When The Big Bang Theory is at its best, it has a lot of heart and makes you care about the characters even in the most ridiculous circumstances. “The Cooper/Kripke Inversion” is one of those episodes, giving Sheldon a shockingly personal story that goes a long way toward making this season’s villain a sympathetic character again. When Sheldon is forced to partner with his rival Bernard Kripke, he of the extremely obnoxious speech impediment, on a proposal for a fusion reactor, he has a rare humbling moment when he realizes that Kripke’s work is actually better than his own. This sends him on a path of self-realization that climaxes in a revelatory conversation with Penny and Leonard that has been six seasons in the making, in which Sheldon finally discusses his intimacy issues in detail, giving us a portrait of a man who is aware of his flaws and trying to change them.
The thing that prevents this episode from being an A is Kripke, a painfully dumb character whose main source of humor is the fact that he can’t pronounce Ls and Rs. At first, it seems like this is going to be just another half-hour of Sheldon being his usual asshole self, refusing to go to Kripke’s office for a meeting and handing him manila folders filled with blank sheets of paper so that his partner doesn’t steal his ideas. But things take a big turn when Sheldon actually reads Kripke’s proposal and can’t deny the strength of the work on the page. Realizing that he’s not the smartest scientist at the university sends Sheldon down a shame spiral into immaturity, acting like a child around Amy and faking sick so that he doesn’t have to go to work.
Kripke blames Sheldon’s less-than-stellar work on the fact that he’s getting laid all the time, and rather than telling Kripke the truth, Sheldon goes along with the lie, saying, “What can I say? She enjoys my genitals.” Sheldon is lucky that Kripke is as clueless as he is and doesn’t realize that talking about rubbing bathing suit areas isn’t code for “I’m a huge virgin.” When Sheldon is having dinner with Leonard and Penny later that evening, he tells them both to play along with the ruse, asking Leonard to tell Kripke that Sheldon’s coitus with Amy is “frequent, intense, and whimsically inventive.” This irks Penny, who knows that Amy wants to have a physical relationship and doesn’t appreciate Sheldon using her friend’s greatest desire as his lie. She flat out asks Sheldon if he’s ever going to sleep with Amy, and it’s great to see the question asked so bluntly. It’s something Sheldon was clearly not expecting to hear from anyone, and his reaction is surprisingly heartfelt.
In case you missed it, Noel Murray wrote a fantastic For Our Consideration about “nerds” and autism in pop culture, and it’s like the Big Bang Theory writers read that piece before working on this week’s episode. Sheldon has never been strictly defined as having an autism spectrum disorder, but he’s definitely shown some of the common tendencies of someone who does, often in the form of him having trouble with intimate gestures that come normally to other people. After Penny asks him about sleeping with Amy, he breaks down his situation: “Penny, all my life I have been uncomfortable with the sort of physical contact that comes easily to others: hand shaking, hugging, prostate exams. But I’m working on it.” He then admits that potentially, somewhere down the line, he could see himself actually sleeping with Amy, which causes Penny to freak out with glee that Sheldon just admitted that he’s not completely asexual. I’ll admit that I was doing a happy dance on the couch during that scene, too.
Sheldon and Howard have become this show’s dual leads, and episodes that focus on the two of them tend to be stronger. Leonard and Raj just work better as supporting characters, and that’s exactly what they do in this episode, giving their respective partners someone to bounce off of without pulling too much focus. While Sheldon is dealing with his Kripke drama, Howard and Raj buy custom-made action figures of themselves for $500 each, and when they arrive, one of the toys is a black man and the other is a white guy with an enormous nose. They decide that the best way to solve their problem is to buy a $5000 3-D printer so that they can make their own perfect dolls, with Howard using Bernadette’s money to pay for half of the machine. It’s a bad, bad idea.
Bernadette thinks the custom-made dolls of her and Howard are adorable, but when she finds out how much money the printer costs, she slips into a signature Bernadette temper tantrum, telling Howard that he can return the machine or he can print out a new set of lady parts and sleep with those. He considers it for a moment, then returns the equipment, also losing his name on their joint bank account. Much of this season has been about Howard learning the reality of marriage versus the fantasy that he had, and he always figures things out in the hardest way possible by making incredibly stupid decisions. It’s a light but entertaining subplot, and a great companion to the main Sheldon story, showing one guy whose gotten very lucky in love but can’t stop screwing up while another is trying to figure out how to be a more affectionate person.
- This week’s obnoxious laugh track moment: When Sheldon tells Amy that Kripke’s work is better than his, the laugh track gives a sympathetic “aww” when it really should be a joyful cheer.
- I can sympathize with Howard at the end of this episode. I used to save all my lunch money so that I could buy comic books and just mooch off my friends’ plates.
- Mayim Bialik looked amazing at the SAG Awards this past Sunday. Amy cleans up very nicely!
- “My wife came with both funbags and money bags.” Yugh.
- “I’m not dark chocolate. I’m melt in your mouth caramel.”
- “Maybe Wesley Snipes and Toucan Sam got action figures that look like you guys.”
- “I’m supposed to remove his brain to examine, but it’s hard because now he reminds me of my uncle.”
- “I didn’t there could be a smaller version of you.”
- “No, I gave it to her well.” And then Sheldon accidentally makes Kripke think that he uses a model rocket to pleasure Amy in bed.