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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Big Bang Theory: “The Launch Acceleration”

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All of my criticisms of last week’s episode are addressed in “The Launch Acceleration,” one of, if not the, best installment of this season. The story is focused on the three couples as the pairs experience a sudden acceleration in their relationships, with a big revelation coming out of the Sheldon storyline: He might actually be attracted to Amy! This episode incorporates the characters’ science backgrounds well, particularly with Amy conducting a psychological experiment on Sheldon to make him attracted to her more quickly. She explicitly explains that she is going to transfer Sheldon’s feelings for his mother onto herself, and she turns herself into the mommy Sheldon never had in order to get him to have sexual feelings for her. The creepiest part is that it totally works.

Sheldon has a seriously Freudian story this week, and as disturbing as it may be, it’s also incredibly funny. The contrast between Sheldon’s childhood pleasures and Amy’s adult intentions leads to great jokes, like Amy playing the Super Mario Bros. theme as mood music for a romantic dinner. Or Amy pouring Strawberry Quik in a wine glass. Or Amy getting Amtrak to waive their “children only” policy so that Sheldon can be a junior conductor. The final gag is the cherry on top: Leonard walks in on Amy and Sheldon playing the Star Trek version of Doctor, Amy dressed in an Enterprise uniform as she scans Sheldon lying down on the couch. And he doesn’t want her to stop.

Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik are fantastic this week, and the entire cast is given strong material to work with. The story builds on the history established between these characters, and the show is making some real movement as we head into next week’s season finale. I would love to see this season end with Sheldon having an actual romantic kiss with Amy, because that’s the next logical step for the couple. This episode shows how well the writers can adapt to the three-couple status quo, and there’s fresh comic material to be found in taking Sheldon’s feelings further. This is a guy who is a romantic and sexual virgin, and it would be fascinating to see how his advanced mind tackled those problems if they were his primary objectives.

Sheldon doesn’t understand this new attraction, and for the first time engages in the tradition of whining about his woman to another man while playing Tri-Dimensional Chess with Leonard. Leonard just asked Penny to marry him mid-coitus after spending the night huffing gas, so he’s having issues of his own. When Penny tells Leonard that she thinks it’s time to start moving their relationship faster, he finally gets laid but also introduces back all the awkwardness that Penny was trying to avoid. Of course, Leonard’s default mode is awkward, so his sexual outburst is a return to normalcy for the couple, who have been in the honeymoon phase for the past four months.

At the end of the episode, Leonard is filled with questions about the status of their relationship, and Penny answers with a lengthy kiss and various evasive monosyllabic words. It’s back to the usual for this reunited couple, but if my season finale rulebook is correct, there’s probably going to be a Penny pregnancy reveal at the end of the next week. You don’t have sex before the season finale if you’re not going to accept the responsibility.

When “The Launch Acceleration” begins, it looks like Howard’s space subplot might be over for good. When his mission is scrapped, Howard is overcome with relief that now he won’t die in space, but the way God intended: in his late 50s with a heart full of pastrami. He has some conflicting feelings about not actually going into orbit, but Leonard and Raj are there to remind him that he probably doesn’t want to be drifting in a vacuum on a machine built by Russians in the ’60s. He’s afraid of admitting his fear to Bernadette, though, and he keeps up the appearance of a hero denied his greatest trial. That causes problems when he gets a call from NASA saying the mission is back on.


Howard tries to get out of the mission because the launch is two days before his wedding, but Bernadette refuses to be the person responsible for crushing her husband’s dream. My major complaint with this episode was Howard’s inability to just admit his true feelings to Bernadette, but when he meets up with her father (Justified’s Casey Sander), the reason for his deception becomes clear. Mr. Rostenkowski is a tough-as-nails ex-cop who cracks walnuts with his bare hands and reminisces over photo albums full of crime scene photos, and when he first met Howard, he did not like him. Then he got to know Howard better, and he still didn’t like him. The only thing that has gained Howard any respect from his future father-in-law is this space mission, and even then, the man still wouldn’t mind if Howard burnt up on reentry. Bernadette’s a pretty girl; she’ll have no problem moving on.

Stray observations:

  • Raj doesn’t do much this episode, although his explanation of how a Soyuz capsule returns to Earth is another way the writers incorporate the brainy bits into the broader comedy.
  • The Cookie Monster voice apparently turns Penny on.
  • So I’ve only seen the pilot of Justified. Worth diving into?
  • Leonard: “You must be burning up.” Sheldon: “A little. But not more than your urethras will be after whatever’s in those pants swims up them.”
  • “I promise. After waiting four months, fast is what you’re going to get.”
  • “So that’s how this works: I complain and then you complain and no one offers any solutions?”
  • “For our first dance at the wedding, what if we learn the final number from Dirty Dancing.” This episode shows that it’s quite easy to put Howard in the corner.