Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Big Bang Theory: “The Higgs Boson Observation”

Illustration for article titled The Big Bang Theory: “The Higgs Boson Observation”

Finding the balance between nerd humor and romantic comedy is one of The Big Bang Theory’s biggest challenges moving forward, and “The Higgs Boson Observation” shows how great this show can be when those two elements are in sync. The introduction of Sheldon’s new assistant, Alex, shakes up the main relationships and forces new reactions from the characters, adding some much-needed tension to a show that tends to be fairly low-stakes. Inspired by the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle this summer, Sheldon is inspired to look through his library of childhood journals for a discovery from his past that he can ride to present-day fame and fortune. He wants someone to go through his journals who knows science but is ideally suited for menial physical labor, appealing to Leonard before ultimately settling on getting an assistant.

Sheldon interviews Alex Jensen (Even Stevens’ Margo Harshman), and after she turns down his offers of marijuana and coffee and showers him with compliments, she gets the job. “Congratulations,” Leonard says when he first meets her, “and may god have mercy on your soul.” Leonard is joined by Raj, who is back to not being able to speak to women, this series’ most exhausted gag. When Leonard exploits Raj’s silence to embarrass him in front of Alex, it’s hard to not sympathize with Leonard. Just get over it, Raj!

While getting makeup tips from Penny, Amy decides to call up Sheldon and show her contractually obligated boyfriend her new look. When Alex answers the phone, Amy is stunned to discover that Sheldon’s new assistant is a woman and immediately assumes that she’s trying to steal her man. What follows is one of my favorite exchanges between these two characters:

Amy: “He didn’t mention Alex is a girl.”

Penny: “Maybe he didn’t notice.”

Amy: “You’re right, I don’t have to worry about Sheldon.”

Penny: (Laughs) “No, you do not.”

Amy makes Penny come with her to meet Sheldon’s new assistant, barging into his office and discovering nothing. Given some time alone in Sheldon’s work place, Amy rubs Sheldon’s phone under her armpit and licks his stapler to spread her scent and establish herself in this environment. Penny says that’s probably not going to work, but then Amy says she did the same thing all over Penny’s apartment just before they became best friends, which is disgusting but hard to argue with. They spy on Alex sitting at the lunch table with Sheldon, Raj, and Leonard, and when Amy sees Alex and Leonard’s flirty chemistry, she realizes that the skank is Penny’s problem.

What is Penny and Leonard’s relationship? That confusion allows Penny to keep her emotional distance when she sees Leonard flirting with another girl, but Amy knows her best friend better than that. After some joking about the courting rituals of mandrills, Amy tells Penny that she’s a classic case of prefrontal cortex reasoning versus limbic lust. The thrilla adjacent to the amygdala, if put as a boxing metaphor. I love seeing these characters solve their personal problems with scientific knowledge, and Amy’s background in neuroscience allows her to break down Penny’s reaction and show her that she’s in serious denial. When Penny runs into Alex at Leonard and Sheldon’s apartment, she reacts defensively, but she’s not even able to call Leonard her boyfriend. Rather, she talks about how she’s working with him on a five-year experiment. That’s plain insulting, but Penny pulls Leonard away for some sex immediately after diminishing him, so all is forgiven. It will be interesting to see how this storyline unfolds over the rest of the season, although Penny staying in a relationship with Leonard out of petty jealousy isn’t going to keep them going for very long.

While Alex is inadvertently causing trouble on Earth, Howard is going stir crazy in space. He really misses gravity, so much so that he’s started to have Bernadette and Raj drop pencils while video chatting with him so that he can feel something besides the cold grip of insanity. When his ride home is delayed, Howard asks Bernadette to go find the model rocket in his room, build a life-size replica and come get him, he’ll leave the door open for her and everything. Eventually his astronaut comrades hold him down and drug him, finally cooling the little man down so that he can blissfully float through zero gravity without his pants on. While Howard in space has been surprisingly fun, it’s time for him to make his way back home.


Stray observations:

  • Amy says an eyelash curler looks like something used by Tinkerbell’s gyno; Penny hopes he isn’t Captain Hook. I love the dynamic between these two girls.
  • It’s not as bad as last week’s bed looming, but Sheldon’s picture on Amy’s phone is plenty terrifying.
  • “’August 7, 8:42am: This is humiliating, what was wrong with diapers.’”
  • “They left dogs up here in the ’60s.”
  • “Well for starters, at some point that face started talking.”
  • “He’s smart, he's sweet, and in the bedroom—hoo, let me tell you, he really tries.”