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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Big Bang Theory: “The Discovery Dissipation”

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The last year of The Big Bang Theory has focused on fixing the show’s problem areas, showing Sheldon in a more sympathetic light, giving Raj the ability to interact with the opposite sex, and shifting the major relationship drama from Leonard and Penny to Howard and Bernadette. The result has been a seventh season that is shaping up to be the series’ best, making stronger use of the tight ensemble to deliver a more consistent stream of quality sitcom episodes. “The Discovery Dissipation” is one of the season’s high points, a story that effectively incorporates every cast member while bringing in two recurring guest stars for surprisingly poignant moments.

Picking up on the Sheldon plot from “The Romance Resonance,” this week’s episode finds Sheldon dealing with the fallout of his accidental discovery of a stable superheavy element, his life’s greatest accomplishment and source of shame. He throws a temper tantrum on a radio show when asked about the discovery that some members of the science community are describing as “The Wonder Blunder,” and he only becomes more childish as he refuses to acknowledge his success because of one unfortunate detail. In hopes of brightening Sheldon’s outlook, Amy invites Wil Wheaton over to offer some inspiration by sharing his experience overcoming the criticism he got for playing Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. If he’s able to move past that trauma and become the nerd mogul he is today, then Sheldon can get past this “Wonder Blunder” thing and move on.

Wil Wheaton fails to take into account the X-factor that is Leonard, who makes Sheldon’s situation worse by recreating the experiment and discovering that it’s a failure. The Chinese team faked successful results, and now all Sheldon has is a very public disappointment. And it has to be public, because if he knows that his work is invalid, he has a duty to science to let the entire community know of his mistake. Of course, it’s possible that none of this would have happened if not for Leonard’s involvement. He says that he recreated the test because he thought it was a way of making Sheldon happy, but I think his decision was also fueled by a desire to gain more power in his relationship with his roommate.

It can’t be easy to live with Sheldon Cooper, a person who is constantly looking for ways to undercut people so that he appears stronger by comparison. He doesn’t realize that it makes him look like an asshole, but he also doesn’t really care, so it must feel pretty good to knock him off his high horse. Leonard has lived with Sheldon for years, so he must know that the news of the experiment’s failure would would hurt Sheldon more than the mistake in his calculations, but he chooses to do it because it’s one of the few times he can one-up Sheldon and have the ultimate authority on his side: Science.

Sheldon is a person that doesn’t put too much stock in personal relationships—he spends a sizable chunk of time this week counting the number of friends he has, as if to needs to remind himself that he has any at all—but he is staunchly dedicated to his relationship with science. This latest dilemma causes the attention whore within Sheldon to battle it out with the scientist, and Leonard has to deal with the collateral damage from that war. Luckily, he has the facts working as his shield, but when Leonard defends his actions by invoking the S-word, Sheldon still feels betrayed: “Don’t you dare use science against me! Science is my best friend!” Because of that friendship, Sheldon forces Leonard to print his findings and publishes his own retraction of his previous study, a move that brings the wrath of Barry Kripke down on him.

The Barry scene—initially just an excuse to have John Ross Bowie say “wetwacted”—grows into an exploration of Sheldon’s awareness of personal boundaries when he overtly makes fun of Barry’s speech impediment in a moment of rage. Barry is hurt by the low blow and actually manages to make Sheldon feel guilty, getting him to retract his cruel words because he’s “The Retractor.” It’s a clever way of using a one-note character’s gimmick as an integral part of the comedy rather than an extraneous gag, and continues to show that Sheldon does indeed have feelings, even if it takes some effort to get them functioning properly.


While Sheldon is dealing with life-shattering revelations, Raj and Cinnamon move in with Howard and Bernadette for a week while their apartment building gets fumigated. Except for the need to brush Cinnamon’s teeth on the couch, Raj is an ideal houseguest, playing the part of the perfect husband and wife for his two hosts. The problem is that his behavior makes Howard and Bernadette look lousy in comparison, forcing them to attack each other because they don’t live up to Raj’s example. It’s a simple subplot that wouldn’t have been possible a year ago, or at least it wouldn’t have been possible without giving Raj an alcoholic beverage so he could talk to Bernadette. Having spent all that time as an observer has given Raj a smart outlook on relationships, and this episode sees him taking on a romance guru role that will hopefully be explored further. The idea of a character with spot-on romantic advice but a horrible track record with relationships has a lot of potential, and it would give Kunal Nayyar a more active role in the ensemble.

“The Discovery Dissipation” is one of the most quotable Big Bang episodes in recent memory. Most of the scenes are endless runs of jokes that the actors volley back and forth with ease, giving the episode a brisk momentum up through the very last scene. This ensemble has developed incredible chemistry over time, and they really excel when given meatier scripts like this week’s, finding greater comic highs by realizing the emotional stakes of the more dramatic content. Jim Parsons does exceptional work showing the roller coaster ride of Sheldon’s psyche in the main plot, and the tense atmosphere Simon Helberg and Melissa Rauch have created for Howard and Bernadette’s marriage give Raj’s chipper perfection greater impact on their domestic situation. There’s a comforting, classic feel to this show when the cast is firing on all cylinders, and this week’s episode is a great ensemble piece that spotlights how the changes of the past year have made The Big Bang Theory shine brighter than ever.


Stray observations:

  • No observations this week, just a bunch of quotes because this episode had so many great ones.
  • “Yes, I’d be a physicist with a Nobel in chemistry. Everyone laugh at the circus freak!”
  • “It’s because of bullies like you that more and more Americans are making the switch to television!”
  • Wil: “Can I blow the whistle?” (Pause.) Sheldon: “You should probably go.”
  • Howard: “I don’t want coffee.” Raj: “That’s why I got you hot chocolate.” Howard: “Give me that.”
  • Leonard: “Relax, she’s in her crate. She can’t get out.” Sheldon: “I have two words for you: Jurassic Park.”
  • Penny: “You know, if it makes you feel any better—“ Sheldon: “It probably won’t.” Penny: “You’re probably right.”
  • Amy: “Sheldon, it’s a beautiful night. Why don’t you and I go for a walk together?” Sheldon: “Everything is just sex with you, isn’t it?”