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The Big Bang Theory Series Finale Recap: The Noble Nobel Speech

The Big Bang Theory

The Change Constant; The Stockholm Syndrome
Season 12 Episodes 23 and 24
Editor’s Rating *****

The Big Bang Theory

The Change Constant; The Stockholm Syndrome
Season 12 Episodes 23 and 24
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Michael Yarish/CBS/Warner Bros.

Yes, yes, yes, Sheldon and Amy won the Nobel Prize for their super-asymmetry work, which means that story line that sometimes stretched our patience throughout the final season paid off in as grand a way as it could. Congratulations, Shamy.

But the real point of The Big Bang Theory’s two-part series finale, and last week’s episode, and the whole series for that matter, is that this group of friends who’ve become, as Sheldon sweetly said during his Nobel acceptance speech, family, has grown and evolved in ways big and small across 12 seasons.

That’s what you hope any set of characters does throughout a series, especially one that runs for this long, but it’s especially poignant that this group did because they were each not-so-socially-adept on their own in the beginning. And in the earliest days, not so much as a group, either.

Sheldon, of course, was the most socially challenged of them all, unable to read the most blatant examples of sarcasm, and even more unable to behave gracefully in interactions with other humans that involved anything other than something science-related. Even then, Sheldon, who once bragged to Penny that he had a “working knowledge of the entire universe and everything it contains” simply didn’t know how to talk to people. He knew even less about how to listen to them, connect with them, and empathize with them.

In the second half of the series finale, after he has yet again failed to step outside himself — something that, to be fair, his relationship and subsequent marriage to Amy has helped along slowly but surely — to recognize the important life events of those around him, Sheldon’s friends have had it with him. Howard and Bernadette have left their children alone with Stuart and Denise so they can accompany Sheldon and Amy to Sweden to see them accept their Nobel. Penny and Leonard have put their own life-changing news on hold — Penny’s pregnant! — so as not to steal the Nobel thunder, and on the flight to Sweden, Penny’s spending a lot of time in the bathroom. Sheldon thinks she’s gotten some sort of bug, which may get him and his fellow Nobel winners sick. He panics. When Leonard and Penny decide to tell him the truth to calm him down, he’s calmed, but fails to offer so much as a “congrats” before heading back to his seat.

It’s all about him, and even when a very hurt Leonard confronts him about his lack of excitement for his friends, Sheldon’s first reaction is to question if it’s even good news. After all, he says, Penny didn’t want to have children.

Admittedly, I was sorta wondering how this became good news all of a sudden, too, since as recently as earlier this season, Penny most definitely did not want children, and it was a prickly point of her relationship with Leonard. Still, bringing this up right after a very selfish reaction to the pregnancy news was not the act of a best friend. By the time the three couples — and Raj — make it to their swanky hotel in Sweden, Penny and Leonard want to hop on the next plane back to California. So do Howard and Bernie, whose news of some potential drama with their kids is also met with a selfish reaction by Sheldon. As he and Amy are donning their best duds (opera gown and tiara for her, tux with tails for him) for the Nobel ceremony, Amy tells him he has broken their friends’ hearts with his callous behavior.

“I didn’t mean to,” he says, genuinely taken aback at this news.

“I know!” Amy says. “You never mean to. It’s the only reason people tolerate you.”

Sheldon: “Does that include you?”

Amy: “Sometimes, yeah.”

This harsh truth bomb on what is the happiest day of his professional life (a day, Young Sheldon viewers learn in that show’s season-two finale, that was forecast by his scientist friend and mentor Dr. Sturgis) breaks Sheldon’s heart because he recognizes that it’s true. It’s why he puts aside the dozens of pages of a Nobel acceptance speech he’d labored over to share some pithy sentiments about how the accomplishment was not solely his own, but something that came as he was “encouraged, sustained,  inspired, and tolerated” by his wife, and “the greatest group of friends anyone ever had.” He not only name-checks his friends, who decided to stay and celebrate his and Amy’s honor, but he also asks each of them to stand as he acknowledges and thanks them.

