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

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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"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.
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I want to find out what brand organizer was in that closet.....where can I find them??
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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.
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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...
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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.
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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.
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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!!
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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
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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.
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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!
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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.
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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!
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Staff
STOP RUINING THE MOMENT.

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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?!
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These sound like problems that solve each other. Unrecognizable characters ARE new characters providing opportunities for new jokes.
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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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This was a very mature episode, it wasn't focused on the jokes (ok, there were some fun though)... I must say that I'm really curious about what was in the letter, but I wonder wether I would like to know the true or not. Anyway very good episode, it showed us the emotional side of each character.
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Please, ignore grammar mistakes, not my native language...
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Penny looked nice in that black dress!
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Anybody else wonder why CBS continues to tie Two and a Half Men to the back of TBBT? It's like a dingleberry hanging off TBBT's ass. It's not like I'm going to keep the channel on CBS because I have to finish out the hour.
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I'll actually go out of my way to change the channel before Two and Half Men has a chance to defile my TV screen. Like, I've leaped over furniture in a mad rush for the remote and broken a toe on the coffee table in the name of keeping it away.
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Another episode,where they hold back on some jokes and focus more on emotional level and growth of characters. While 2nd half was more "stronger" part of episode,1st 10min or so established great ground for that 2nd half of episode.
Sheldon spending all that time in closet and then called it "Great party"...ahh,Sheldon:D

I am glad,that they aren't throwing Lucy in every episode. I think they are testing how people might respond to her? I know I got tired of Pria and was glad she is gone now.

I like to believe apart from Sheldon's recap of Goonies and Penny's(will say it below)all other parts were true. If only 1,I would say it was either from Raj or Bernadette. Leonard said something about not leaving family,so if father wasn't around,how would he know,if Howard has got someone special. Yes,I know,that letter was there for a long time,I know this. Penny said that corny thing,that father had some shady past,Amy was also kinda corny with father being there "without being there",but that one miiight be true also.

Raj's was simple about a birthday card and Bernadette's about picture with a father and son and son being greatest gift to father.
And Howard's(Simon's) reactions to statements were perfect
Needless to say it,but still gonna say it. I loved this episode.
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Logic also says that all but one of the comments could be true and only one of them was made up. I chose to believe that Howard's father said quite a bit in that letter. Howard just doesn't know that one of those items is the fake one. Farside card, indeed...
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It was interesting to see the BBT have a more serious note. Not that it hasn't in the past, but this was definitely different from any usual episode. In the earlier seasons Howard was pretty creepy and I didn't care much for him, but I'd have to say he's had more development than any other character and grown on me. This episode definitely developed him even more, and that's what makes the BBT different from other sitcoms; you get to see the characters change.
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I've always thought that TBBT was all comedy and zero drama. I just wished they gave the touching story to someone else other than Howard. He gets too much attention and character development more than Sheldon, Leonard, and Penny, who are the big 3 characters. Among all the original cast, he is the only one who have progressed literally. He is the one who got married and advanced career wise (being an astronaut). Penny still works in the Cheesecake Factory, very little advancement in her acting career, and he is still 'on and off' with Leonard. I just wish they give other characters a chance.
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Cuoco is currently doing Priceline commercials with William Shatner. I wished they could have worked that into the show where Penny goes on a commercial audition, turns out to be for Priceline, gets the job, and that she will work with Shatner. Then the rest find out about it and possibly bug her no end to meet Shatner or something. In the end, they sit in front of the TV to see her commercial, which we then see too. Yes, it's outright, blatant product placement, but something like that might have been cool/fun if the producers, CBS, and Priceline all knew to do this ahead of time and arranged to bring it all together or if CBS knew of Cuoco doing this and maybe make those proper arrangements, even if asking Priceline to hold the commercial for a bit until they shot the episode to work it in.
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This wasn't a "funny" episode, there were laughs but it wasn't a big laugher. It was however a very strong episode, it made us care about the people and what emotions they were feeling, and it did so without feeling like "a very special episode" which was masterful. It was compelling to have these conversations. It was also wise to leave Raging Bernie out of the equation, instead having her being calm and concerned and a little contrite but not defensive for what she did. It was miles better than another episode of "look at da funny nerds!"

I'm also glad they didn't bother using the expression "Schrodinger's cat" and then having to explain it.

Why would Sheldon mistake Penny's vibrator for a dog's chew toy? I didn't buy that joke as-is, a standard vibrator is in no way similar to a chew toy, it's not the right shape or the right kind of plastic, it's not rubbery. That's the joke they were going for, obviously, but I feel like that one missed the mark a little.
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I know, I thought for sure Sheldon was going to explain Schroedingers cat again!
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Except for obviously SHELDON has NO IDEA what a vibrator is. I can see why someone completely unversed in that kind of thing would say that.
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Obviously he's not familiar with the concept, but he is familiar with dog chew toys so the connection is implied to be both, yet it doesn't really hold up IMO.
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Uh, yeah, some are rubbery and the shape of some chew toys. This is a mistake some people have made. Something along the lines of the Spectra gel anal vibrator. You're welcome.
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Apparently 2 other people also are intimate enough with that anal vibrator to agree with you. It's not exactly a familiar thing though.
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It's not even close to the only one, just the first one I googled up. That "gel" material is really common, as is the style that has the anal bead sort of round nodules. It's been roughly 3 days since I last saw a photo of one that was confused as a dog toy by someone's grandmother (failbook.com I think). I mean, sure, if you've never been to a sex toy shop and never received an Adam and Eve catalog, you might not be aware of anything but the prototypical dildo shape vibrator, but for those who have seen a wall of sex toys and are somewhat familiar with the wide variety of sizes, shapes, and materials they come in, that joke landed beautifully. So, you don't hang out on that side of town or go to those sorts of websites or date those sorts of girls. Very classy of you. I don't really know many people personally who wouldn't have immediately conjured up the right picture in their head. I don't really dig classy people I guess.
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this probably didn't happen but i would like to think that all the (realistic) stories that the gang told were true.
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Me too!
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I liked the one liner where Howard asked why do we still have to walk up the stairs after all this time. It was a great question for a couple of reasons. One, why hasn't another neighbor complained to the landlord? He/she/the holding company has a legal responsibilty to have it fixed, If they could prove it was Leonard and Sheldon, they should have by now. If they can't, they still have a responsibilty to any tenants. And Penny isn't the only tenant to have moved in since the explosion, so someone showed off multiple apartments to prospective tenants in a building with a taped off elevator.

