The Big Bang Theory: "The Workplace Proximity" 
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The Big Bang Theory: "The Workplace Proximity" 

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The Big Bang Theory

"The Workplace Proximity" 

Season 7, Episode 5

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It’s never clear why anyone in The Big Bang Theory stays friends with Sheldon Cooper. He’s manipulative, insensitive, and self-absorbed. He always places himself before everyone else, and he never fails to make a bad situation worse for those around him. Over the past seven seasons, the men and women who have fallen into Sheldon’s web have grown weary of his antics, and this seventh season has had the show’s central character become more of an outsider with each new episode. The second episode put some serious strain on his relationship with Penny and Leonard, and this week, he alienates Amy, Bernadette, and Howard all at once.

Sheldon was the bad guy last year, but what makes this season stronger than the first half of season six is that Sheldon is isolating himself by acting with good intentions rather than playing an insufferable villain. His fight with Leonard stemmed from him wanting to know what his roommate genuinely thought of him, and this week, he’s just trying to be a good boyfriend, although he doesn’t quite understand what that means. As usual, communication is Sheldon’s problem. During one of their regularly scheduled dates, Amy tells Sheldon that she’s been offered a job at CalTech and asks if he’s alright with her working in such close proximity to him. She brings up the old adage, “Don’t defecate where you eat,” but Sheldon just assumed that always meant don’t move your bowels in a restaurant.

Sheldon’s misunderstanding of that phrase is representative of his general ignorance when it comes to most social cues. Because he’s never interpreted the saying the way it was intended, he’s never really thought about the possibility of working with a romantic interest, so he’s totally fine with Amy working in the same place as him. He won’t get tired of her because he’ll just deduct any time spent together at work from their daily quota. Leonard loves that idea and insists that he be there when Sheldon breaks the news to Amy, but Howard takes pity on Sheldon and tells him what it will really be like if he chooses to work with his girlfriend. This conversation all happens off-screen, but Sheldon’s complete lack of tact leads to him revealing everything to Bernadette, including Howard’s confession that he would get tired of his wife if he was ever forced to work with her.

After talking to Howard, Sheldon goes across the hall to interrupt the girls’ night, accidentally sabotage Howard’s marriage, and tell Amy that he would no longer like to work with her. Unfortunately, she’s already signed the contract and cashed a check, so there’s no turning back, but she also tells him that she understands his fears and will keep their relationship professional in the workplace. She’s clearly not pleased with him being so easily swayed by his idiot friends, but she’s willing to stay within boundaries if it means pleasing her boyfriend.

This show has needed to switch up the power dynamic between Amy and Sheldon for a while, and putting Amy at CalTech makes Sheldon eager for her attention rather than the other way around. Amy sticks to her word and tries to distance herself from Sheldon in the cafeteria, but when he sees how much fun she’s having with her new friends, he finds himself breaking his rules so that he can be the bigger man. He goes over to Amy and tries to charm her new friends, who are unimpressed by his jokes, and when Amy tries to shoo Dr. Cooper away, he insists that she drop the formalities and treat him like her boyfriend. Sheldon is sending all sorts of mixed messages, and Amy is reacting with frustration and confusion, which he interprets as mixed messages on her part. Amy’s disillusionment continues when Sheldon tries to smooth things over by visiting her lab but just muddles the entire situation, although it does give the writers the opportunity to have Jim Parsons mimic the motions of a monkey. That’s funny, right?

The episode builds to the moment when Sheldon goes to Amy’s door in the middle of the night and makes a very personal confession, admitting that he realizes relationships are difficult and that they can be especially challenging when dating a person who has trouble making personal connections and whom some people may consider as weird. Amy is touched by his vulnerability and assures him that he isn’t weird, but she’s misunderstood. He was talking about her. Anyone who has been watching this show for seven seasons knows that punchline is coming halfway through Sheldon’s speech, and I applaud Jim Parsons’ performance for immediately establishing Amy as the target of ridicule.

We’ve seen what Sheldon looks like when he’s actually casting a critical eye inward, and it’s a far weaker and more defeated picture than what stands in Amy’s doorway. Sheldon is obsessed with social contracts when it comes to controlling other people, but he always thinks he’s in the right if he breaks the rules in service of what he thinks is best. In this case, he thought Amy would appreciate it if he showed more interest in her at the workplace because she wasn’t enthusiastic about professional boundaries when he initially mentioned them. But if Amy has to stick to all the bullshit guidelines in their relationship agreement, Sheldon should be able to make it through a workday following the rules he set for himself.

Amy’s not satisfied with his confession and slams the door in his face, building up her position of power despite Sheldon’s best efforts to prove the validity of his stance. Last week, Amy learned that she can have meaningful communication with Sheldon; she just needs to be firm and intense in her interactions with him (just like his mother). By slamming the door in Sheldon’s face, she is giving him a challenge to overcome, playing into his obsessive need to solve any problems that fall before him. The more doors she slams, the more likely she is to have an actual boyfriend at the end of all this.

Stray observations:

  • The recipe for a Sheldon/Amy date: The Cheesecake Factory + awkward silence + Sheldon on his phone + complete lack of physical contact.
  • Penny, Leonard, and Raj all operate in the background this week, as it should be. I’ve long believed Howard and Bernadette to be a more captivating pair than Penny and Leonard, and Raj works best as a complement to other characters. This week, Raj worsens Howard’s conflict with Bernadette by playing the wife for his friend while he’s in the doghouse.
  • One of my favorite moments of the episode is Penny chiming in with a scientific fact in the midst of Amy’s conversation with Bernadette about her forthcoming experiment, and they just stare at her until she pulls out her phone. “That’s right. My phone is just as smart as you guys.”
  • “What started as a pap smear turned into a date. Which turned into her working there, which turned into marriage, which then turned into hatred, which still continues to this day.”
  • “I’m hoping to put his love of repetition to good use one day.”

 

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