.

Best of all, though, is Amy and Howard, characters with very little in common who, as Amy observes, have never spent time alone together, but who establish a mutual bond over their shared love of Neil Diamond. As everyone else starts to fall apart, their joyous singing sequences, thrown in almost at random between everyone else’s scenes, bring a fabulous energy to the episode and were responsible for all our favourite laugh-out-loud moments of the night.

Bubbling underneath it all is a conflict that’s been running since the first season, as Leonard and Penny try to negotiate their feelings about his over-education and her lack of same. As this episode clearly demonstrates, Penny is neither stupid (she’s just as intelligent as everyone else if not more so) nor completely ignorant (she can use liability correctly in a sentence, after all). If only Leonard – and everyone else, but especially her boyfriend – could accept that, and Penny could have some faith on her own brain-power, they’d all be a lot happier. But then, happiness makes for dull television.

The main criticism that could be levelled at this episode is probably that the stakes are so low. Leonard and Penny’s conflict is on-going and won’t be resolved by the end of the scavenger hunt, and unlike the classic Friends example (by the end of which four characters have actually swapped apartments) there is ultimately no point to any of it. Bu then, that was how Raj planned it – because the point isn’t what you get out of it at the end, the point is to enjoy spending time with friends and have fun. That’s what this episode aims to do, and it does it very well.

Read Juliette’s review of the previous double bill, The Hofstadter Insufficiency, and The Deception Verification, here.

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