And another point, you are telling me that at some point in the past, that the physicists and the MIT engineer wouldn't have tried to "improve" the elevator while they fixed it on their own. Maybe a setting that has it ride normally for everyother floor, but has a turbo setting for when it is going to the 4th floor. Shelpdon and Raj may only be theoretical scientists. But Leonard and Howard are applied scientists who bring lots of toys home from work.

I realize it was probably just a line to let Howard point out that he was wearing heels too, but that question has bothered me for quite a while.
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They also did a small joke about Howard "fixing" the elevator. If I remember, he bragged about his moon-robot, walked up to the elevator, pushed the button, put his ear on the door and listened, then said, 'Nope, that baby's broke'. Or something along those lines. A joke in the form of why they haven't fixed it themselves because they already 'tried' it.
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Because we love watching Penny's ass walking up the stairs.
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Well, considering the elevator exploded, it's not like it's something they can tinker and fix. I imagine that rocket fuel would literally destroy the elevator (metal box).

So, they'd have to replace the metal box part entirely, as well as cables. That's hardly something easy or cheap enough for Sheldon + Leonard to do as a "neat little project".

Especially considering all of the safety inspections any elevator has to go through
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Again, if it went through safety inspections at all, the landlord would have been fined because it clearly would fail. So 5 years later, it should have been fixed, or a safety inspector should be asking questions. Govt employees may not always be the quickest people, but still, check the logs on a high rise elevator. Somebody is being paid to sign that form evry year. So the original thing that bothered me, still bothers me.

As for how much repair they have to do, or what it would cost is not just irrelevant. These guys caused it, and Sheldon is almost compulsive is fixing a problem he knows he caused. And makes life miserable for the guys when they had nothing to do with it. So for them to sit around for years without it coming to a head is hard to believe.
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And these guys build light reflecting telescopes to prove there are man-made objects on the moon. Buy enough movie memorabelia and comic books to keep themselves amused on a weekly basis. Built multiple security systems, and surveillance devices for their apartment. And as practical jokes.

I can't believe they wouldn't at least pool their money over the years to repair the elevator they broke, in the building they spend most of the off work time in. And yes, I believe they would consider it a nice little project. They aren't just nerds. They are nerds who like to build the things they come up with whenever possible.
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This one was odd as it did nothing for me til the last 10 minutes being an unbelievably touching tribute by his friends. light on the laughs but heavy on the heart. perfect use of Sheldons established Eidetic Memory that even though the letter was lost forever, the contents were still there. loved how everyone played Sheldon to hear what was in the letter and his declaration "Everyone is on their game today" after again handing the interrogator the solution to making him talk. it's a pretty good testament to the writers that even when they skimp on the jokes they can still deliver a great episode.
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Minus the first 3 or 4 episodes of the season TBBT has been exceptionally good.

Yes this episode was a little different then the others, but maybe that is why I appreciated it more. A comedy's job is to make you laugh, which TBBT does 99% of the time, but very rarely will a comedy put the funny on the back burner and bring legitimate character driven stories and development to the forefront. This is what TBBT did in this episode and they pulled it off quite well. In comedy shows, when I actually find myself invested in the characters, to me that is the sign of TV greatness. There have only been a couple comedies on TV I can say that about and now TBBT is among them.
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I loved this episode. While it didn't have the usual number of jokes and funny moments, it did the thing I love most. Gave us a good story and really focused on these characters and the close bond that they have forged over the years.

This show is amazing at knowing its audience. It knows it has a full spectrum of people watching, from the geeks to the jocks to the normal folk. And it presents the show in a way that everyone can leave happy. This episode balanced all that we normally get and gave us a very heartfelt episode without feeling contrived or offputting. And that is something very hard to do these days.
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I agree with ElRob (though I figure Lucy can't be in all episodes since she is also recurring on another show). I thought it was also tasteful to have the other characters all be quietly funny versions of themselves (like Penny and Sheldon both agreed they would definetely be telling the complete made up version and they had all argued about Sheldon, or him using Amy as a shield, or just the totally normal conversation between Penny and Leonard...or Raj having a party planning book).
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A masterful episode, with genuinely funny and heartfelt moments presented in ideal proportions. Much like the reviewer, I thought the resolution was ingenious. It establishes, for me, the major reason for the enduring appeal of the show despite its seemingly flimsy premise: respect the audience's intelligence, and legitimately care about the characters.

My only quibble is that poor Raj had to go stag, despite his newfound love-interest. I guess the writers just felt it was too soon to include her in such an intense social setting given her obvious anxieties.

Thanks for well thought out review!
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At first I was unhappy because Raj was alone. But I have social anxiety, and the word "party" is enough to make me suicidal, so it makes sense that she wasn't there.
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