The Big Bang Theory "The Closet Reconfiguration" Review: The Purloined Letter

By MaryAnn Sleasman

Mar 15, 2013

The Big Bang Theory S06E19: "The Closet Reconfiguration"


When I first saw the title for this episode, I was worried that it was going to be one long Raj-is-gay joke, which would have been horrible because that's not that funny of a joke. As a whole, “The Closet Reconfiguration” wasn’t that funny of an episode, but not because the jokes fell flat or because the The Big Bang Theory’s stereotypes were showing (again). Nor did the more solemn tone detract from the enjoyability of the episode. The Big Bang Theory has worked hard this season to evolve its characters and in some of them, most noticeably Sheldon, we’ve seen more growth across this season than over the course of the entire series. 

Howard, though, has seemed to stagnate after returning from space. In six seasons, we’ve seen him go from creepy-mama’s-boy to less-creepy-mama’s-boy-with-an-actual-flesh-and-blood-wife (I feel like this is an important distinction to make when talking about the fact that Howard actually managed to get the same woman to repeatedly have sex with him and even enter a legal arrangement with him.) He went to space and even though he was a giant wuss the entire time, he still did it and now and forever he gets to put “astronaut” on his resume, which is awesome. But since returning to Earth, Howard has mostly hung out in the background, popping in from time to time with some pervy dialogue—which is fine. Even Leonard reflected last night that it's weird how, out of all of them, Howard Wolowitz is the “adult,” but there’s no reason that the others can’t join him. 


The Big Bang Theory resumed Howard’s character development when Sheldon was tasked with organizing the Rostenkowski-Wolowitz closet and stumbled upon an unopened letter from Howard’s father. Of course Sheldon totally had to open it so that he'd know where to file it—much to Howard’s horror, since he'd been defiantly holding on to the message for years without bothering to learn the contents. As far as he was concerned, if it was some heartfelt apology about abandoning his wife and son, Howard didn’t want to give his father the blessing of an apology. If was something else, Howard didn’t need it. He even burned the letter in a move that I was half expecting to be followed up by a sudden change of heart and frantic dousing of the correspondance in the sink and another twenty minutes of screentime devoted to agonizing over whether or not to read it. 

What we got was much better, including the vertically challenged Bernadette and Howard working together to put the smoke alarm out on the too-high ceiling. (Been there!) But for all the great Howard moments in “The Closet Reconfiguration,” in the end, the unknown contents of Howard’s father’s letter said more about Howard’s friends than it did about Howard’s missing father, or Howard himself. Howard decided a long time ago not to agonize over his father’s abandonment or give the man opportunity to hurt him and his mother again, and even when faced with the opportunity to perhaps resolve things once and for all, Howard stuck to his own beliefs. He'd already resolved things on his terms. He didn’t want to know what was in the letter. Really.

But before the letter was torched, the fact remained that Sheldon had read it, and unlike a letter hidden away in the back of a closet, Sheldon Cooper can be made to talk. The contents of the message quickly spread and when Bernadette admitted that everyone knew what it said, Howard was, understandably, rather unhappy. 

And this is where “The Closet Reconfiguration” got downright masterful in its storytelling, because it wasn’t enough to show us how much Howard really, truly didn’t want to know the exact contents of his father’s letter. The writers had to convince us, too, that he'd made the right decision, or at least an okay decision, in refusing to know the truth... which they did by telling us the truth. Also science, because this is The Big Bang Theory after all. 

The principle of quantum superposition holds that systems exist partially in all of their possible states at all times, even though they typically only present as one state at a time. Sheldon determined, therefore, that if everyone told Howard a version of what the letter said, Howard could theoretically know the truth without actually experiencing it. He wouldn’t have to know exactly what the letter said, but he could know what it might possibly have said. 


The answers were as varied as Howard’s friends and some of them seemed to say more about the individual who thought up the scenario than offer any concrete clues as to what the letter from Howard’s father might have said. Raj gave a weirdly detailed account of a Far Side birthday card. Sheldon recited the plot from The Goonies while Amy said that Howard’s father had been in the audience at his high school graduation even though Howard hadn’t seen him. Penny implied that Howard’s dad had a secret life and left to keep his family safe. Leonard said that it was a message imploring Howard not to throw family away like his father did. And Bernadette said that it was a photograph of Howard and his father on the day he was born with a loving message written on the back. 


Howard could have easily listened to each account and then asked which one was actually true, but instead, he stuck to his conviction, though he was certainly a little less angry about it  after listening to his friends. With the knowledge that one of the messages was true, Howard chose to believe that they were all true and by the end of this episode, even though I was initially as eager as Bernadette and the others to get to the “real” story, I was okay with Howard’s decision, too.


What did you think of “The Closet Reconfiguration”?



THE STRAY OBSERVATION ADDENDUM

– One-liner of the night, “My shirt is itchy and I want to die.” —Sheldon. Also his discovery of Penny’s probably-a-vibrator. 

 I loved the shoe organizer used to hold Howard’s belt buckles. That’s a lot of belt buckles. 

 “If you’d let me pierce your brain with a hot needle in the right place, you’d be happy all the time.” Thanks, Amy?

