The Big Bang Theory – “The Large Hadron Collision”

“The Large Hadron Collision”

February 8th, 2010

Generally speaking, I consider myself a “Sheldon’s Advocate.” While the show often suggests that Sheldon is acting selfishly, that his ignorance to social norms is sometimes replaced by a cruel elision of interests other than his own, I tend to give Sheldon the benefit of the doubt, taking his side in those situations because the show so often pits the other characters against him without any logical reason beyond it being funny when they make fun of him.

However, I don’t want it to seem like I believe Sheldon is entirely without fault, or that only episodes which paint Sheldon in a positive light are enjoyable. I thought “The Large Hadron Collision” was a solid episode, one which had Sheldon at his most selfish but seemed like it used that to its advantage, with Sheldon making arguments which hinged on his ignorance to the influence that having a girlfriend would have on Leonard’s decision. It isn’t a complex depiction of the character, perhaps, but it’s a consistent one, and the resolution to the story was clever enough that even without Sheldon having a redemptive moment it felt true to the character.

And in the end, that’s all I ask for, other than a quick death to Bazinga.

There’s a conversation between Howard and Raj that’s really important to the episode as a whole, although those characters ended up in what wasn’t even actually a plot by the time the episode ended. Raj makes some sort of comment about Valentine’s Day without a girlfriend not being that much worse than Valentine’s Day with one, but Howard corrects him: now that he’s experienced it, Raj couldn’t be more wrong. Raj is a character who hates Howard’s relationship because he understands it all too well, and wants to have the same experience himself. Sheldon, meanwhile, hates Leonard’s relationship because he doesn’t understand it at all, and because it gets in the way of the values of friendship that he believes are most important.

In Sheldon’s mind, friendship is (like everything else in his life) something organized and structured, which is why it makes sense that his arguments are scientific and factual (as he pulls out the Roommate Agreement) rather than emotional in nature. Yes, some part of Sheldon probably really desires to go to Switzerland, but he doesn’t couch his words in those terms, choosing instead for the reasons why it is more logical for Sheldon to go considering his interest in the scientific research that is actually the purpose of the trip in the first place. For Leonard, however, the trip is a perfect excuse for a big Valentine’s surprise for Penny, which is something that Sheldon might understand as a social convention abstracted from his own situation, but something which he continues too shamelessly trite to possibly stand in the way of the logic of a fellow subatomic particle enthusiast going on the trip.

I think the story got a bit repetitive in the middle, especially since I don’t entirely understand why Sheldon didn’t propose that Leonard take Penny with him to Switzerland, but Sheldon would fly with them in order to visit the Collider (which, after all, Penny would have no interest in). We’ve seen in the past that money appears to be no object for Sheldon, so why (other than in order for there to be conflict) didn’t Sheldon offer that logical alternative while trying to convince Leonard? I don’t think the show pushed it too far, per se, but I do think that Sheldon’s stubbornness seemed a bit one-dimensional, his refusal to adapt at all to Leonard’s logic seeming a bit too unintelligent for someone of Sheldon’s, well, intelligence. That he would bargain with Penny makes sense, and that he would make a logical but offensively presented argument with her was nicely realistically mean rather than over the top, but I feel as if Sheldon’s complete unwillingness to bargain felt like it existed only to extend the story long enough to reach its conclusion.

I really liked the conclusion, though, in that things came together in a way that was both fitting (in that Sheldon gets too sick to go on the trip, even when he would have been Leonard’s choice) and funny (Sheldon’s realization that it was his hug with Penny caused his illness), plus it managed to result in a really satisfying coda with Raj, the friend who desired a romantic Valentine’s Day but wasn’t going to achieve one, gets to have the romantic hotel suite with Leonard. It was an ending that, even if it meant ignoring some logical directions the story could have taken, made it all feel worth it, tying things together in a way that makes Sheldon’s behaviour within the story feel like an arc rather than a series of behaviours convenient for the sake of the episode’s plot. It might not end up ever being spoken of again, as is the show’s tradition, but as a standalone piece of comedy it delivered a satisfying story, and we can’t expect it to do too much more than that.

Perhaps I like the show better when Sheldon is somewhat more likeable, but I do think that episodes where Sheldon’s idiosyncracies become weaponized have comic potential, and “The Large Hadron Collision” is demonstrative of those types of stories. The show might not be aiming quite as high with episodes like this one, but they’re probably more likely to hit the mark then with stories where Sheldon’s behaviour becomes less predictable and where the show bungles the nuance therein.

Cultural Observations

  • Had a discussion about the show at an English Conference over the weekend, where someone argued that it wasn’t very literary – I proceeded to go on an extended discussion about the show to try to prove her wrong, but I think she felt I was overthinking it. Also, bad news for the Paradox folks: she literally cringed when I informed her of their existence.
  • I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see Bernadette here: I’ve come to quite enjoy the character, and would have been fine with Howard getting a B-Plot if it meant more time with her.
  • I’m disappointed that there wasn’t a “Disney World doesn’t have a Matterhorn” joke in there – it was the first thing that came to my mind, and felt nerdy enough for the show to engage in.
  • I’m usually a fan of the nerd references, but some of them feel pretty inorganic: Sheldon’s reference of both Firefly and Babylon 5 in the same episode seems a bit forced, for example, even if the Murdoch bit was clever (and fit into the idea of who Sheldon would consider a traitor). I’m sure it had the Whedon fans in a tizzy (Twitter confirms), so it achieved what the writers were probably going for, but I kind of prefer geek references that I don’t entirely relate with – there’s something funnier, and more effective, when Sheldon’s references are something no one would get, rather than something that myself and a lot of people I interact with online could completely relate to. I’m aware this is strange, but it’s just an observation – I wouldn’t expect many others to feel the same way.
  • Enjoyed Sheldon adapting Apres Ski to Apres Hadron Collider – clever.
  • Okay, why did Sheldon place 30 pieces of silverware on a tray for Leonard? Is there some sort of joke there that I’m missing? [As noted below, there was – turns out it was Judas’ price for betraying Jesus, tying into their Traitors game. Fitting, considering Sheldon’s highly religious upbringing – I approve.]
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19 Comments

