“The Precious Fragmentation”
March 8th, 2010
The opening to “The Precious Fragmentation” was like a big improv skit. A box of random nerd objects that the gang picked up at a garage sale is revealed to feature a variety of cheap gags, whether it’s Raj wiping a drawn-on penis off of an Aquaman action figure, or Leonard finding a Spock doll with a Mr. T head and suggesting that he “pities the fool who is illogical,” or Wolowitz finding an Alf doll and flashing back to his father’s abandonment. I felt like the show just put out a random box of items that these characters could potentially make jokes out of and let them go.
On the one hand, I think this speaks to the potential humour from this group of people with the right, nerd-friendly material. On the other hand, it’s kind of extraordinarily lazy, the simplest of stories that fails to offer any sort of depth or really any sort of character commentary. It is literally the story of “What happens when the gang finds a single collectible related to nerddom and all of them desire it,” pure sitcom in every form.
And to be entirely honest, I think that’s why the episode was mostly pretty darn pleasant.
At the opening of this episode, Sheldon breaks down the group as follows: he is the smart one (inarguable), Wolowitz is the funny one (Eh, on occasion), Raj is the foreigner (wish he could do more), and that leaves Leonard as the muscle (Errr…). I know that Sheldon was just making a joke, but it’s interesting that the show would draw attention to those rigid roles in an episode that really doesn’t let the characters go too far outside of them, or at least not until the end of the episode.
By leaving Penny largely out of the equation outside of a couple of scenes (which were some of the episode’s highlights), the story becomes about the dynamic between the four friends as they are faced with the discovery of the “One Ring (that was stolen from the set of The Lord of the Rings).” And they divide very evenly: Leonard, as the responsible one, wants to send it back to New Zealand, Raj wants to use it to conform to standards of fortune by purchasing a jet ski, Wolowitz wants to use it to blackmail Peter Jackson, while Sheldon wants to keep it for himself as “his precious.” For the most part, these are pretty unsurprising responses, about what we’d expect from the various characters.
And while Sheldon gets the broadest stories in the episode, including getting punched out by Penny as he tries to steal the ring for himself, this is very much a showcase for Leonard even if it doesn’t initially appear to be one. Johnny Galecki is very good at playing Leonard as someone who has no fun, someone who resists games like the “Who can hold onto the ring the longest?” battle. And so it made sense that his option was the most practical, and it made sense that he would be the first to drop out of the challenge when Penny enticed him with lingerie. Leonard has, to some degree, created a persona for himself that is “above” his other friends, his relationship with Penny somehow making him better than them. There are times, however, where this comes across as smug rather than honest, and as good as Galecki is at playing this particular character trait, the show hasn’t been using it very consistently.
I’m always an advocate for episodes with more heart to them, tapping into emotions and deeper character motivations, but I thought this episode handled Leonard quite nicely: it placed his “superiority” into perspective by having Leonard act like a jerk on purpose for a change. In past episodes, ourbursts like Leonard’s felt high and mighty, while here they were given context in the form of his efforts to keep them from discovering his decision to keep the ring for himself. It was a reminder that, even being in a relationship with Penny, Leonard is still not above the sorts of debates and discussions and discoveries that form the core of this friendship, and I thought that was a good note for the character to hit.
Yes, the episode leaned too heavily on broad humour, and could have used a bit more nuance in certain sections (like throwaway jokes about trouble driving and urinating that felt too silly), but the physical stuff was played really effectively, and there are some sitcom traditions that still play well so long as the execution is strong. Because the episode wasn’t trying to achieve anything substantial, and avoided turning against any of its characters in their caricaturized forms, I didn’t feel that sense that things could have been so much more, or that the show was ignoring questions or ideas that should be raised in this situation. From beginning to end, it was a simple sitcom story that fit the show’s universe and that, in the end, gave a character that has been somewhat underserved this season a story which got him ever-so-slightly back on track.
And while I still want the show to do more, I’d rather have episodes like these than those which fail at being something more substantial.
- Sheldon finally gives voice to the question of what Penny and Leonard do beyond having sex; I’m not sure if Adam West or Stan Lee is the worst ignorance – what say you?
- The Sheldon/Raj/Howard battle over the ring sort of died out, the humour somewhat lost: Sheldon’s Gollum dream helped redeem it a bit, but it seemed like the story really depended on the Leonard conclusion.
- Raj bringing in his lawyer cousin in order to try to wrangle jet skis didn’t entirely land, but Raj’s dependence on webcams in his life is a nice running gag.
- Found it odd that Penny would quip so lightly about just dating dumb guys from the gym in the coda: does Leonard mean that little?
- I was secretly hoping this episode was going to be a giant product placement for Precious, as the group fragments in their response to the film’s depiction of race in America – alas.