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The Big  Bang Theory S07E22: "The Proton Transmogrification"

The Big Bang Theory has always had the weird honor of being a show that I just can't figure out whether I like it or not. I should love it, but I don't. I've been accused of hating it, but I don't, really. I just don't know. I DON'T KNOW. So when word came through the nerd-vine that there was a Star Wars themed episode of The Big Bang Theory in the works for this year's May the Fourth celebrations, I was both delighted and a little scared. 

In conclusion: I'm just delighted. There was so much good stuff in "The Proton Transmogrification," from the obligatory awesome Bob Newhart appearance to Penny actually understanding the Star Wars puns to Sheldon being vulnerable and human in a human way (as opposed to just in a Sheldon way). The Big Bang Theory has brought him so far in the past seven seasons. When the news of Professor Proton's passing appeared to have little effect on Sheldon's May the Fourth plans, I think we all knew better than to assume that Sheldon was being deliberately callous. 

To their credit, Sheldon's friends have also made a lot of progress over the last seven season with regard to their interactions with Sheldon and their understanding of his needs, his quirks, and his processes. The days of forcing Sheldon to be "normal" have passed, and the result is a more balanced dynamic among Raj, Leonard, Howard, Sheldon, Penny, Amy, and Bernadette. That's led to stronger (in my opinion) writing that looks at these characters in a much broader sense than "Sheldon is weird. Everyone reacts accordingly." 

The story at the core of "The Proton Transmogrification" couldn't have been told in The Big Bang Theory's earlier seasons. Back then, Sheldon's oddness and antics were too often played for laughs; no one would've taken him seriously in the wake of his childhood hero's death. Someone would have played the "You're being a dick," card and it would have been awkward and stilted and we would have reached the same conclusion—that everyone reacts to loss differently, and that's okay—but it wouldn't have been as natural of a progression. The Big Bang Theory's fans are perceptive and smart. The sentiment that Sheldon isn't "wrong," he's just "different" made the rounds in fan discussions much earlier than it was addressed on the show itself. Sure, such a heavy-handed display of this reality would've still worked back in the day, but it wouldn't have been as eloquent and as enjoyable as it was in "The Proton Transmogrification."

For a series nearing the end of its seventh season (with at least three more on the way!), The Big Bang Theory is the antithesis of a tired old show. Instead, it delights in being comfortable with itself. When Leonard broke down at Professor Proton's funeral while Penny was perplexed by her own lack of emotion, she thanked him for being "the emotional one" in their relationship and it was funny, but it was also sweet. Yes, Leonard is a bigger girl than his girlfriend. Yes, it makes excellent comedic fodder. However, Leonard's emotion runs in the same vein as Sheldon's quirkiness in that it's an essential part of who he is—and it's not a bad thing. 

I am, however, disappointed that the death of Professor Proton (probably) means no more Proton sightings in the future—unless Obi-Wan Proton becomes a thing. That could work if it's not overdone. It worked for Luke Skywalker, and all the men in his life bailed early, too.

We tell ourselves that when we attend funerals and wakes, we're doing it to honor the dead—and that's true—but frankly, the dead are dead and they probably don't care either way. That's not to say that funerals are silly, and I don't think that's actually what Sheldon was referring to when he said that mourning the inevitable is a waste of time. Rather, the rituals that humans uphold surrounding death and mourning are in place to ease the living into the idea of death. They give us closure, but they can't carry any meaning unless those who participate accept that meaning, which is why Sheldon couldn't attend Proton's funeral himself. To him, there's nothing sincere in some public display of organized mourning. 

Amy mentioned a few times how absurd it was that Sheldon called the funeral a waste of time, but readily devoted hours upon hours to watching "goofy" sci-fi movies that he's probably seen dozens of times. She misunderstood the ritual itself, and the meaning it held for Sheldon and his buddies. These guys sincerely love Star Wars. Their love, like that of so many fans, runs deeper than a mere appreciation for Carrie Fisher in a metal bikini. The marathoning, the themed snacks, the T-shirts: May the Fourth is a ritual loaded with feelings for Sheldon. Notice that when Leonard and Penny went to Professor Proton's funeral, Sheldon instead stayed home and watched reruns of Proton's show on YouTube, elevating his work to the same level at which Sheldon and the others hold Star Wars

"The Proton Transmogrification" was a goofy, funny, Star Wars-y episode with all of the obligatory geeky trappings, but it also countered with some genuinely thoughtful ideas about why we keep the rituals that we keep, how we develop new ones, and a sincere celebration of why nerds are so freaking nerdy and why that's actually a wonderful thing. 


– "Your heart might be in the right place, but your head, chest, and arms certainly are not." —Sheldon

– Penny and Leonard's "competition" was further evidence of The Big Bang Theory's comfort with itself, as Penny and Leonard poked fun at their own ridiculousness when it comes to marriage proposals... all without having an emotional meltdown and subsequent break-up. Yay!

– The smooshed Death Star Cake was such a lost opportunity for a post-Death Star Alderaan cake. 

– LOL @ Girlsprouts. "She didn't want me selling cookies on the street like some whore."—Amy

– Re: The Phantom Menace: "Let's get this over with." I'm so torn on The Phantom Menace. On one hand, it's really awful. On the other hand: Liam Neeson. How do you guys make peace with this? 

What did you think of "The Proton Transmogrification"?

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 2/4/2016

Season 9 : Episode 14

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