The Big Bang Theory: “The Proton Transmogrification”
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The Big Bang Theory: “The Proton Transmogrification”

R.I.P. Professor Proton

It’s a shame that J.J. Abrams didn’t announce the cast of the new Star Wars three months ago, because then the Big Bang Theory writers could have used that for jokes instead of relying on dusty comedy about the prequels when the guys celebrate Star Wars Day in tonight’s episode. The Phantom Menace came out 15 years ago, didn’t live up to expectations, and has been ridiculed ad nauseam since then, but that’s not going to stop this series from beating a dead tauntaun. Any casual fan of Star Wars has heard a lot of the jokes in this episode, but there’s actually a lot of great character work in the midst of the bitching about Jar Jar and trade federation routes.

Star Wars Day coincides with the funeral of Arthur “Professor Proton” Jeffries, and Sheldon chooses to immerse himself in goofy space movies instead of dealing with the emotional impact of losing yet another father figure. He lost his grandfather when he was 5, his father when he was 14, and now Professor Proton is gone, too. Penny and Leonard go to the funeral without Sheldon, but his subconscious won’t let him escape his feelings, and he dreams of Arthur living on in an Obi-Wan Kenobi role, guiding Sheldon through the next phase of his life.

Bob Newhart is given a lot of tired jokes about how Arthur is old, out of touch with the rest of the world, and hates his ex-wife, but he has more material to work with during the heart-to-heart between Sheldon and Jedi Arthur in the swamps of Dagobah. That’s where Sheldon opens up about losing the major male role models in his life, and Parsons’ performance, paired with a welcome absence of the laugh track, captures the pain that Sheldon is trying to avoid by not going to Arthur’s funeral. He’s already been in that position, and he doesn’t like it. He’d rather be in the more comfortable position of watching the Star Wars movies; Amy makes the argument that he should go to the funeral because he’s seen the films so many times, but that’s familiarity is the exact reason Sheldon chooses to dive into a marathon.

It’s hard to gauge the growth of relationships on this series because it tends to be repetitive on the surface, but this season has done a considerable amount of work pushing these characters forward. Raj can talk to women and has become an active dater. Amy and Sheldon are kissing. Leonard and Penny have asked each other to get married a total of three times: Leonard twice and Penny once. (Bernadette and Howard have pretty much stayed the same, but that’s fine because this show definitely doesn’t need to be handling any baby comedy anytime soon.) This episode marks a potential change in Sheldon’s relationship with everyone when the ghost of Arthur tells him that he needs to appreciate the people he still has in his life, and while the hug he gives Leonard suggests a shift, his insistence that the group rewatch Star Wars episodes one through five because he was grieving in his bed suggests that Sheldon still has a way to go to full respect for others.

A major victory of this season is that it’s made me root for Penny and Leonard’s relationship, and the two actors have developed a rapport that has translated to much stronger chemistry between the on-screen lovers. Penny and Leonard are actually the most grounded couple of this group, and the actors have developed a casual, natural energy around each other that shines in the scenes at Arthur’s funeral. The two are playful and sassy, but there’s real affection between them that comes through when they’re being comfortable around each other.

Penny has never been to a funeral and is generally not the emotional one in their relationship, so this is a new experience for her. Meanwhile, Leonard is caught up in thoughts of death and life and regrets, because that’s what happens at funerals. He tells Penny that he regrets not saying yes when she asked him to marry her, and the episode’s funniest moment occurs when Penny quickly fills the silence after this remark to avoid an awkward funeral proposal situation. She knows his proposal face and she is not going to suffer the embarrassment of turning down her boyfriend while she’s surrounded by a bunch of people mourning a public TV science celebrity. There’s no rush for Penny and Leonard to get married, and they realize that—even though Leonard likes to mess with his girlfriend because its fun and she’s easy to mess with. 

Over in subplot land, Amy and Bernadette escape the Star Wars marathon by baking a Death Star cake, and when their first, completely spherical cake rolls to an early demise, they get to miss even more of the movie by baking a second one. During the decorating of the second cake, they talk about Professor Proton’s role in getting Sheldon interested in science and start discussing their own entryways into science, and it’s nice to have their backstories fleshed out by hearing about the moments when they decided to pursue their careers. Bernadette wanted to create a drug that would make her grow because she was the smallest girl in school, and Amy checked out a biology book to find out what whores did. It’s a fun little conversation that doesn’t do much to advance the plot, but provides some strong character moments. This season has elevated its quality by spending more time exploring the personalities of this cast.

Stray observations:

  • Items served at Admiral Ackbar’s Snack Bar: R2-Decaf, Café Au Leia, Chai-3PO, Attack of the Scones.
  • Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting looks amazing in this episode. This is great hair and makeup for her. 
  • “Yet he cried when they changed the Raisin Bran box.”
  • Sheldon: “Mourning the inevitable is a complete waste of time.” Amy: “And watching a bunch of goofy space movies you’ve seen a hundred times isn’t?”
  • “Look at Arthur. Cracking up at that joke I told.” (Bob Newhart’s head glares on the monitor.)
  • “It just wasn’t the right time.” Leonard: “Yeah…” Penny: “And this is also not the right time, do not propose.”
  • “She didn’t want me selling cookies on the street corner, like a whore.”

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