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  • Gio7 Mar 19, 2013

    "Did you also have a dog? Because I found what appears to be a battery-operated chew toy" Lol, I love how Sheldon's complete & utter ignorance of anything sexual precludes him from thinking anything less innocent. His confusion does gives a new meaning to "give a dog a bone" though, huh? I know, I know... sorry.

  • jimspear58 Mar 19, 2013

    I want to find out what brand organizer was in that closet.....where can I find them??

  • OuAt Mar 18, 2013

    I loved this episode. There was humor, and I don't feel that the plot go too "heavy" at any point, but it showed something that we haven't always seen - these people deeply care about each other. For all the bickering and razzing for comedy's sake, this episode showed the depth of the bond they've created, and by extension the bond the audience has created with these characters. Great stuff.

  • RafCole Mar 18, 2013

    Liked the episode, even though is wasn't that funny. Sheldon's persona is coming along nicely. Before you know, he's engaging in a physical relationship with Amy. (Season finale anyone?)
    But Howards gets on my nerves a lot this season. Overall, solid episode...

  • MarieLaureDep Mar 16, 2013

    It was a good, touching and solid episode. I was quite suprise by the fact that Howard didn't want to know the content of the letter, but it was better that way. The last scene was really great. Only sour point: Leonard saying to Raj he needed a testosterone patch. Offensive, writers.

  • smorbie Mar 17, 2013

    I was glad Howard didn't want to know. What he did know was that his father didn't love him enough to stay with him, and there's nothing that could possibly be in that letter to change that.

  • JustinJohnson9 Mar 16, 2013

    Very good review for a very strong episode. Like she said, not big on the laughs, even though Sheldon cleaning that closet had me in tears at times, but big on the heartfelt drama with Howard. I must say, he has definitely grown in tremendous strides these past six years. From the horny mama's boy to the married gentleman. I pretty much loved everything about this episode. Well done BBT!!

  • Glennen Mar 16, 2013

    This episode was a welcome change of pace. It gave Howard emotional moments concerning his father that didn't involve breaking out in tears. Also, Sheldons reaction to his angry outburst was funny, using Amy as a human shield :D

  • safibwana Mar 16, 2013

    The problem I have with this episode is that once you observe something in a state of quantum superposition, the probability wave collapses and the state becomes fixed. It was in a state of superposition before the letter was read. Once they told each other the truth about the contents the truth was effectively observed six times, so all of the stories would have ben the same.I'm beginning to question Sheldon's qualifications. I wouldn't play Words With Friends with him either.

  • Blooner Mar 16, 2013

    Sheldon was talking about the contents of the letter from the perspective of Howard, NOT the group. And thus by having 5 of the six people lie and make up a possible state of the contents of the letter, the probability of each of these supposed contents remains equally probable (with perhaps the exception of the "The Goonies" treasure map state xD). Therefore from the perspective of Howard the quantum superposition for the contents of the letter is still intact. BOOM, SCIENCE!

  • safibwana Mar 16, 2013

    The problem is that perspective is irrelevant in quantum mechanics. ANY observer collapses the probability wave. Now, if we were talking relativity, that's all about perspective.

    Also, if Howard's dad was anything like Howard, he would have bonded with Howard watching the Goonies at some point during the five years between when it came out and when he abandoned his family, and he would have had the poor taste to send something like to his kid on his 18th birthday anyways, so it is at least as likely as the other options.

    None of that matters though, Sheldon's understanding of quantum superposition is completely wrong. It is not 6 states one of which may be true, it is 6 states, all of which are true simultaneously to varying degrees. I really am doubting his qualifications. I'd like to see his transcripts.

  • Blooner Sep 18, 2013

    I know this is an old one, but I have since read up on the subject some more, and you are completely right, I was wrong. Kudos to you!

  • radiumgirl Mar 16, 2013

    STOP RUINING THE MOMENT.

  • Uncle-Bryn Mar 16, 2013

    I thought it was a well balanced episode between humour and drama. The only problem I see with MaryAnns desire for more character growth is that the characters will eventually be unrecognisable and maybe / probably the humour will disappear completely. Its a bit of a quandary though coz the writers are running out of jokes for the current stereotypes. New characters?!

  • safibwana Mar 16, 2013

    These sound like problems that solve each other. Unrecognizable characters ARE new characters providing opportunities for new jokes.

  • SarahHagen2 Mar 16, 2013

    This is why I love Simon Helberg so much. He has taken this one dimensional nerdy, randy mama's boy character and now Howard Wolowitz is the “adult". His Skype acting with Bernadette last season when in astronaut training (I ate a butterfly) was so compelling and hilarious, and this ep he almost made me cry. Shout out to the writers for where they took this episode- we were all dying to know what was in the letter, and when they told us but didn't tell us, somehow we didn't mind and it gave it more depth than we thought TBBT could have.
    This episode was a gem, and it's going to be in my top 5. Along with the origin story of Leonard and Sheldon, the Leonard Nimoy napkin hug, and any ep with Sheldon's mom. Laurie Metcalf kills it.

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