The Big Bang Theory Recap: It’s a Gas, Gas, Gas

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Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS
The Big Bang Theory
Episode Title
The Helium Insufficiency
Season
9
Episode
6
Editor’s Rating
4/5

About the subplot: While it led to a very interesting reveal at the end, it was also sufficiently bland to almost drag those four stars down to a three. Amy, at the behest of pals Penny and Bernadette, agrees to peruse the selection of bachelors looking for love on a dating app — one recommended by Stuart — to help her further move on after her breakup with Sheldon.

The app’s apparently stocked with a wealth of suitors who don’t meet the exacting standards of Penny and Bernadette, and Raj and Howard, who later join in, as Amy’s friends take her phone and begin doling out thumbs-ups and mostly thumbs-downs to her potential love matches. It’s all very high school, not terribly funny, and more than a little mean, but while in possession of Amy’s phone, the group sees a text message she receives from a man who wants a second date with her. Whuuut? When did the first date happen, her friends want to know, and we learn that Amy has already begun rebounding, with Text Guy (name: Dave) making fella number three on her postSheldon dance card.

A little sad? Yup, and not just because it wasn’t a fun B-story. Amy is moving on, however unhappy she appears to be about it, and there are still no signs that Sheldon is ready to remove his neurocranium from his gluteus maximus and make a genuine effort to show her the affection, appreciation, and respect she deserves.

Sheldon is up for some hijinks with Leonard, and that makes for an A-story that’s a delight. Like Raj and Howard’s adventure with their Filk band — Footprints on the Moon — from “The 2003 Approximation” earlier in season nine, Sheldon and Leonard’s search for some much-needed helium is a welcome throwback to the core relationships that have earned TBBT a loyal fan base for nine seasons.

The need for the gas comes as Sheldon finds out some rival scientists in Sweden have read the paper he and Leonard co-authored, the one about their superfluid-vortex experiment, and the Swedes are looking to prove the experiment first. With a global helium shortage afoot, the university’s supply is low, and that weasel Barry Kripke is bogarting what little is available.

Raj suggests buying some at Party City, until Leonard points out they’d have to make a run on every store in California. Howard then says he’s got a helium guy, which is how Sheldon and Leonard end up agreeing to use some of their grant money to purchase helium from a guy in a van they meet up with in a parking lot.

Oh, but that guy. Not since Billy Bob Thornton played hilariously creepy Dr. Lorvis in season eight’s “The Misinterpretation Agitation” has a guest star been as welcome an addition as Michael Rapaport, the aforementioned black-market helium dealer who turns out to be a surprisingly adept foil for semantics-loving Sheldon.

Sheldon and Leonard meet Kenneth Fitzgerald (Rapaport) when they park across from his “nondescript white-paneled” van. “You may be familiar with it from the sentence, ‘Their bodies were found in a nondescript white van,’” he tells Leonard. They have an envelope full of cash ready to hand over, but Sheldon — or “Skippy Cavanagh,” as he introduces himself — feels the need to apply everything he learned from watching 1970s television crime dramas to facilitate the exchange. How does he know Kenneth won’t take the cash and dash before handing over the helium? Kenneth counters that Sheldon and Leonard could take the helium and flee without ponying up payment.

“I guess I’m not the only one who watches 70s television crime dramas,” Sheldon says. Kenneth points out they appear to be at a stalemate.

“Not technically,” Sheldon says. “In chess, a stalemate refers to a situation in which there are no remaining moves. You have plenty of moves available. You could beat us up and steal the money, you could kill us … really, you’re only limited by your imagination.”

Kenneth, revealing he’s maybe a dangerous liquid-helium dealer and a lover of words himself: “Huh. All these years I’ve been using ‘stalemate,’ when I really mean ‘impasse.’ I feel foolish.”

Leonard: “I don’t think it matters if this is a stalemate, or an impasse, or a Mexican standoff. What are we gonna do here?”

Kenneth: “Whoa, how can it be a Mexican standoff? Everybody knows you need three sides for that.”

Negotiations continue until everyone agrees to make the exchange of money envelope for giant helium tank, and Sheldon and Leonard are off with their ill-gotten booty. That weighs on them, the ethics of the situation (as well as the potential of getting busted), and they contact Kenneth about returning their purchase, as if it were a set of Star Wars sheets bought from Pottery Barn (see: season two’s “The Euclid Alternative”).

He holds their money hostage, and demands another $1,000 to accept the return, while Sheldon and Leonard go back to the Caltech lab. “Well, the Swedes might beat us, but at least we won’t get gang-noogied in prison,” Sheldon says.

Leonard: “Is Ernest Goes to Jail the only prison movie you’ve seen?”

Kripke stops by with an offer to share his helium, with one caveat for “Cavanagh”: He and Leonard must agree to add Kripke’s name to their paper.

Which is how Sheldon and Leonard end up back at the parking garage again, passing off another envelope of money to Kenneth, who accompanies his new pals back to their apartment. Where they all watch Ernest Goes to Jail together, and, with help from a Wikipedia entry, prove Kenneth was right about the need for three parties to qualify as a Mexican standoff.

“How can you trust Wikipedia if they use ‘between’ to refer to three parties?” Sheldon wonders.

Kenneth: “They shoulda used ‘among,’ right?”

THEOR-EMS:

  • It’s true: As Sheldon mentions, the Federal Helium Reserve is located in Amarillo, Texas, just ten miles from the Cadillac Ranch.
  • Sheldon’s alter ego, Skippy Cavanagh, isn’t a scientist. He’s “a wedding planner who can’t find love himself.” Apparently Sheldon has not only watched too many 1970s television crime dramas, but too many J.Lo rom-coms.
  • Sheldon, shocked about Kenneth’s “helium restocking fee”: “You’re taking advantage of us? We clarified nomenclature together.” Kenneth: “I enjoy semantics digressions as much as the next guy, but this is business.”
  • What Sheldon considers a compliment, issued to Leonard: “Your face is pleasingly symmetrical.” What Sheldon really thinks of Leonard’s face, as he relays while waving his hands around it: “This here is more like a Picasso painting.”
  • Sheldon: “Leonard, if that Swedish team beats us, I will never be able to enjoy anything from their country again. Which is a shame, because Swedish meatballs are my favorite toothpick-delivered meatball.”
  • Spoiler alert: Amy’s Dave will pop up in at least one more episode, where he’ll be played by Hello Ladies star Stephen Merchant.