So Penny and Leonard finally got engaged, for real this time. And even though the audience hooted in approval (sometimes, the audience’s reactions are so pronounced and over-the-top, I feel like I stumbled on an episode of Married…With Children), I wasn’t as excited – mainly because of the events that led to the proposal. “The Gorilla Dissolution” has Penny look at her life with a critical eye after yet another career setback: where is she going? What is she doing? Penny’s prolonged quarter-life crisis is poignant and getting engaged on top of her mixed and confused feelings just doesn’t feel like all that wise a decision…
During filming of her god-awful movie, The Serial Apist 2, Penny tries to elevate her work. It’s hopeless because the movie’s ridiculous. The disinterested director merely is punching a clock, but this is art for Penny – after all, she wants to care about the art even if it’s a b-movie cheapie. Unfortunately, her perfectionism doesn’t go over that well with the director, and she’s summarily dismissed. It’s a sad moment, but a teaching moment – the film industry is notoriously sexist, particularly against actresses. And unlike it’s Julia Roberts or Barbra Streisand, actresses who make a fuss or talk back to the director, are seen as “difficult” and expendable and are fired. I don’t know if the writers are going to write a huge successful career for Penny (it seems unlikely), but if she’s intent on working in show biz, she’s have to understand that for a lot directors, hot blondes are solely eye candy.
So Penny got the boot on the movie that she complained about throughout the season (Wil Wheaton, her costar and friend, tries to use his nonexistent star power and leverage to keep her on, and gets fired too). Even though it sucks out loud that Penny got fired for being mouthy, it’s probably for the best. Leonard, who replaces Jim Halpert from The Office as TV’s perfect boyfriend, does his usual best to comfort his girlfriend – reminding her of her past triumphs as the face of a hemorrhoid cream, her cut role on TV, or Anne Frank in a theater above a bowling alley. Obviously none of this works and Penny does some hard thinking: should she be an actress? A couple weeks ago, I commented that the writers need to figure out just what will happen to Penny’s career. I don’t think it’s terribly realistic to have Penny become as famous as say, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, but that also means that Penny has to readjust what her definition of success means. And it looks like she’s starting to look at her life with a clear and hard eye – and the fact that she’s not as devastated as she should be about her firing makes her think that she has everything she needs to be happy: Leonard. She’s already expressed this sentiment a few episodes back when she decided that instead of fretting about the static status of her career, she should just look at what she has in her life (Leonard, Sheldon, her circle of friends), and be happy.
But in this episode when she asks Leonard to marry her, she sounds as if she’s settling. Thankfully, Leonard sees this and takes umbrage to Penny’s attitude: their relationship isn’t one of passion and fireworks – it relied on a shared respect and affection. I think at this point Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting have developed a nice, comfortable chemistry, and their shared scenes have an understated sweetness. The downside of their cozy chemistry, though, is that when they make out or have sex, it doesn’t always ring true. So, unlike the screaming studio audience, my reaction to Leonard’s proper proposal felt a bit, “meh.” And to be honest, I don’t want them to be engaged – not because I think they don’t work together, but because I think they’re better as they are. But the engagement does mean that their story could be opened up for more arcs.
For TBBT fans, the engagement is the big news of the episode, but the other plots worked well – in fact, I think the smaller stories were funnier and more engaging. In one, Howard and Bernadette are taking care of his nightmare of a mother after she’s injured by a runaway treadmill; in the other story, Raj and Sheldon are paired off and the two guys run into Raj’s girlfriend, Emily at the movies.
In the Howard/Bernadette story, the show is at its best, but at its most hackey, too. I’m so over the “Mrs. Wolowitz is a monster” joke – but at least it’s used as a tool for the more interesting issue: Howard and Bernadette discuss having children. The two initially think they’re up for taking care of his mom, but quickly the woman’s demands wear on them and they dissolve into bickering. Though this isn’t the most novel of script writing, it does ask an important question about their marriage. I never thought that the Rostankowski-Wolowitz marriage necessarily needs kids – and it looks like Bernie’s not so keen on it either (she didn’t say she doesn’t want kids, but she’s healthily wary of becoming a mom). Again, even though Jim Parsons regularly kills it on every episode, Simon Helberg has emerged as the best actor of the guys, and he does some wonderfully hilarious comic mugging.
With Raj and Sheldon, the question of love comes up when the two run into Raj’s girl at the movies. Emily and Raj are in the very early part of their relationship, so exclusivity hasn’t been discussed, yet. But that doesn’t make things easier for Raj, and he freaks out. Unfortunately, Howard’s with his mom and Leonard and Penny got their own drama to deal with, so he’s left being comforted by Sheldon, not the world’s most cuddly guy. But Sheldon gets high marks for being pretty insightful – he points out that Raj’s issue with love is inside him – he has a fear of being alone, and transfers that fear into every relationship he’s in, raising the stakes so that they’re unbelievably high. All of his dating experiences are doomed because he wants to marry each one. Of course, the writers can’t leave things be, and even though Sheldon offers some good and pointed advice, it’s undercut by a quick one-liner: “I was trying to suggest chemical castration.”
The show ends with Raj and Emily meeting up – and end up making out (maybe even having sex…she promised to show him her tattoos and he promised to show her his pierced naval). It’s important to note that Raj finally gets some when he stops acting like a weird Romeo, and instead is honest with his partner and himself. He wasn’t paralyzed by his insecurities, and instead shared them with Emily (who – surprise! – had some of the same issues he did). I like Raj when he’s not constantly being beaten up – it’s clear that the writers like writing him as the pathetic, nebbish of the group, but he deserves some dignity, even if he’s been unlucky in love.
Some random notes:
- I loved Howard’s reply to his mom: “Crushing my will to live isn’t exercise!”
- Poor Mayam Bialik – Amy had one scene, and a pretty nondescript one. I’m thinking the actress had better things to do that week. But She did set Sheldon up for a great line: “It’s called reading the room, Amy.”
- Sheldon is nervous about “bridge of nose herpes” so he brings his own 3-D glasses…
- I love when Penny is passionately gesticulating while advocating for a higher artistic sensibility for her crappy movie – and she’s wearing giant monkey paws.
- The director was a dick but he had two good digs – one at Penny: “If it was a good movie, you wouldn’t be in it” and one at Leondard: “Isn’t she too hot for you?”
- Sheldon’s an accidental racist (I guess LL Cool J and Brad Paisley had him in mind when they wrote their shitty duet) – remember when he gave Regina King’s HR Head, Janine Davis a copy of Roots to make amends after calling her a slave? Well, this time his obliviousness is directed towards Raj. Because he’s Indian, Raj has to like Chai tea, but Sheldon’s missing some cardamon, and asks his friend if he has any. “Sorry,” Raj answers, “I left them in my turban.” Not to be outdone, Sheldon serves Raj English Breakfast because, “They destroyed your culture, that’s enough…”
- Penny at the bar to Wil Wheaton: “Easy for you to say, you used to be famous.” When called out on that she answers dryly, “Alright, I’m sorry, you’re famous…”
- Finding out that while he was tending to his mother, Bernadette was out getting coffee, a mocha, no less: “A mocha? It must be nice to be queen!”