This week’s The Big Bang Theory is tailor-made for The A.V. Club, addressing nearly every complaint about the last two seasons to deliver a standout episode of the series. Embracing the show’s foundations in geekdom, “The Closure Alternative” features the recently cancelled Alphas and Buffy The Vampire as major plot points, using the characters’ connections to these programs to shed light on their personal relationships. Sheldon wasn’t informed that the second season finale of Alphas was, in fact, the series finale, igniting his compulsive need for closure and sending him on a campaign to put Alphas back on the air. Meanwhile, Leonard tries to get Penny interested in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and the series addresses Raj’s femininity. Again: tailor-made for The A.V. Club.
Back in January, Noel Murray wrote a fantastic piece on the changing depiction of autism in popular culture, using Sheldon and Alphas’ Gary Bell as examples. It’s not a surprise that Sheldon would be enamored with a show that has a character who not only looks a bit like him but interacts with others in a similar manner. After bombarding SyFy with calls and getting no results, Sheldon is forced to seek behavioral therapy from Amy, who will put him through a series of activities to help him have a less extreme reaction when he doesn’t get closure. Less extreme than wanting to rip his face off and shred it into little pieces.
These activities include knocking “Shave and a Haircut” on a table and not finishing the sequence, erasing a game of tic-tac-toe before Sheldon can win, playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and ending on “home of the—,” and setting up a giant domino floor layout that never gets knocked over. It’s a brilliant way of making Sheldon suffer what Amy has been going through their entire relationship, concentrating two seasons of frustration into one afternoon of constant mental blue-balls. Sheldon’s frustration builds with each new task until he finally blows up at Amy: “You don’t know what it’s like to feel completely frustrated! To have a desire build up within and then be denied any opportunity for release.” She just stares before responding, “Yeah. Sounds like a drag.”
Hearing Sheldon talk about cancelled TV series makes Leonard realize that Buffy The Vampire Slayer would be the perfect show for Penny, and he brings the first season to her place in hopes of finding some sort of common ground between the two of them. After watching the first episode, Penny says she likes it, but her face and use of the word “cute” cause Leonard to doubt her interest. He’s right, and when Penny shows the episode to Bernadette later, she admits that she has no idea what the appeal is. Bernadette says that there’s action and it’s funny, and asks Penny if she understand that usually the monster chases the pretty girl, but in Buffy, the pretty girl chases the monster. It’s a great scene for Whedonites, but eventually builds to an emotional place that is relatable to anyone who has ever been in a relationship with someone whose interests don’t quite align with their own.
Penny’s issue isn’t with Buffy, but with herself. Her boyfriend is intensely passionate about a wide breadth of pop culture, and her girlfriends are passionate about their scientific careers, but Penny doesn’t have that sort of passion for anything. It’s a surprisingly mature conflict for this series, looking at the sense of stagnation that can hit people in their 20s and 30s as they fall into routines that aren’t what they dreamed for their lives. When Penny was young, she dreamed of a fabulous life as a Hollywood movie star, but the more time she spends at Cheesecake Factory, the less likely it seems like that life will ever be possible.
I worked at the Grand Lux Café in downtown Chicago for a year (owned by Cheesecake Factory) with a lot of aspiring actors, and Penny’s struggle is something I saw with a lot of my coworkers. Eventually, they left to pursue their passions, adjusted their priorities to be happy in their new situation, or wallowed in sadness over how disappointing their lives had become. Penny decides to take the middle road, accepting that she’s passionate about Leonard and has filled her life with great people, including Sheldon, so she’s going to be happy with what she has. It’s one of the first times that it genuinely seems like Penny is attracted to Leonard, and hopefully, this bodes well for their future. (Although I still don’t think a finale proposal would be believable at this point.)
The third storyline in this episode brings back Raj’s lady friend Lucy to finally address Raj’s femininity when he discovers Lucy’s blog and what she really thinks of him. After reading that her initial impression of him was that he was a bit feminine, Raj freaks out until Howard tells him that that he should use this to his advantage. Howard and Bernadette have taken on a bigger role this season, but they’re bit players in this episode and used wonderfully. Howard is a constant stream of horrible ideas, and telling Raj to change his behavior to reflect what he thinks Lucy would be interested in based on her blog ends up being just as bad as all the other ones.
Raj decides that he’s going to butch up, wearing a hockey jersey on their date and feeding Lucy pork rinds and frozen burritos, and she’s not into it at all. As she prepares to make her exit, Raj confesses that he read her blog and was trying to please her, but she tells him that she likes that he’s feminine. It’s great to see this show blatantly address that side of Raj’s character, and by owning his femininity, Raj is able to get more comfortable with his new girlfriend. Maybe he’ll even be able to talk to her without having to take a drink. That would be a great finale moment for Raj: talking to his girlfriend without drinking, and maybe even getting a kiss out of it.
The episode ends with Sheldon getting all the closure he was denied once Amy leaves, going through all the earlier activities and finishing what he started. He even goes to the effort of calling the writer of the Alphas series finale to find out what was going to happen after the cliffhanger. Sheldon’s reaction to the information? “That all stinks; no wonder you got cancelled.” While it looks like Amy’s therapy didn’t have any effect on Sheldon, she still forced him to endure hours without closure, which is probably an experience he hasn’t had to ever deal with. And if anything else, she got to give him a tiny taste of her suffering.
- This episode’s Penny storyline is basically her trying to earn her cutie mark.
- The weakest moment in this week’s episode is definitely the extended shot of Raj making out with a dog while the laugh track gets turned up to 11.
- Can you come up with a better name for a Star Wars-themed coffee shop than Brewbacca’s?
- “Firefly did a movie to wrap things up. Buffy The Vampire Slayer continued on as a comic book. Heroes gradually lowered the quality season by season, so we were grateful it ended.” Heroes ain’t dead yet!
- “If they didn’t want to be hounded by angry nerds, they shouldn’t have started the SyFy channel.”
- “I am not flying back to Texas just so my mom can give me a hug.”
- “Just a little? That’s great!”
- “We live in a world where closure isn’t always an op—”
- “Oh, Amy. And you wonder why people think neuroscience is nothing but a goofy game for diaper babies.”
- “It was like a whole other universe. If I wanted to, I could wipe it out with my thumb like a god.”