When Sheldon, Leonard, Penny, Howard, Raj, Amy, and Bernadette road trip to a conference together, the entire cast gets to shine
Give it up for Melissa Rauch. In one of my favorite episodes this season — an episode that showcased every single member of the Big Bang Theory ensemble, advanced several season-long storylines, and managed to make Bridget Jones’ Diary the punchline to an expertly executed dirty joke — it was Rauch’s performance as the delightful Bernadette that stood out as a first among equals. It helped that the second half of the plot turned on Bernadette’s confrontation with Howard over her mighty fine ex, Glenn (Rick Fox), certifiably the world’s most gorgeous scientist ever in the history of ever. Seriously, people: If Glenn was an actual scientist in the actual world, Oprah would have long ago given him his own syndicated show called Dr. Glenn, where he could hold forth on the science of disappearing snow whilst America swooned at his finely tailored shiny suits. But I digress.
We began with Amy Farrah Fowler cajoling Penny to be her plus one for her talk at the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies Symposium (or IISS) on the Impact of Current Scientific Research on Societal Interactions (or ICSRSI) by explaining that Penny is her best friend. Which Penny would know had she read Amy’s blog, but I’m still a little thrown by the fact that Amy doesn’t regard Sheldon as her best friend. In any event, Penny was only persuaded to join her (and, it turned out, Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, Howard, and Bernadette) once she learned it entailed an all-expense paid spa weekend at a four-star resort in Big Sur. Because the IISS is apparently sponsored by Google.
At first, the episode looked like it would unfold like so many Big Bangs before it, with Sheldon micro-managing the road trip to Big Sur in his usual fastidious fashion, driving everyone crazy in the process, and the episode culminating with the crew arriving at the IISS ready to throttle Sheldon — but, somehow, they don’t. Instead, we got a quick, sharp, and funny pre-trip lecture by Sheldon, complete with a heretofore unseen giant touch-screen display and uncannily accurate Wii Miis designating each of our Big Bang travelers. I can just picture Chuck Lorre privately cackling at getting Warner Bros. TV to shell out for that touch-screen, only to use it for a scene that lasted only as long as the episode’s opening credits.
And then they were off, Leonard driving the lead car with Sheldon, Penny and Amy, and Bernadette driving the “love” car with Howard and Raj. We learned Sheldon and Amy would not be rooming together because, according to Amy, “we didn’t want to jeopardize our relationship by getting to know each other too well” — which Amy followed up by telling Penny they would be roomies, which is exciting, because travel makes Amy constipated, making her the “ideal hotel roommate.” (How’s that work again?) We learned Howard uses “nap” as a euphemism for “sex,” and that Leonard reads his text messages while driving (or at least the ones from Raj asking Leonard to call Bernadette to tell her “nap” means “sex.”) We learned, as Travel Supervisor/Road Trip God, Sheldon trucks no mutiny and has no problem banishing Penny to the second car should she attempt it. And we learned Howard and Bernadette have reached the Singing “I Got You Babe” Together stage of their relationship, with Bernadette providing the adorable “da-daff, da-daff, da-daff” accompaniment during the chorus.
NEXT: Howard meets Dr. Glenn, and Big Bang goes for bedroom farce
The crew arrived at the hotel even before the first commercial break, and that’s when the plot shifted from a standard sitcom to something approaching bedroom farce. Dr. Glenn spotted Bernadette — i.e. “Bernie” — gave her his best You’re The One That Got Away look, and sent Howard into a massive shame spiral that Raj summed up succinctly by asking Howard if Dr. Glenn’s, erm, unseen appendage was proportional to his massive height. Back in their bedroom, Howard was so bothered, in fact, that he interrupted his “nap” with Bernadette to give voice to his anxieties. And while I admired Simon Helberg’s vulnerability here, since he’s Howard, giving voice to his anxieties did not go so well: “I just never figured that a guy like me going out with a girl like you would ever have to compete with a guy like that.” Melissa Rauch’s acting through all of these scenes was just superb — I especially relished the “well, no, silly” look on her face when Howard plaintively hoped that Dr. Glenn was her gay cousin.
Naturally, Bernadette abandoned the “nap” and moved over to Penny and Amy’s room, which interrupted a mightily illuminating conversation about whether Penny shared Amy’s occasional utilitarian desire for a penis. (“You can’t deny that by comparison, our internal plumbing is extremely high maintenance.”) And thus began a roundelay of bedroom swapping: Amy’s night terrors drove Penny to Leonard and Sheldon’s room. Penny and Leonard’s Star Trekian talk of bedtime neutral zones drove Sheldon to Raj’s room. And we didn’t even need to see how Sheldon drove Raj back to Leonard and Penny’s room, it was such a given. (Poor Howard; no one wanted to sleep in his room.)
These scenes were an absolute delight, and not just for farce of it all — there were some marvelous character beats throughout, and every actor made the most of them. I know she isn’t exactly a fan favorite, but I think Amy is really coming into her own, her oddball quirks deftly underplayed by Mayim Bialik, who looked like she was having more fun in this single episode than an entire season of Blossom. (Ooo! Controversial!) My jaw dropped in admiration, meanwhile, at the brilliantly dirty bait-and-switch pulled off by Kunal Nayyar in that brief solo scene in his room: He hums with excitement, hops into bed, grabs a wad of tissues, and turns on the TV…to Bridget Jones’ Diary…and immediately begins to cry. We all know what we thought those tissues were for, and Nayyar toed the line between gross and gut-busting with aplomb.
And, in two brief scenes, Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco made me really, truly care again about whether Leonard and Penny will get back together. “I know it’s kinda weird,” Penny said of them sleeping in the same room. Leonard: “True dat.” Penny: “True dat?” Leonard: “I’ve gotten a lot more street since we broke up.” And just when Penny was ready to let Leonard violate her neutral zone, in walked Raj, killing the moment.
NEXT: Most. Awkward. Science. Symposium. Panel. Ever.
The next morning, no one other than Sheldon was all that eager to regale the attendees of the IISS with a lively discussion of the Impact of Current Scientific Research on Societal Interactions. Bernadette and Howard opened with some not-so-thinly-veiled talk of “tiny organisms” that can “tear you a new one,” and spending a lot of time around “pretty massive weaponry” — prompting Amy to inquire if they were talking about women wanting penises. (And in his best moment of the night, Jim Parsons offered what by my count was a perfectly-timed quintuple take.) A mimosa-soused Raj proffered they were indeed talking about penises, Leonard groused about Raj interrupting his attempt at getting back together with Penny, Penny heckled from the audience, and you pretty much get the idea. The best moment: Howard asking Bernadette how she would feel if his ex was like Angelina Jolie, and Bernadette spitting back, “Oh, come on Howard, be realistic!” (Needless to say, it was an awkward drive home, in no small part because Penny’d hitched a ride back with Dr. Glenn.)
What did you make of “The Love Car Displacement,” fellow Big Bang theorists? What was your favorite moment from the episode? Do you feel the expanded cast of season 4 is really beginning to gel as a true ensemble? Are you worried Howard and Bernadette are dunzo yet again? Do you think Leonard and Penny will be back together by the end of the season? And am I the only one who, after Leonard explained what the neutral zone is to Penny, wondered which one of them was the Romulan Empire, and which was the Federation? This is a Big Bang Theory recap — I can’t be the only one who wondered that.
Adam on Twitter: @adambvary
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