Leave it to The Big Bang Theory to take a psychological love experiment that is sweeping all social media channels and turn it into an entire episode. Testing the love experiment hypothesis on Sheldon and Penny was a brilliant move. Well done, writers. You had me at Gary Con.
Amy shares that she read an article that claims two people can fall in love in a matter of hours if they answer a series of intimate questions, followed by four minutes of staring into each other’s eyes. Naturally, Sheldon disagrees, but his curiosity is peaked when Amy suggests he conduct his own research to refute the theory. When the group refuses Sheldon’s suggestion of capturing and interviewing “street people,” it is agreed that Sheldon and Penny act as test subjects. This is going to be good.
While Sheldon pontificates with Penny in her apartment, Amy, Leonard, Raj, and Emily try out a new interactive theater experience called The Escape Room. Basically, a group must complete a series of puzzles before a zombie eats their brains. Since the foursome all have advanced degrees, they solve the puzzles in a matter of minutes. It’s a shame that this sub-plot wasn’t fleshed out more, because it could have been extremely funny. Instead of investing in the story line, I kept wondering why Raj didn’t recognize the goth girl out front as the same goth girl in the tattoo parlor from season 3. (Did I mention I’m a fan of this show?)
Fortunately, the majority of the episode concentrates on Sheldon and Penny’s budding romance. Their first intimate question is easy: If you could eat dinner with anyone in the world, whom would it be? Sheldon chooses to dine with himself, while Robert Downey Jr. is Penny’s choice. Amen, sister.
Meanwhile, Bernadette and Howard are conducting an experiment of their own. How many airline agents does it take to find a lost suitcase holding the ashes of Mrs. Wolowitz? The answer is one frazzled woman. When Howard begins to feel guilty that he had been too busy to take his mother to the airport the week of her trip to Florida, Mean Bernadette comes out to play. She promises the agent that one way or another, they would be walking out of the airport with a dead woman. Miraculously, the suitcase is located. Mean Bernadette is both awesome and scary.
Things have become a little stickier at Penny’s place. Question: If you could wake up tomorrow and have gained any one quality or ability, what would it be? Sheldon is annoyed when Penny answers that she would turn water into wine. He thinks she’s using humor to avoid answering honestly. Do I detect a bit of vulnerability?
Penny tells Sheldon that she wishes she were smart. Sheldon admits that he would like the ability to read people’s minds. He explains that it’s hard for him to gauge if someone is joking or being sarcastic. He can’t tell the difference between anger or a bad mood. Penny changes her answer, wishing that she could take that burden away from Sheldon. Here comes the first lump in my throat.
Later that night, Penny asks: If you died this evening, with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? A stoic Sheldon considers the fact that he would be dying on his birthday. Penny is shocked that Sheldon admitted a secret that even Amy doesn’t know. Look at them bond!
Once the questions are answered, it’s time to stare into the depths of each other’s souls for four minutes. The silence is so awkward, that even the studio audience is filled with nervous laughter. Penny is the first to break the “no talking” rule by admitting that this exercise is extremely creepy. As the seconds tick by, Sheldon reveals that he thinks of Penny as a sister, and sometimes a mother. Penny reminisces about the day she met Leonard and Sheldon. I get another lump in my throat. What is wrong with me?
Once the staring portion of the experiment is over, Penny reports her findings first. She’s glad she participated, she does feel closer, but she’s not in love with Sheldon. Sheldon agrees, deeming psychology as the doofus of all sciences. Penny walks him across the hall. When he opens the door, Sheldon is greeted with a surprise birthday party. We all know this moment fills him with more dread than “George Lucas director’s cut.”
Penny may not be in love with Sheldon, but it’s clear that she does love him dearly. Happy Birthday, Shelly!
“You’re not supposed to drink alcohol when you operate heavy machinery.” —Sheldon, turning down a glass of wine as he points to his own head
“After myself and I have dinner, can we meet you two for dessert?”—Sheldon, asking to join Penny and Iron Man for dinner
“I’m warm and soothing, like a human bowl of tomato soup.”—Sheldon, providing an explanation why Penny feels affection for him