This review contains spoilers.
7.24 The Status Quo Combustion
With one notable exception, our heroes’ lives continue to move forward slowly and naturally in this episode – the title, aside from a reference to the most dramatic plot development in this half hour, refers chiefly to how Sheldon feels about the changes that are happening gradually but probably irrevocably.
While the writers of The Big Bang Theory have refused to give Sheldon a diagnosed condition, largely so that they don’t feel tied to representing such a condition accurately, it’s been clear from the start that he has some kind of autistic spectrum disorder, and one of the symptoms he has always manifested particularly strongly is a dislike of change of any kind. It isn’t surprising, then, that when Leonard makes it clear that he and Penny will want to live together without Sheldon once they’re married (oddly enough, Leonard doesn’t go for Sheldon’s suggestion that Penny should live with them one day a week for a trial period, except on weeks when she has PMT), Sheldon goes into a minor meltdown.
Unfortunately the timing of this proposed change, which would be a big one for anyone and is huge for Sheldon, happens at the same time as Sheldon discovers that his career has hit a roadblock. The university won’t let Sheldon switch over from researching string theory because, as we observed several weeks ago, he was hired to research string theory and all his grant money is for researching string theory, and you can’t just change your mind and decide to do something else. It still seems a little bizarre that Sheldon – or at least Leonard or Amy – didn’t already know this, but props to the show for suddenly being slightly more realistic than usual. Sheldon is adamant that he is done with string theory, and finds himself contemplating leaving the university. When this is coupled with Leonard’s talk about needing to change their living arrangements, it all becomes too much for Sheldon and he runs away to take a spontaneous trip on the railways (place your bets now that he gets as far as his mother’s house and gives up).
Sheldon has done all of these things before – he has run away, he has quit his job at the university – and they never go well and usually only last a few weeks, so it’s probably safe to say he will be back with the new series in the autumn, possibly wearing a poncho he wove himself and accompanied by a luminous fish. Still it’s good to see the show addressing the fact that this would be a monumental upheaval for Sheldon, and largely treating his crisis sympathetically. It’s notable that for once, when Sheldon says he has real problems, he’s not entirely exaggerating – a career crisis and potentially being kicked out of your home are genuine problems.
It falls down, of course, when Sheldon refuses to acknowledge what he still has – chiefly Amy – and when he tries to cheer himself up by going to the comic book store. Sheldon’s problems, as ever, pale in comparison to Stuart’s problems, because the comic book store has burned down, leaving Stuart a single man with no one to help him who has just lost his home and livelihood. Just as you’re wondering what else the universe can possibly do to Stuart, he finds a new lease of life in caring for Howard’s mother, a job he actually enjoys (and Howard’s mother gets a first name! It’s Debbi. Somehow, we didn’t picture her as a Debbi). It’s an immense relief to see both Stuart and (off-screen, of course) Howard’s mother actually experience some happiness, as poor Stuart’s endless line of personal disasters was becoming seriously depressing and long ago stopped being particularly funny. Whether or not we’ll see much of them (well, him) next season we don’t know, but if this is where we leave them for a while, it’s a good place to do so.
Since Penny and Leonard, Howard and Bernadette and Raj all had major storylines last week, they play more supporting roles this week. Howard and Bernadette’s search for a nurse who can put up with Howard’s mother is a running thread designed chiefly to put Stuart in that position, while Penny and Leonard, aside from dealing with Sheldon, spend the episode settling into their new status as an engaged couple.
Raj has the least to do, but he reminds everyone of his presence by gloating about having had sex with Emily as often as possible (which the others get even more excited about than Leonard and Penny’s engagement because, “you guys propose all the time, this never happens!”). Gloating about having had sex to a married man and an engaged man in the cafeteria seems a little pointless, but Raj is starved for attention on this one and of course his suggestion to Sheldon that he cheer himself up by having sex with a girl goes nowhere.
The best moment in this particular thread is Howard’s reaction when, in the burnt-out comic book store, Raj describes this step forward in his relationship as “she let me do it to her”. Back in the first few seasons, Howard would have entirely agreed with this assessment of sex as something a woman will allow you to do to her if you’re lucky. Now, as a married man, he has a rather more rounded view of an act of love between two people and looks fairly horrified by Raj’s implication that sex is some kind of prize or favour handed out by a woman, which is a lovely acting choice from Simon Helberg that reiterates how much Howard has changed over the years.
Amy is probably the least well-served character in this season finale, as Sheldon reacts with predictable horror to her suggestion that they live together and then Leonard and Penny get to say a sweet goodbye to him while she is left to discover he’s gone after the fact and resorts to beating Leonard up with a cushion. Amy clearly loves Sheldon and, while she obviously wants to have sex with him, the fact that she mostly respects his boundaries and understands that physical intimacy is difficult for him is lovely – but we do hope that she stands up for herself a little bit next year on some other issues. It would be nice if her boyfriend could respond to a suggestion that they live together with a calmer explanation for why he’s not ready rather than casual dismissal, and if Amy could call him out on some of his more extreme behaviour. (And really, why doesn’t Sheldon want to live with her anyway? If Leonard is moving out and Amy won’t pressure him for sex and will sleep in a separate room, wouldn’t that be a neat solution to his reluctance to live alone?).
Overall, though, this was a satisfying finale (and as funny as ever, which is course the most important thing). It would be hard to top Howard and Bernadette’s wedding in terms of Big Bang Theory season finales, and this episode is much quieter, but it’s a nice half hour in which we can see more or less where everyone is likely to be going next year. It also continues what has become something of a Big Bang Theory tradition, with at least one character going away for the summer months, providing a break in the story to cover the break in transmission over the summer (though again, it will be fairly impossible to top the year they sent a character into space). All of that, plus we got to see Leonard’s mother (Christine Baranski is always a joy in this role) and Amy’s reaction to Penny claiming her fiancée works on “atomic magnets”. Impressively, after seven seasons, The Big Bang Theory is showing no signs of slowing down and continues to be an bright and relaxing half hour of television every week. Four-camera sitcoms with a live audience may not be especially fashionable at the moment, and they won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s hard to deny that The Big Bang Theory seems to have perfected this particular art form.
Read Juliette’s review of the previous episode, The Gorilla Dissolution, here.
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