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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Big Bang Theory: "The Large Hadron Collision"

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A week ago in his review of last week's Big Bang episode, Alan Sepinwall wrote that he has a real problem with the episodes where it seems somewhat impossible to imagine that anyone would be friends with Sheldon. Now, I didn't see that about last week's episode, but I was almost able to see it about this one, where Sheldon is just kind of an unthinking, unfeeling asshole for three-quarters of the running time before the episode rights itself with a bit of karmic justice at the end. I can totally see where the character is coming from in wanting to go to Switzerland to see the CERN collider and thinking Penny won't properly appreciate it. I can see where Sheldon would find the roommate agreement to be such a binding contract that he would be unable to imagine why Leonard might violate it. And I can see where he would do everything possible to get to go. But there was a lot of this episode where, for maybe the first time this season, I completely understood why Leonard always seems to be so disgusted with his roommate.

This is both a good and a bad thing. The show often has a problem with the characters reflexively being mean to Sheldon, as though the series assumes we're not on Sheldon's side. (I think the audience often is, regardless of how ridiculous he's being.) So creating a situation where Sheldon's irritating nature makes every Leonard sarcastic put-down seem to have come from a natural place is probably a good thing, ultimately. It's good for the show to occasionally return to its central conflicts and remind us why they exist in the first place, and any time the show can put Sheldon in conflict with Penny, it's usually good for at least a few laughs.

On the other hand, I frequently found myself thinking maybe Sepinwall has a point while watching "The Large Hadron Collision." The show seems to have exactly two speeds with Sheldon: trying to figure out what the hell everyone is up to and completely irritating. Obviously, this is one of the big appeals of the character, and I don't want the show to soften him by making him America's favorite oddball genius with a heart that's secretly three sizes larger than anyone would expect. But at the same time, Sheldon can't be someone that the show seems to be laughing at, the guy that no one in their right mind would ever want to live with in a million years. Too much of this episode toed that line and stepped over it too frequently.

But enough of this episode was funny enough to make me not care about the mild questions it gave me about the show's entire premise (because, honestly, if you can't go with the premise midway through a show's third season, you may never be able to). For one thing, seeing Sheldon trying to get something he wants and not being able to figure out just how to get it is always funny, no matter how many times the show plays that card, and seeing the collider is almost certainly at or near the top of Sheldon's all-time dream list. Sheldon's attempts to berate Leonard by using the roommate agreement (and the descriptions of what was contained therein) were funny, and so were his attempts to butter him up with breakfast in bed. And then, of course, the episode turned to Sheldon trying to convince Penny, which was even better.

The Sheldon and Penny relationship is the heart of the series for a reason. Penny's the one person who completely throws Sheldon for a loop, and he seems completely unable to figure out how to relate to her. Sheldon can figure out how to deal with Leonard or Howard or Raj, but Penny is so completely out of his field of consideration that he often just resorts to berating her in lieu of figuring out a way to convince her of his point of view. (His slideshow, comparing why he should go to why Penny shouldn't go, was funny just for his narration. You didn't even need to see the photos to have a good idea of what they might be like.) This storyline - taking up much of the midsection of the episode - was easily the episode's comic highlight.

Now, the episode ended with vomit gags, and I'm not normally a fan of vomit gags. I'm not here, either, but it sure seemed as though the series was headed toward Sheldon having given Penny an illness somehow, and when it didn't, I was so relieved that I didn't mind that everyone was throwing up all the time. It also helped that the final series of jokes - involving a great payoff to Raj's continued complaining about how he wasn't going to have a good Valentine's Day and Sheldon figuring out he may have caught the flu when he hugged Penny - were all very funny.


"The Large Hadron Collision" isn't my favorite episode of the show or even my favorite episode of the show this season, but I like the way that the episode finds a way to make all of the show's relationships somehow make sense. Leonard and Penny's relationship was mostly something the show was treating as though it had to exist or the series wouldn't make sense, even though it never worked in the first place, but I liked the way the two were excited to go to Switzerland together in this episode (particularly that moment where Penny's talking about her special underwear in bed at the end). I liked the way that Raj's jealousy of Howard's girlfriend seemed more motivated this time - by Howard being obviously obnoxious about his girlfriend. And I liked the way that Sheldon was both a completely irritating jerk and weirdly sympathetic, so it made sense that he still has friends.

"The Large Hadron Collision" is actually an episode I'd prepared to give a pretty low grade to heading in (well, low for me … I give B's to everything!), but as I've written about it and watched it again (I always have the episode on in the background while writing these), I've come to have a new appreciation for it. I do worry that it pushes too close to the "making fun of Sheldon" territory to make it wholly successful, but it's a surprisingly well thought out episode at the relationship level. Something about it makes me keep talking myself into liking it more than I originally thought I did.


Stray observations:

  • "Given that St. Valentine was a 3rd century Roman priest who was stoned and beheaded, wouldn't a more appropriate celebration of the evening be taking one's steady gal to witness a brutal murder?"
  • "Shame on you! That's no dream for a scientist!"
  • "You'll ski. I'll fall."
  • "He can't kill me, even if I turn."
  • "Instead of underpants, I covered my crotch with potato salad this morning. Thoughts?"
  • "I used coconut shavings for the hair on his feet."
  • "What you're tasting is respect, affection and about a pound of Crisco."
  • "Not really. I'm just an enthusiast."
  • "Yeah, I forgot about all this." "But I never will."