Filed under The Big Bang Theory

19 responses to “The Big Bang Theory – “The Large Hadron Collision”

  1. mrsvc_sp

    I hope that last question isn’t sarcasm because I’m about to take it seriously. (For future reference, I require a sign :D)

    Judas Iscariot was given 30 pieces of silver as his reward for betraying Jesus to the Romans.

    • It was totally serious, and thank you – that’s what I get for never reading the Bible. Between that and being a non-drinker, I’ll never be able to be a successful Jeopardy contestant.

      Thanks, kind citizen!

      • mrsvc_sp

        You’re welcome. Sarcasm doesn’t translate very well over the Internet so I always like to preface my answers. My complete lack of knowledge on the sociopolticial world after Kennedy is what shall always waylay my Jeopardy! Dreams.

  2. lisa

    30 pieces of silverware = 30 pieces of silver (aka Judas’ price for betraying Jesus)

  3. Lisa

    Another insightful review as always, Myles.

    And I don’t think you have to worry about Paradox. One person’s cringe is something we’re used to and it’s hardly going to stop us. ;)

    I agree about Bernadette! I really love her character and am always wanting more. I did love that even though she wasn’t present, she did not participate in the “you hang up first” game with Howard. That was SO in character for her.

  4. takineko

    You’re so right. I agree with everything said here. I like him better when he’s in a good mood, but this episode did angry Sheldon pretty well. I do however feel just a little cold at how unattached he can get toward his supposed best friends, but I can see how someone as socially inept as Sheldon would seem even more detached when feeling angry and selfish.

    “Okay, why did Sheldon place 30 pieces of silverware on a tray for Leonard? Is there some sort of joke there that I’m missing?”

    I’m surprised you didn’t catch the biblical reference. I’m even more surprised that Sheldon did. He has a Christian mother [well from her own perspective at least], but he often seems pretty dense where scripture is concerned. “I don’t think this is the type of thing Jesus concerns himself with… No you’re right I don’t really know what Jesus thinks about.”

    • I’m not a Christian and I’ve never read the Bible, but I caught the 30 pieces of silver reference. So it’s not unheard of that Sheldon might have too.

      Maybe he’s just seen Jesus Christ Superstar. ;)

      • lisa

        Other Lisa, I like the way you think!

        The 30 pieces reference seems pretty solidly cultural and not solely Christian at this point (certain reviewers notwithstanding ;), plus the line quoted above about “not knowing what Jesus thinks” strikes me as be geared more toward a Mary Cooper chastisement about the inscrutability of the deity than any lack of knowledge on Sheldon’s part.

        Even with the sometimes uneven characterization, I can’t imagine he escaped childhood without a detailed understanding of Scripture, especially given his knowledge of other religion’s principles as well.

        • Well, I like the way YOU think lowercase-Lisa. ;)

          I definitely agree with your assessment. Also, from a historical standpoint, a lot of people still find interest in the Bible. Even in a secular academic world, you cannot avoid it entirely. We read three different versions of the Joseph story from three different cultures in a World Literature class at my university. And it was useful for me to have a working knowledge of the history of Christianity or general Bible knowledge to participate in a lot of class discussions, whether it was Gender Studies, Anthropology or Sociology. (And like I said, I’ve never read the Bible.)

          So I imagine Sheldon, the academic that he is, may not care for the spiritual aspects of Christianity, but would still have a knowledge of it.

  5. James

    I also really enjoy Bernadette and what that’s meant for Howard. I’m even more looking forward to her character and their relationship changing how the show treats Raj. This would be the perfect way to give him an extended emotional story arc which leaves him better off and hopefully without that crippling talking-to-women problem.

  6. The throat singing was hilarious. The rest of the episode wasn’t great.

  7. kofykat

    this was one of my least favourite episodes….. and coming from India, i really didn’t understand the 30 pieces of silverware (which is why i googled it and landed here)

  8. Bazinga Punk

    As soon as I read “…a quick death to bazinga” I stopped reading and thought “Ok, this guy’s just insane, never mind.”

  9. Geoff

    If Sheldon were to fly to Switzerland just to see the Collider with Leonard, it’ll be a bit awkward. Where will he go before that? Where will he go after? Flying to Switzerland, one might want to go for a bit of sightseeing too.

  10. Bosko

    Just saw this episode on reruns and generally enjoyed it. I was looking up the 30pieces of liver ware and landed here also. I was fairly certain that it ws a religious context and had speculated that perhaps here were 30 pieces of silverware in Michaelanglos Lasr Supper.

    • Bazinga Punk

      Comedy Central, am I correct? I watched it as well. 30 pieces of silver was the reward given to Judas for betraying Jesus the day after the one portrayed in the famous Da Vinci painting “The Last Supper” shortly before his suicide mentioned during the car scene during the game Traitors.

  11. wade

    Leanard betrayed sheldon. Judas betrayed jesus for 30 pieces of silver, so comes from that

  12. Rich

    The episode was generally funny until the ending which sadly continued the “Is Raj gay or not” (which as a continuing story line never was nor will be humorous but rather quite annoying).

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