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The Big Bang Theory: “The Status Quo Combustion”

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Penny and Leonard are engaged, but what does that mean for Sheldon Cooper? There’s no reason for the engaged couple to put Sheldon’s considerations above their own, but when Sheldon freaks out over the forthcoming big changes in his life, that’s what they’re expected to do. Leonard and Penny reveal their engagement at an inopportune time, just before Sheldon learns that the university won’t allow him to change his field of study because string theory is why they hired him and what his grant was approved for, so his anger at the university is transferred over to the couple, who just want to have a stable future together.

Leonard and Penny are going to want to live together without Sheldon, and when Leonard breaks this news to his roommate, it sends Sheldon into a tailspin that ends with him fleeing his current situation by riding the rails like a hobo all summer. Sheldon goes to Amy for comfort when he finds out he’ll be homeless soon, but when Amy suggests that he move in with her, things just get worse because that’s a situation Sheldon is even less prepared for. The final straw is when Sheldon goes to Stuart’s comic shop and discovers it burned down while its owner was across the street taking a shower in the 24-hour car wash, and the series of changes causes Sheldon to have a low-grade nervous breakdown.

Sheldon tries to make everyone around him feel bad for forcing all these new developments on him, but he’s not mad about change, he’s mad about not getting what he wants. One of the things he’s mad about is not being allowed to shift his field of study; change is fine as long as he is its arbiter. Even if he recognizes a change is good for him, he will not go along with it if it is not his idea. When Amy gives him a glass of strawberry NesQuik made with syrup instead of power, he realizes that the taste is better, but is still angry because she decided to stray from routine. It’s a combination of selfishness and pride, an unwillingness to do things for the benefit of others and an inability to accept ideas that aren’t his own.

This episode emphasizes a brotherly dynamic between Leonard and Sheldon, primarily by connecting them to the same mother figure: Dr. Beverly Hofstadter. Christine Baranski video chats a scene with Johnny Galecki (assumedly during a break on The Good Wife) to show how much more she appreciates the boy who isn’t her flesh and blood, and her chilly reception to her son’s engagement is a highlight of the episode. I love Laurie Metcalf, but I’ve always preferred Leonard’s mother to Sheldon’s, likely because her character is more complex and relies less on social stereotypes. This intensely clinical woman who pushes her son away because of her work is a great mother figure for someone as desperate for affection as Leonard, and the same qualities that make her ill fit for Leonard make her an ideal fit for Sheldon.

“My mother would kill me if I let something happen to him,” Leonard says when he’s discussing whether or not he and Penny should let Sheldon leave on a midnight train to wherever and get rid of a lot of their problems. Penny says that Sheldon is a grown man who needs to learn to make decisions without people trying to protect him from the world, but Leonard reminds her that Freaky Friday proved that sometimes little kids end up in the bodies of big people because the universe is crazy like that. The prospect of getting rid of Sheldon for a while is too great to pass up, though, so Leonard lets Sheldon leave for a while, much to the dismay of Amy Farrah-Fowler.

This week’s subplots are extremely inconsequential, with Howard and Bernadette continuing their mission to find a new nurse for Mrs. Wolowitz and ultimately finding their savior in the newly unemployed Stuart. No pregnancy stuff, just some more fat jokes mixed with a unhealthy does of self-hatred thanks to Stuart. Meanwhile, Raj has nothing to do this week beyond announce that he had sex with Emily. He got laid and he wasn’t very good at it. Congratulations, Raj!


“The Status Quo Combustion” is a strong close to a season that easily ranks as one of this show’s best. The writers finally decided to address some of the major problems with character like Sheldon and Raj, and fleshed out all the couple relationships to make it a more emotional, personal season of The Big Bang Theory. Penny and Leonard clicked like they never have before, Sheldon and Amy made some very significant forward steps, and Howard and Bernadette established themselves as this show’s most hilarious pair, even if they didn’t have the most substantial material. The series is still very traditional and repetitive, but its heart has only gotten bigger with time.

Stray observations:

  • “You guys propose all the time. This never happens!”
  • “Howie, I love you. And as your wife, your mother is every bit my problem as she is yours. So… I want a divorce.”
  • Beverly: “Would it make you feel better to hear that your mother… approved of your life choices?” Leonard: “Yes, it would.” Beverly: “Well, you should work on that.”
  • “‘Atomic magnets?’”
  • “Legoland is not the solution for everything… and it’s too much of a scene since that movie came out.”
  • Penny: “You taught him well, Padawan.” Sheldon: “Good lord. Padawan’s the student, not the teacher.”