NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “The Big Bang Theory” are present in this review
The Big Bang Theory saw a pretty good surge in quality this week with, “The Emotion Detection Automation”, which presented very inspired main conflicts for both Sheldon and Raj. The episode’s themes as a whole centered on the idea of being emotionally oblivious, and contrasting that with people that are supposedly emotionally adept, yet despite that, blatantly repress their grievances for want of being ‘polite’. It’s been a while since The Big Bang Theory felt this smart and creative overall, and it’s an especially welcome sight in the otherwise middling Season Ten.
The episode’s core plot involves Sheldon growing more frustrated with not being able to understand how other people are feeling. This comes up when Raj laments that the cleaning lady from a few episodes ago has dumped him for reasons unknown, because of course she has! Like I said, I don’t know why this show even bothers giving Raj a love interest anymore, since they’ve become a ridiculous revolving door. Anyway, when Sheldon is told off for being insensitive for the umpteenth time, Howard brings up that some acquaintances of his from MIT have invented an emotion detection machine, and after a few phone calls, Sheldon is allowed to beta test it.
Sheldon finally having a means to better understand people’s emotions led to quite a lot of solid humour, especially when the machine naturally works even better than he could have hoped for. This does however have the unforeseen consequence of triggering a fight between Leonard and Penny, after Leonard lies to Penny about being unhappy about her brother coming to stay with them. This sounds like a big development for the show, but honestly, it wimps out of this pretty fast. By the end of the episode, Penny’s brother just isn’t coming, and it’s that easy. That not only feels like a wasted opportunity for a welcome return to the series by Jack McBrayer as Penny’s brother, Randall, but also feels like the big blowup between Leonard and Penny really didn’t go anywhere, or lead to any emotional development or maturation for either of them.
To be fair, the show attempts some emotional maturation with Sheldon though, who begins to become unhappy about constantly sensing other people’s unhappiness with the aid of the machine, while never being able to pick up on it without it. This actually leads to a pretty sweet scene between Sheldon and Amy, as another carefully picked moment of vulnerability for Sheldon’s character. As with many of these other good moments, Sheldon’s emotional obliviousness also doesn’t magically go away either, as he continues to be insensitive without meaning to when talking to Amy, which kept the humour pretty well intact. Sheldon’s latest moment of self-reflection was all around very satisfying, and the way that his emotion-seeking adventures in the story brought that out was pretty effective, even if the latest Leonard/Penny spat ultimately ended up being a waste.
This episode even managed to pack in a pretty funny subplot with Raj, who begins worrying about why women always break up with him, again. This sounds like it’s going to be another repetitive trip through Raj’s sad sack romantic career, but in all honesty, it led to a pretty clever, if ill-advised idea for Raj, as he gets his exes together in a room to take notes on why they broke up with him! Apparently, the cleaning lady doesn’t count, but we nonetheless get to reunite with Lucy, Claire, and both Emily’s (yes, the show finally had to acknowledge that Raj dated two separate women named Emily that both look very similar to one another), and this moment definitely didn’t disappoint, especially with Howard nearby.
The half-hour space does constrain some of the potentially funny interactions that Raj’s former lovers could have had, but the awkward conversation afterward about the potential for Howard and Raj to be in a homosexual relationship also provided a nice way for The Big Bang Theory to finally touch on what many fans have wondered about for a long time now. I guess we’ll never know though, since the show will be done long before Raj gets to assess if there’s no hope for him with women. Seeing as Howard has a baby with Bernadette now especially, I doubt that CBS, arguably one of the most conservative sitcom providers on television, would ever be up to pursuing a storyline of Howard leaving Bernadette for Raj anyway.
“The Emotion Detection Automation” provided a welcome return to the standard of The Big Bang Theory’s younger days, offering two really standout character conflicts for two of the show’s most socially awkward characters. The latest moment of development with Sheldon especially stood out, but Raj’s subplot still managed to excel in terms of humour just the same, even though it’s really, really hard to care about Raj finding love at this point. As I said, the Leonard/Penny argument was ultimately really disposable, but that’s a pretty minor quibble in a far better Season Ten episode than we usually get. It’s hard to deny that The Big Bang Theory has started to feel pretty tired in its latest season, but this week’s episode proves that the show is still capable of producing a winner when inspiration strikes.
- Sheldon confronting his inability to understand emotions
- Funny reunion with Raj's exes
- The show finally touching on Howard and Raj as a homosexual couple
- Leonard/Penny conflict is resolved too easily
- It's just too tough to care about Raj's love life now