The Big Bang Theory season 8 episode 16 review: The Intimacy Acceleration

The Big Bang Theory deals with the absurdity of grief in an episode that edges towards being distasteful but never crosses the line...

This review contains spoilers.

8.16 The Intimacy Acceleration

No matter what, it would have felt in bad taste to have a ‘normal’ episode of The Big Bang Theory follow last week’s sudden death of Mrs. Wolowitz. We may have gotten Howard and the group’s reaction to her passing at the end of the previous episode, but it was kept until the final few moments, and this was the show’s chance to explore it a little further.

Sitcoms are often the best format with which to deal with the absurdity of grief. They’re about extremes of emotion, whether that’s laughter or tragedy, and so The Big Bang Theory’s decision to have Howard and Bernadette focused on the matter at hand, but keep the rest of the characters in their own A and B-stories, ensured it was respectful while not departing from what a general viewer might expect from the show.

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That said, the thread of Sheldon and Penny’s intimacy test was at least tinged with the kind of sentimentality and renewed closeness that often follows a loss. It’s not really mentioned, but I thought it was still there, at least in the writers’ room.

Sheldon and Penny have always been the show’s best pairing, their chemistry lighting up the screen whenever the two are alone in a storyline together, and there’s a familiarity to their interactions that – after eight years – is endlessly comforting. There’s a warmth in their bickering that’s too often missing from Sheldon and Leonard’s back-and-forth snark, or the way everyone treats Raj, and a genuine affection that make this the perfect plot for this point in the season.

This history, in addition to the general softening of Sheldon’s character following his failed excursion over the hiatus, makes this episode one of the highlights of season eight, even if it’s actually pretty inconsequential.

Leonard, Amy, Raj and Emily’s day trip is less memorable, with the usually charming interactions between Amy and Leonard dragged down by the elephant in the room – Emily. We know nothing about this character outside of the earlier god-awful ‘all girls secretly hate each other’ episode, and it’s only an ingrained love for Raj that keeps her from being utterly intolerable.

It’s a plot to fill time, which is fine, but said time could have been better used to flesh out her character or relationship with Raj, rather than just having her stand there, existing.

Howard and Bernadette are separated from the rest, returning home after Mrs. Wolowitz’s funeral and hounding airport staff to find the lost luggage containing her ashes. It’s played for laughs, which is honestly a surprise, but it only edges towards distasteful without ever really crossing the line.

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The point of the scenes, we discover, is to get to Howard’s regret over not driving his mother to the airport, and to make one final joke about she and Howard’s closeness. This gag, like all the other’s preceding it when rewatching, now has a hint of tragedy that actually makes them more impactful and, while it might not have been the most heartfelt way to see the character off, it was a fitting one.

The Big Bang Theory has always done sentiment quite well, but often keeps it for specific episodes. This, more than most, is a balance of its two sides, and provides some nice closure on a beloved character.

Read Caroline’s review of episode 8.14, The Troll Manifestation, here.

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