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?