NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of The Big Bang Theory are present in this review.
After last week’s more light-hearted incident with Leonard’s surgery, The Big Bang Theory delivered an episode that was significantly more grounded and dramatic than Season Eight’s past offerings. This was a solid change of pace though, as every so often, it’s fulfilling to see the lead cast reflect on their lives and think about the future, especially with the show running for so many years at this point.
The main plot of the episode involves Leonard, Howard and Raj cleaning out the office of a recently deceased professor at CalTech. As they do so, they discover a bottle of champagne given to said professor by his mother, which was to be opened at the time of the professor’s first big world-changing breakthrough… But was never opened.
This leads to the three guys dealing with the possibility (or, namely Leonard and Raj, as Howard has been to space) that their research may ultimately amount to nothing, and that may make their life’s work meaningless in the long-term. That’s a heavy possibility to swallow for full-time researchers dedicated immensely to their work. Leonard’s idea of making a pact to open the bottle when one of them discovers a life-changing scientific breakthrough was sweet though… Until Sheldon ruined it, naturally, but I’ll get to that.
In fact, speaking of Sheldon, the writers were wise to distance him from the more dramatic conflict that the other three male leads were dealing with. Given Sheldon’s denial of any possibility that he may not be a genius or a Nobel Prize winner in the making, Sheldon would have just made an effective internal struggle seem like yet another excuse for him to stroke his bloated, oblivious ego at the expense of the other guys. It’s an old joke that wouldn’t have been welcome in this scenario.
Instead, Sheldon and Amy were kept busy by the final episode blowout for Sheldon’s popular (?) webseries, “Fun with Flags.” This plot was all about goofy laughs, much like Sheldon’s over-the-top behaviour during “The Septum Deviation” last week, showcasing all of the episodes of “Fun with Flags” that Sheldon made off-screen (one of which surprisingly incorporated an inexplicably agreeable Kripke!), complete with silly costumes and backdrops. It even brought back Star Trek: The Next Generation’s LeVar Burton, following from a Fun with Flags gag that the show did several seasons ago, and it was very amusing to see Burton immensely annoyed at “working” with Sheldon by the point of 200+ episodes. Seriously? That many? That’s more episodes than The Big Bang Theory itself at this point! I guess Fun with Flags is all Sheldon does off-screen between The Big Bang Theory episodes…
Regardless, Sheldon and Amy nicely prevented the episode from becoming too serious and losing the comedic momentum that viewers tune in for. Most of the episode’s laughs were entirely contained here, but everything worked very well in terms of great comedy. Fun with Flags hasn’t appeared on the show in a while, and in an interesting way, its apparent wrap was a great way for Sheldon to deal with his own mini-emotional crisis. After getting just one semi-positive comment on the final episode though, Sheldon decides that he can’t cancel his webseries, and this leads to him popping open the champagne bottle that Leonard and the guys were supposed to be saving. The funniest part was that Sheldon didn’t even intend to drink it, and simply wanted to hear the pop. I bet Leonard strangled him off-screen after that!
The only plot that didn’t work so well in either tonal direction was the C-Plot, where Penny and Bernadette are at a work function, and Penny learns all about how mean and nasty Bernadette apparently is at work, and how much people actually fear and resent her. Again, this is something that’s apparently happened off-screen for the duration of the show, but even so, the writers hit this nail too hard. Bernadette wasn’t just comically domineering in this case, but downright cruel! Hearing about her terrorizing children and mocking the disabled isn’t really funny, and just makes Bernadette sound like a genuinely horrible person.
Sure, Bernadette can be a little domineering and assertive with Howard, but at least she never disputes his accomplishments, or talks about her husband like he’s an overall screw-up. There’s a line with her temper that shouldn’t be crossed, and unfortunately, the writers crossed it this week, making Bernadette go from playfully intimidating to just plain mean. It was equally unbelievable when Bernadette somehow didn’t realize she stole an entire floor bathroom from the workforce, thinking it was a private bathroom (seriously?), but then ended the plot by just taking back the bathroom, and the benefits of people being scared of her, resulting in non-apologies and nothing learned on her part. Like I said, it was the one arc that didn’t work this week.
“The Champagne Reflection” may have been a more dramatic episode for the gang, Sheldon and Amy excluded, but it was another strong offering that has maintained the improved momentum of Season Eight lately, finally making it safe to say that Season Eight is already an improvement over the noticeably weaker Season Seven. Who knows whether Leonard, Raj or Howard will truly change the world with their work, but at the very least, these characters have changed comedy, and how we perceive it in the modern world, so maybe that’s enough.
"The Champagne Reflection" presented a more dramatic and grounded episode of The Big Bang Theory this week, even if the triumphant return of Fun with Flags nicely prevented things from becoming too heavy.
THE GOOD STUFF
Effective emotional turmoil between the guys
Fun with Flags was funnier than ever
LeVar Burton's hilarious re-appearance
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
Bernadette was far too cruel this week
Bernadette also didn't improve her behaviour in the end