One step forward, two steps back. The new season of The Big Bang Theory began last week with the engagement of Shamy, and a promise on Sheldon’s part to start showing more interest in and respect for Amy’s thriving scientific career.
But in week two, Amy and Bernadette bond as they reveal they both have to hide or downplay their work accomplishments from their significant others. It is not a good thing, of course, that Amy doesn’t feel like she can tell Sheldon about the boxes of new equipment her Caltech department has purchased for her, or that Bernie doesn’t tell Howard her company retreat was actually in Tahiti, not Boise.
Talking about what they can’t with the menfolk at least allows Amy and Bernie the chance to root for each other, and they vow that they will continue to be each other’s cheerleaders as they continue to make important scientific advancements — and for Bernie at her pharmaceutical company job, continue to rake in gobs of cash (including a bonus check she didn’t even tell her husband about).
Yep, that is the least you can say, in a positive light, about the facts that (1) it’s true that the women aren’t celebrated by their partners, and (2) they have to go one step further and hide and lie about their good works.
But by the end of “The Retraction Reaction,” you can’t even celebrate that. Because as if it isn’t crushing enough that these women suppress their superstar accomplishments, catering repeatedly to their partners’ fragile male egos, they promptly and cartoonishly move from supportive to spiteful.
All’s swell as Amy talks about taking naps in the “million-dollar bunkbed” that is her lab’s new fMRI machine, and Bernadette jokes that the money is so free-flowing in her lab that they don’t bother washing test tubes — they simply toss them away and buy new ones. But one brag too many and suddenly the two pals aren’t patting each other on their backs anymore; they’re stabbing each other in them.
Amy: “You’re right, we both do important work. I’m trying to map the structures of the brain, and you’re trying to convince people that itchy hair is a real thing … I’m just saying that my research may actually change the world forever.”
Bernadette: “I hope it does. Because I’m gonna see that world from a yacht so big you can land a helicopter on it.”
We don’t see them make up. The last scene of the friends in the episode is the two of them sitting in Bernie’s kitchen, having sufficiently torn each other down.
Not true of the men. Plenty of attention is paid to their drama, which begins with Leonard making a fool of himself, and of his employer, when he gives a public-radio interview suggesting there’s little of value happening, or likely to happen in the near future, in the physics corner of the scientific community.
He’s charged with writing a retraction that he doesn’t believe in, lest he lose his job, and his fellow physicists feel alienated by his assessment of their works. “He publicly maligned the love of my life, Lady Physics,” Sheldon dramatically proclaims. But then, as he tries to prove Leonard wrong by compiling a list of the big issues physicists are tackling today and laying out the progress they’ve made, Sheldon comes to a conclusion that rocks his world: Leonard is right.
It leads to an indulgent self-pity party — which Howard and Raj soon join — where the fellas sit around getting Klingon-ed on bottles of Romulan Ale that Sheldon purchased at Comic-Con.
See the difference? Leonard does something that is unprofessional, at best, and undermining of his own and others’ careers (and his employer’s ability to raise research funds) at worst, but his group of friends not only forgives him, but commiserates with him by getting sloshed on bright blue alcohol and taking him on a road trip to visit the grave of one of their heroes, Richard Feynman. There, they remind each other of all the great things the theoretical physicist achieved in his life, and they are inspired anew to return to the important work they are pursuing.
Amy and Bernadette: self-motivated, hard-working, enthusiastic, and rewarded for their work with all the markers of success in their respective workplaces, yet too afraid to share the full extent of their victories with the men in their lives, and too jealous to be able to share them with each other.
If two rather socially backward brainiacs can move their relationship forward to the point of an engagement, why can’t The Big Bang Theory writers make it so that two brilliant scientific women can not only demand the recognition they deserve from their loved ones, but can genuinely celebrate it for each other?
It’s one small step forward for the men. How about taking a giant leap forward for womankind, and not defaulting to a catfight for a cheap laugh?
• Amy: “The university’s been throwing money at my study. With any luck, there’ll be a brain disease with my name on it.”
Bernadette: “Fingers crossed.”
Amy: “Which is ironic, because if you had Fowler’s Palsy, you wouldn’t be able to cross your fingers.”
• Amy, telling Bernie about Sheldon’s snotty comment about her work: “He said, ‘I hope all your correlations turn out to be specious.’”
Bernie: “He said that to your face?!”