What does it mean to be romantic? It’s a question that comes up multiple times over the course of “The Romance Resonance,” an episode that looks at how the characters in The Big Bang Theory show affection toward their significant others. For Howard, romance is writing a cute song to celebrate the anniversary of his first date with Bernadette. For Leonard, romance is seeing the box full of memorabilia Penny has kept over the course of their relationship. And for Sheldon, romance is hearing someone tell him that he’s right when everyone else is saying he’s wrong. The episode doesn’t take the most original path to reaching these conclusions, but the payoffs of the three plots make up for any stumbles at the start.
The three stories all begin in predictable places: Howard wants to find the perfect way to celebrate his anniversary, Penny wants to do something romantic for Leonard that isn’t sex, and Sheldon wants to be left alone while he’s “in the zone” working on some random scientific idea. These are situations akin to what we usually see these characters deal with; Howard is always trying to get in Bernadette’s good graces, Penny is always trying to prove her love to the man who will always love her more, and Sheldon will always prefer to be alone with his work than sitting awkwardly on a date with his girlfriend. As these stories progress, though, they become more distinct, building to emotional moments for all three of this show’s couples.
It’s hard to define what the A-plot is for this episode, as all three threads receive about the same amount of screen time, but if the most important plot is the one that is most moving, Howard and Bernadette win. Bob Fosse once said, “The time to sing is when your emotional level is just too high to speak anymore,” and Howard’s song to Bernadette is easily one of their most poignant moments together, even if she’s quarantined behind a glass window the entire time because she was exposed to a strain of raccoon virus that has evolved to infect humans.
Howard’s song is a touching celebration of his love for his wife and the value she’s brought to his life, comparing their relationship to those of famous pairs like Dr. Who/TARDIS, Watson /Crick, and Jobs/Wozniak. Simon Helberg is more charming than he’s ever been behind that piano, and Melissa Rauch does fantastic work in this scene, her eyes filling with tears as she listens to her husband and best friends serenade her. The reaction is so honest and spontaneous that I wonder if Rauch had heard the song before it was played for her during filming. My understanding of how TV shows work would suggest she heard it at the initial read-through or during rehearsal, but I like to think this moment was kept from the actress, so that her reaction would be as sincere as possible.
Penny initially goes to Raj for help doing something romantic for Leonard, but he’s useless in this regard, telling her that she should cook before switching gears and suggesting that she just rip off ’80s movies like Dirty Dancing and Say Anything. Penny has never had to do this stuff because she’s young and beautiful, and men are always throwing themselves her, giving her the opportunity to coast by on sexual gratification and little else. She ultimately decides to give Leonard a first edition copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, which would be a totally sweet gesture if he didn’t buy a first edition copy when they were at the used bookstore together. Turns out Penny is a complete failure when it comes to performing anything romantic, but she’s great when it comes to collecting romantic things, like an old rose or an 11-page letter thanking her for sex. That in itself is very thoughtful, and Penny’s box of memorabilia satisfies Leonard’s need for non-sexual affection. Now that that’s over, they can move on to the very sexual affection he actually wants.
Sadly, Amy is nowhere to be seen at Sheldon’s workplace, suggesting that last week’s events were only intended for one episode, but “The Romance Resonance” still manages to switch up their power dynamic. All that “in the zone” time at the start of the episode is building to Sheldon’s discovery of a method for synthesizing a new stable super-heavy element, a discovery that is ultimately moot because he stumbled upon it by accident. He misread a chart, and his calculations are off by 10,000, meaning that the greatest scientific accomplishment of his life is due to a blunder. That’s something Sheldon Cooper just can’t deal with.
Every word of congratulations, interview request, and pay raise is just a reminder of Sheldon’s failure, and no one seems to understand why this bugs him so much. No one except Amy. She’s finally realized that Sheldon just wants to know that he’s right, so in the midst of all this praise, she bluntly tells him that he’s failed, she’s disappointed in him, and he should be especially embarrassed because that chart was really easy to read. It’s the most romantic thing Sheldon has ever heard and reveals how Amy is adapting to trick her boyfriend into having feelings for her. She’s tried the conventional ways; now it’s time for more unorthodox methods. Sheldon’s admittance that Amy’s actions are indeed working is another small step forward for him; maybe if he takes enough small steps, he’ll actually become something resembling an actual boyfriend.
- The episode’s tag shows Amy “in the zone,” where she imagines Sheldon is hopelessly in love with her and constantly distracted by his desire to kiss her on the lips, the way mommies and daddies do. I’m starting to get worried about her mental health.
- Further evidence that Bernadette is a Mad Scientist: “Great news! A raccoon virus just passed the species barrier, and now it can infect humans!”
- Sheldon: “Sheldon Cooper does not get lucky!” Amy: “You and me both, brother.”
- Raj’s rap rule: “I don’t call anyone a whore, and the only time I use the phrase ‘my bitch’ I’m referring to you.”
- Leonard: “Is that a pregnancy test?” Penny: “Oh yeah, just the first one. I didn’t save them all.”