It’s always weird to watch a season finale of The Big Bang Theory. The show’s so generally plotless that an episode that builds to a big cliffhanger—here that Raj and Penny have sex and everybody’s in the apartment to see their walk of shame—often feels kind of bizarre. On the other hand, there’s an argument to be made (as my wife did to me right after this episode finished) that the season finales of the show are slightly more satisfying because season finales often end in a state of the plot being unfinished, and that’s just the way the show is naturally. And, indeed, after a first scene I didn’t like a whole lot, this episode won me over fairly quickly by focusing on the Sheldon and Raj pairing, which has quietly built into one of the show’s best. And the cliffhanger, while kind of shamelessly attempting to set up a love triangle (since the show seems done with the Howard/Bernadette/Raj thing for now) isn’t a bad one, as these things go.
Does the last moment make any sense? Depends on where they go with it. Like most of the folks on sitcoms, the Big Bang Theory gang spends almost all of its time hanging out with each other, rather than anybody else. That means that, like most sitcoms, this show is going to eventually work through as many different couple permutations as it can come up with (especially when you consider that Sheldon’s off the table for anyone but, theoretically, Amy and Howard and Bernadette won’t be cheating on each other if they get married, at least not with anyone in the group). This means that Penny and Raj were going to hook up at SOME point, and the show bit the bullet and got it out of the way in the most logical way possible: They got really drunk. Sure, Penny says Raj is cute and all, but it’s hard to see the two getting together without the influence of alcohol (and that’s discounting my long-standing antipathy toward the “Raj needs alcohol to talk to women” device).
So, of course, we won’t really know how this cliffhanger works until season five. And that’s probably the sign of a good cliffhanger: It creates more story possibilities than it destroys. Already, we’re going to have the obligatory episode where Raj is way more into Penny than she is into him, the episode where Leonard gets a little jealous, the episode where Howard is shocked it happened, etc., etc., etc. Plus, since Leonard and Priya have, apparently, broken up, what with her moving back to India and all, it creates a slightly more balanced love triangle, particularly if Kunal Nayyar and Kaley Cuoco end up having non-drunk chemistry, something Cuoco and Johnny Galecki never had. I can’t say I’m exactly “looking forward” to seeing how this plays out, since it’s all fairly predictable, but I don’t HATE it, like a lot of fans seem to (if a cursory scan of Twitter is any indication). And I admire the writers for getting the “everybody finds out” scene out of the way right away. It could have been ponderous building to that next year, but they ripped the Band-Aid right off.
The rest of the episode was more hit and miss but generally pretty funny. I didn’t really like the opening scene where everyone made fun of Leonard for being lactose intolerant, thanks to its huge number of boring fart jokes (the low-point perhaps being rhyming “rooty tooty” with “booty”), but I sort of saw what the writers were going for all the same: The whole group is as cohesive as it’s ever been. And when they make fun of each other, it’s not meant to be malicious or mean-spirited, just good, fun joking among friends. So we’re setting up the status quo that will be torn down throughout the episode, with Raj having to move out of his own apartment and Priya and Leonard fighting and Howard feeling upset about how he’s not a doctor and all of his friends are (and about Bernadette making him a sort of “kept fiancée) and Raj and Penny sleeping together.
The good stuff starts up right after with Bernadette’s announcement that she’s not only going to be getting her PhD, but that a pharmaceutical company is paying her a huge amount of money to come work for them. What follows—Howard feels emasculated by her success and by her buying him nice things and just generally treating him like the Betty Draper of the relationship (not to mention the fact that all of his friends have PhDs, too)—is entirely predictable, but there’s plenty of fun to be had with Bernadette being the bread-winner and with this storyline, which I can only presume will end up with Howard eventually deciding to get his PhD as well. In general, the growth of Howard as a character is the most impressive in the show’s run, and this feels like another move to push him toward moving ahead with his life. That is, it feels like that unless the show decides to have the two break up because of their fight, in which case he’ll probably regress. (Though then the show would have the situation where Raj, Penny, Howard, Bernadette, and Leonard are all single and a surprising number of those people have slept together, while just as many WANT to sleep with each other, which would kind of make my head hurt.)
But the real fun here comes from Raj moving in with Sheldon. This has quietly become one of the show’s best relationships to play for laughs, and there’s no exception here, what with Raj learning all about Sheldon’s weird rules and Sheldon discovering that Raj takes better care of him than Leonard ever did. To a real degree, it’s probably supposed to be the A-story (I think we spend the most time on it), but it never feels like it dominates the episode. It’s just a nice, quiet way to spend time with the characters and see how they interact with each other. And if nothing else, The Big Bang Theory does that kind of scene well, even when it’s doing everything else wrong. Fortunately, most everything else in this episode went pretty well anyway. If the show could just crank out episodes like this in perpetuity, I’d certainly forgive them their early season growing pains.
Finale grade: B+
Season grade: B-
- This will be my last review of The Big Bang Theory as the regular reviewer here. I’ll be handing off the assignment to someone else next season (or we’ll stop covering it, since the readership numbers have plummeted this year). It’s been fun talking with you all, but I’ve truly run out of things to say about it, and I look forward to someone else’s take on the series.
- Season MVPs: Melissa Rauch, Kaley Cuoco, and Mayim Bialik. There were many episodes where I wished the show would just spin off the girls and forget the guys ever existed. And that’s surprising, given how much I enjoyed the Sheldon character in the first three years. (It’s not that I disliked him this year, but the show sometimes seemed to lean too heavily on him acting oddly.)
- Favorite episode: “The Justice League Recombination,” which was probably the funniest the show’s been in quite a while.
- Least favorite episode: Honestly, the season premiere, which had good bits in it (particularly in introducing Amy to the show) but gets dragged down by the horrifying Howard plotline. It was worse than I thought it to be at the time, and that’s rare for me.
- That Raj was almost as horrified, if not MORE horrified, by Leonard’s scientific inaccuracies within his Star Trek sex play was a nice touch.
- "You're orbiting within the atmosphere? Moron."
- "It still sounds like a lot of unnecessary touching."
- "I could just as easily have paralyzed you."
- "Leonard's having astronomically inaccurate Star Trek sex with my sister."
- "Bring a ball or Frisbee... something he can chase."
- "If you prefer the human touch, I do a live Web-chat called Apartment Talk on Tuesday nights."
- "It's not like either one of us has heart disease."