This review contains spoilers.
8.24 The Commitment Determination
In a mixed eighth season of The Big Bang Theory, when even the best shows can be expected to start showing their age, the big achievement has been Sheldon. I don’t always think that, as with all the praise, fan-love and awards doled out to the character, he can sometimes be the series’ biggest flaw but, in this season at least, he’s been a great demonstration of its commitment to evolution.
Sitcoms don’t need to progress – it’s sometimes detrimental to their popularity for them to change too much – but The Big Bang Theory has never subscribed to the adage that it need not develop its characters. Sheldon, due to his personality as much as the genre he exists within, is the one character who often remains the most static.
But we’re thrown little crumbs here and there so, for viewers paying close attention, we can actually see him change and evolve both in his relationship with his friends and his connection with Amy.
After his return at the beginning of the season, it’s often been quite startling how differently he’s acted. He’s more committed to changing and adapting, most likely having realised that he needs his friends more than he realised, and there’s been the nagging sense that, as patient as Amy’s been for five years, that patience may soon pay off in ways she never expected.
Her frustrations are often played for laughs, but there’s a core of humanity there that the audience deeply care about. The laugh track doesn’t always feel genuine, but that little gasp when Sheldon took out the ring really was indicative of how much love for these two has been accrued over the years. What’s more, after a season of really good development for Sheldon, it doesn’t feel out of character.
Then again, neither do his issues with starting The Flash – he’s not perfect.
I did have to laugh at the probably unintentional meta commentary of Sheldon saying that when he starts a show he’s in for the entire run, even if the quality declines. I’m with you, Sheldon, Smallville nearly wrecked me too, but nothing stresses me out quite as much as The Big Bang Theory.
Running parallel to Sheldon’s commitment issues surrounding his and Amy’s relationship is Leonard and Penny’s anxiety about not having set a date for their wedding. When they got engaged at the end of last season, it felt like their final Ross and Rachel moment, a full-stop on so many of their issues but, sadly, they still exist on a television show and thus can have no happy ending until at least two seasons from now.
That means that their journey to the altar either had to be completely ignored or significantly obstructed. Season eight did both of these things, having it be a non-issue for 23 episodes before saddling them with a big, possibly-insurmountable problem before they could get to Vegas for their quickie-ceremony.
Choosing to get married in Vegas, though it was still going ahead when we faded to black, is a bad idea for a variety of reasons, and Leonard’s confession that he once cheated while on a research trip may be a blessing in disguise. His choice to not tell her before now ties into the episode’s overall theme of being unable to confront those we care about most with bad news, but it’s also a relatively fresh way to introduce problems for these two.
Penny has gotten over many of her issues from yesteryear, with even the notion that she’d get married showing how much she’s grown up, but has Leonard really ever been forced to compromise in the same way?
The other two storylines are understandably given very little room to exist, with Howard and Raj both struggling to do what’s best for themselves for fear of upsetting someone else. For Howard and Bernadette, they can’t bear to kick Stuart out – darling, tragic human as he is – and for Raj it’s his inability to break up with Emily even though it’s clearly not working. There’s no one in the audience rooting for those two, so that adds a grim undertone to his backtracking.
We leave them all in a peculiar position, with everyone aside from Sheldon and Amy afraid to deviate from where they are and have been for the entire season.
Leonard and Penny are committed to putting a band aid over so many of their niggling problems, Howard and Bernadette are forever stuck taking care of someone else and Raj can’t bear to go back to his solitary life. In contrast, Sheldon and Amy are on the same page, it’s just that neither of them know it. It’s a place we’d never have expected the series the reach even a year ago and, for that, I can forgive the show so many of its weaknesses.
Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, The Maternal Combustion, here.
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