It’s a satisfying moment for the whole gang, and it leads to a final scene in which all the friends, back in what is now Leonard, Penny, and Hofstadter-Baby-to-Be’s apartment, are sitting around the living room, eating takeout dinner and laughing together, as an acoustic version of the series’s theme song is sung by the Barenaked Ladies.

It’s a tidy and fitting ending to the core group’s — and the series’s — emotional arc, but it’s surrounded by a bunch of little grace notes that made The Big Bang Theory’s final send-off a satisfying one. So let’s take a quick sprint through some of the other high points of the last three episodes, bullet-point style:

• Kevin Sussman’s Stuart has been reliably hilarious, with some of the best delivered lines of the series, but hasn’t gotten a lot of wins as a character since he joined the show as the owner of the local comic-book shop in season two. But it was a nice send-off in last week’s “The Maternal Conclusion” when he and girlfriend/fellow comic-book nerd Denise decided to move in together.

• Amy’s stylish makeover is a great final evolution for that character. She saw herself as dowdy in photos that popped up online after the publicity following the Nobel announcement, and when Raj found her crying in the bathroom at work, he encouraged her to spend some of her Nobel winnings on herself. A lovely haircut and some flattering new threads seemed to give her an extra bit of confidence, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Amy had been established as a respected, accomplished scientist even before the Nobel win. If the makeover gave her just that much more pride, you go, Amy Farrah Fowler Cooper.

• Also in “The Maternal Conclusion,” Leonard confronts his mother, Beverly (the always great Christine Baranski), about how he’s felt ignored by her his whole life, but then decides he’s going to forgive her instead, and accept her for who she is. She’s so touched by his honesty and his forgiveness that she embraces him, hinting at the possibility of a new closeness in their relationship.

• The apartment building’s elevator was repaired! And as the gang prepared to leave for the airport to go to Sweden, they tried to cram all their luggage and themselves into it. It apparently didn’t occur to the geniuses to make two trips … instead, they filled the elevator with their bags and took themselves down the stairs.

• Though Raj’s relationship with Anu grew on me, it never felt like they were super compatible or truly in love, so his bromantic moment with Howard — when Howie told him he shouldn’t move to London and propose to Anu just because she was moving there for work, that there was a better match waiting for him — was a satisfying end to the Anu story line and a satisfying moment for the best friends.

On the other hand, of all the main characters, Raj got the least satisfying send-off, mainly because he didn’t really get one at all. Sure, it’s fun that he met Sarah Michelle Gellar on the plane ride to Sweden, and that he got to take Buffy as his not-date to the Nobel ceremony, but it’s sad that his character’s big ending is that he’s going to continue being the seventh wheel to the three married couples. It doesn’t come as a total surprise; a few years ago, producer Steve Molaro said in an interview that Raj might not find his true love. Every group of friends has one, Molaro said, that guy that never settles down, even if he might really want to. Perhaps, but if nothing else, at least it’s an excuse for a reunion a few years down the prime-time road.

Theor-ems

• Big ups to the elevator being repaired, but two things I was also hoping for a resolution to: Penny’s maiden name (I’m just going to assume it’s “Lane”), and the introduction of Howard’s father. It would have made for a great guest-star casting if nothing else. Ditto Bernadette’s mom.

• Not to get too nitpicky, because both Leonard and Penny did seem happy about her pregnancy, but this development felt a little out of left field. Again, she was still pretty conflicted about motherhood in the middle of season 12.

• One more shout-out to the Young Sheldon season finale, which put an extra little touch of sweetness on the mother ship’s series finale. In the episode, Sheldon plans a listening party for the Nobel Prize ceremony on the radio, and is crushed that none of his schoolmates show up to share his excitement. As he sits in his garage, in which he’s lined up boxes of cereal and bowls and milk for the soiree, he worries he’s always going to be alone, and alone in his appreciation of such things. But then, as Diana Ross & the Supremes’ “Someday We’ll Be Together” plays, a montage shows young Leonard, young Howard, young Raj, young Bernadette, young Penny, and young Amy, promising what we already know, that he won’t.

The Big Bang Theory Finale Recap: The Noble Nobel Speech