“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.
- 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.]