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The Big Bang Theory recap: 'The Space Probe Disintegration'

Tonight’s episode is all about compromise and allowing these characters some room to be human.

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Big Bang Theory
Sonja Flemming/CBS

The Big Bang Theory

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
run date:
Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Scott Halberstadt, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Frank Pacheco
Chuck Lorre

Well, skeptics and fans of more complicated fare can say what they must about The Big Bang Theory, but… it is the People’s Choice. And to those detractors, fans who voted the series into its Favorite TV Show win on Wednesday night might want to point out that the show followed up that win with some major character advancement: Sheldon conceded to a few of his flaws and made a compromise, and Raj and Howard addressed religion and scientists’ relationship to it. I really did not know that’s what I was in for tonight, but I can’t say I’m disappointed by the development.

And even though Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting took home Favorite Comedic TV Actress (and more than her fair share of headlines the last few weeks), tonight’s episode centered mostly on the show’s male relationships. It was back to basics for Raj and Howard, with Raj being a nervous wreck and Howard being generally obtuse; but Sheldon and Leonard dabbled in more uncharted territory: emotional honesty and purses.

“The Space Probe Disintegration” opens on roommates extraordinaire Sheldon and Leonard settling into a game of Lord of the Rings Risk when they’re supposed to be going to lunch with Amy and Penny. Rather than just agreeing to skip lunch, after eight seasons, Penny and Amy finally realize that they’re constantly doing what the men in their lives want to do, and never getting to do exactly what they want—George Lucas can talk all the way through a Star Wars director’s commentary, but Amy says one word and it’s lecture time. So, Amy and Penny decide that today, everyone is going to do what they want to do, and preferably something that only they want to do.

If only they can find something that Amy is physically able to do: Horseback riding is out on account of her hips opening up no wider than 22-degrees; ice skating is out because of her unusually brittle ankles; so, Sheldon suggests the ladies go shopping while the men sit in uncomfortable chairs and hold their purses, because the man is a problem solver, he just can’t help it. And tonight, Sheldon, while a normal amount of insufferable, really is being quite… sufferable. He holds Amy’s purse, sits quietly while confronted with an eyeful of panties, and manages to calmly get through the realization of a hypothetical that haunts us all: Now that we have them, what would it be like to be without a smart phone?

Well, if we were two physicists waiting on our significant others to pick out dress/vest combos, we might play an imaginary game of Lord of the Rings Risk, because that’s what Leonard and Sheldon end up doing. When Leonard remarks that Sheldon has really handled the shopping outing well, Sheldon says, but of course, he’s used to compromising from his living with Leonard all these years. Cue general guffawing from Leonard who informs his roommate that driving Sheldon to work does not give him purpose, and while he’s at it, here’s a list of things Leonard compromised on: adjusting the temperature in his own apartment, whistling, wearing shoes that might squeak, and not getting to live with the woman he loves because, “the last time I brought it up you had an emotional breakdown, got on a train, and ran away.”

Oh yeah—Leonard goes for the jugular; or rather, just the truth, but it feels harsh because Sheldon is so delicate. But either Sheldon really did grow during his time riding the tracks, or he’s been soothed into submission by staring at racks and racks of bras, but other than a small cry of, “Given my history on the subject, it seems a little reckless to bring it up now!” Sheldon remains calm and tells Leonard that he might think he’s the tolerant roommate, “but the truth is, you’re mean to me a lot.” And… that is true. Sheldon is a pain to live with, but Leonard lives with him, and Sheldon lives with his sarcastic comments and eye-rolls, which Sheldon can almost always see because he has excellent peripheral vision: “On a good day I can see my ears.”

So, they both make compromises. And they’re going to keep making them: Sheldon says that he’s upset at the idea of a world without his best friend in it, but he’s aware of how difficult he can be and thanks Leonard for putting up with him. And when their girlfriends come out of the dressing room, it’s to find their boyfriends an emotional wreck, and not because of the uncomfortable chairs. They compromise that Leonard will move in with Penn gradually, starting with two nights a week – okay, one night a week at Penny’s. Compromise.

So, while the two head roommates in charge are making compromises, our sideshow biffles are exchanging ideas of the more spiritual variety while giving this episode its name. You see, a probe that Raj worked on nine years ago has finally made its way to Pluto, and he’s a nervous wreck waiting to see if it will actually be able to return any usable data, or if it’s been destroyed in space: “Space ice is no joke—I can’t even watch Frozen anymore!”

Howard gets Raj out of the house to calm him down and Raj surprises him by saying he wants to go to a Hindu temple. Even though Raj has shared little of his religion with his friends in the time that he’s known them, in this time of stress and worry, he finds comfort in knowing that, “we’re all a part of an immense pattern,” even if we can’t understand it. And just as that calm is overtaken by another round of all-consuming anxiety, Howard informs Raj that reports are back, and his probe was successful.

The culmination of Sheldon and Leonard’s compromise is plenty silly, and maybe the tears shed weren’t exactly real, but the emotional growth in the characters was; and following a heap of awards for the humans who make and inhabit this show, it’s nice to see the show treat its characters like human beings. The eighth season of The Big Bang Theory may not be its freshest, but if its characters continue to grow, there will continue to be stories to tell.

Best Laughs:

“I’m lucky you found me before a cult did.” —Amy explaining to Penny how she promised herself a long time ago that if she ever got friends, she would do whatever those friends said.

“Boy, that’s a lot of panties.” —Sheldon, uncomfortably facing the lingerie section

“Well, it’s scary and sometimes I get the pedals mixed up.” —Sheldon on why he compromisingly continues not to drive even though Amy taught him how

“Are you crazy, you know he’s a flight risk!” —Amy, angry at Leonard for bringing up the idea of moving out again

“Does everything you know about Hinduism come from Indiana Jones?” —Raj on Howard’s limited grasp of his religion

“Well, there’s also Apu from The Simpsons.” —Howard on his limited grasp of Hinduism

“The guy who cut my dog’s hair just gave her bangs … you saw her, she looks like Jim Carrey from Dumb and Dumber!” —Raj, perhaps misplacing some of his anxiety after an elderly man dings his car in the temple parking lot