Part of this summer’s TV Roundtable was spent discussing classic episodes where competition was a major factor, and “The Re-Entry Minimization” is The Big Bang Theory’s seminal games episode, pitting Sheldon and Leonard versus Penny and Amy in a battle of the sexes. It’s really a battle between street smarts and book smarts, with Penny and Amy’s practical minds getting through each challenge while Leonard and especially Sheldon muddle the competition with science and nerd knowledge. Meanwhile, Howard returns from space expecting a hero’s welcome and instead gets a sick wife, horny mother, and friends that have replaced him while he was away.
As Howard is reentering the atmosphere, Sheldon is saying goodbye to Stuart, their short-term replacement friend whose time with them will be remembered with the same fondness as dial-up modems, VHS tapes, and Leonard’s gym membership. Raj and Leonard contest Sheldon’s dismissal, and when Stuart offers a 30 percent discount at the comic shop, he effectively buys Sheldon’s friendship. In space, Howard sings the Jewish prayer for eating bread as he reenters because they don’t have one for coming back from space, and its just the start of his pathetic return to Earth. He comes back to California on the same plane as Howie Mandel, who steals his thunder when Howard exits the terminal, and the only person waiting for him is his wife, who’s coughing, sneezing, dripping and not at all attractive. She wants her husband all to herself tonight, but when they try to get intimate, she immediately falls asleep before jerking awake with a semi-conscious “that was amazing.” It’s nice to see Howard back, and putting him in Charlie Brown-esque role for his homecoming is a smart move, distancing him from his friends and family as he begins his married adult life.
Sheldon is excited to see the look on Howard’s face when he finally receives precious Dr. Cooper adoration for the very first time, but he settles on playing Pictionary with Amy, Penny and Leonard instead. They decide on boys versus girls, which gives the ladies a leg up because Leonard can only guess superhero characters and Sheldon over-thinks everything. For “present,” Penny draws a gift, while Sheldon draws four stick figures and two rectangles, the four of them playing Pictionary in the present. It’s correct, but also a whole lot harder to guess. “Oh my god, we’re gonna kill them,” Penny realizes, and she’s damn right. Sheldon can’t guess chocolate chip cookie, and when he’s back at the board, he draws sausages, a solar system, and a dead woman holding a bottle for his next word. Penny just sits back and laughs, eventually getting up to draw a nail with polish on it. The word was “polish,” Sheldon saw “Polish”: Polish sausages, the model of the solar system by Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, and Polish physicist Marie Curie killing herself after discovering radium.
Sheldon declares that Pictionary isn’t an accurate test of skill, beginning a series of challenges that includes competitive Where’s Waldo? scanning with no glasses (Amy trumps Leonard), spinning around in circles for a minute then doing long division (Sheldon passes out, Penny wins), and floor wrestling (Penny easily pins Sheldon). In an adorable moment, Sheldon calls for Amy’s help when Penny pins him and won’t stop kissing his face, but rather than tossing Penny off her man, Amy jumps in and starts delivering kisses of her own. There isn’t really any competition going on, and by the end, it’s just a matter of the men getting a single win. Sheldon’s submission to Penny is a physical representation of the mental humbling happening during each game, showing him that he’s more flawed than he’d like to believe. The competition ends with the group engaging in a County Fair style pie-eating contest with their arms tied behind their backs, which means that it’s all been building up to a pie-in-the-face joke. It might be Slapstick 101, but man, it’s hilarious when someone who deserves it gets a pie to the face, and Sheldon always deserves it.
Howard walks in to Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment mid-pie-eating and is shooed away, the last of the evening’s string of disappointments. After Bernadette falls asleep, Howard goes to his mother’s place to discover that she’s been sleeping with his dentist, Dr. Snyder, and when he goes to Raj’s place, Howard finds out that Stuart has replaced him in his best friend’s life. Stuart has moved in until he’s able to get back on his feet, and Raj has basically become his sugar daddy. They’re both single, which Raj puts in oh-so-Freudian terms: “It’s like we both have these holes in our lives, but now we fill each other’s holes.” Then the three have a passive-aggressive fight about who gets to sit next to Raj at the Sound of Music singalong, as if the gay subtext wasn’t clear enough. I do like the direction that the writers are going with Raj and Stuart’s relationship, but they can only milk Raj’s obliviousness for so long. As he leaves Raj’s place, Howard makes a crack about Stuart being Raj’s boyfriend, so at least someone else is noticing all this.
The episode ends with Howard alone at a diner, remembering just how horrible being on Earth is. His spirits are lifted when his waitress notices him from the TV, and offers him a free slice of blueberry cheesecake for being an astronaut. Things are finally looking up for ol’ Howie, but when he tries to air his grievances to the woman, she shuts him down before he mistakes free cheesecake for her actually giving a shit. As he eats his lonely slice of cheesecake, he sings “Rocket Man” through choked sobs. Welcome home, Howard Wolowitz.
- I’d keep Stuart around for 20 percent off at the comic shop. I’d marry him for 30 percent.
- If you want to draw a chocolate chip cookie, you should really draw a glass of milk next to it. It’s just logic.
- Amy on using cadavers for real life Operation: “The nose doesn’t light up, but if the corpse is fresh enough, sometimes, you can get the leg to jerk.” So creepy.
- “He left a boy. He returns a boy-sized hero.”
- “Casper the alcoholic ghost?”
- “Sheldon, you’re always full of fun little facts. Where did the expression ‘got your ass handed to you’ come from?”
- “All games are made up. They’re not found in nature. You don’t just dig in the ground, come across a rich vein of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.”
- “If he was easy to find, the books would be called There’s Waldo!”