I have to say that despite not immensely enjoying really any episode of The Big Bang Theory so far this season, I have been admiring its long game. For a show that’s always been about immediate conflict and payoff, it’s been handling the breakup (and eventual reunion) of Sheldon and Amy with remarkable patience. The episode-to-episode issues remain intact tonight, as every storyline outside of the Amy and Sheldon A-plot feels like filler, and unfunny filler at that. Again though, as has happened many times this season, the quietly touching and contemplative story of Sheldon and Amy’s romance provides a welcome bit of humanity to an otherwise uninspired episode.

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Things do get off to a rocky start though, as Sheldon is awake in the middle of the night because he has a song stuck in his head. It’s completely messed with his schedule and, because this is Sheldon, nothing can go back to normal—Sheldon normal, at least—until he figures out what the song is. As bad as the setup is, which not only employs a device that sees Sheldon talking to his future “crazy” self, but also includes a joke about wetting the bed—seriously, what’s with all the body fluid-type jokes this week?—the eventual payoff works because it’s built upon weeks of character work. Yes, that’s a sentence I just typed about The Big Bang Theory.

Before the big payoff though, Sheldon painstakingly hums the melody of the song over and over again, and in increasingly irritating fashion. First it’s a few hums. Then he’s trying out different song lyrics to see if they fit with the melody. Then he’s doing it while he’s eating. Then he’s playing it on a keyboard in the middle of the night before Penny wrestles is from him and he switches to a tuba. It’s a solid running gag that made me laugh more than a few times. There’s something charming and funny about Sheldon’s mix of dedication to figuring out what song it is, and his complete lack of awareness of how his escalating search may be affecting those around him.

If you’re looking for an example of a gag that doesn’t pay off properly though, it’s in Raj and Howard’s B-plot. The Big Bang Theory has really struggled with the Raj and Howard stories ever since Howard married Bernadette. Something was lost when they finally made it official, which is a shame, because the shift in the group dynamics, especially amongst the creepily tight-knit Raj and Howard, offers a chance to explore something new and different. Instead, the show seems to be content to continue to hit the same notes, namely that Raj and Howard are too close to one another, and that Bernadette puts up with it. In some darker timeline Bernadette has the bodies of Raj and Howard in a freezer in the basement of the house, but here she’s just a passive bit player in the continuing childish exploits of Raj and Howard.

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The problem with their story is that it’s all built on one horrible punchline. When Raj and Howard get a “Like” on their band’s Facebook page, they go to increasingly creepier levels to learn more about their fan before deciding to go watch him at a coffee shop where he recently checked in. The entire build leads towards that final moment where Raj and Howard realize their one fan is not who they thought he would be. We see it coming, and that’s part of what makes it fun. But then the payoff happens, and it’s Raj and Howard seeing the man picking his nose in the coffee shop and then abruptly leaving before he can talk to them. The issue isn’t just that it’s ridiculously juvenile, but that it doesn’t even really seem like a joke. Shouldn’t there be more to the punchline, something more fun or inventive about the reveal? I mean, the show has the possibility to go in so many directions with Raj and Howard eventually seeing and interacting with their one fan in the flesh, and they decide to go with “heh, boogers.” Not great, Bob.

Anyways, back to the good stuff. After having a casual conversation that leads him to remember that the song in his head is “Darlin’” by the Beach Boys, Sheldon tries to figure out how a song by a band he hates—“they have ‘beach’ right in their name”—could possibly get stuck in his head. That’s when he realizes that the lyrics are about Amy. Or rather, that’s how he puts it. What he means is that he’s suffered a loss and found art that made that pain, and the joy that preceded it, understandable. He finds art that speaks to him on a deeper level. That’s a big moment for Sheldon. For so often, and for a chunk of this season in particular, Sheldon’s pop culture choices have always spoken to his general feeling of being an outsider. With everything that’s happened between him and Amy, he’s no longer so closed off. Now he’s felt love and loss and found those feelings reflected in a pop song.

After figuring out that Amy has “softened his life,” making her the “dryer sheets of his heart,” he heads straight over to her apartment, interrupts her horrendous date with Dave, declares his love for her with a real “I love you,” and plants a kiss. I could have done without Dave there to jump in with unnecessary and contrived jokes, but the tender moment is ultimately unspoiled. With Sheldon and Amy’s rekindled romance, The Big Bang Theory played the long game, and this week’s episode is, at least in part, the reward.

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Stray observations

  • Burn every future Footprints on the Moon storyline to the ground.
  • Amy only has one reply to Bernadette pointing out that Dave only talked about Sheldon on their last date: “That’s nothing Sheldon hasn’t done before.”
  • This show really has no idea what to do with Bernadette anymore, huh?
  • Raj on the vintage trend: “Old broken things are better than new things that work.”
  • “I don’t have to take a pigeon as my bride!”

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