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With Kaley Cuoco’s absence these past few weeks, The Big Bang Theory has inevitably lost a bit of balance. Penny’s charming, bubbly demeanor has always been the counterweight to our nerds’ eccentricities, and without her there to nullify them, the episodes in which she doesn't appear have been a tad bit dry. It is no fault of the show, however, because unfortunate circumstances do occur. Penny’s absence has been the series’ first adversary this season, and they have handled it as well as they could for as long as they could. However, we need her back soon.
Fortunately, tonight brought us that brief yet highly appreciated return. Actually getting to see her first demanded some fancy footwork from the rest of the cast, and they certainly delivered. Upon her nonchalant and triumphant return, "The Apology Insufficiency" told a story with a highly anticipated guest appearance, a shrewd callback to an episode from a previous season, the unraveling of Sheldon Cooper as a human, and the lowest point in Wolowitz’s career. At the end of this scatterbrain yet highly refined tunnel of events was Penny, and her presence brought the episode back into homeostasis.
Tonight, Howard Wolowitz closed in on finalizing the process of gaining top-level security clearance. The only hurdle left for him was to pass the background check, which required an FBI agent to inspect his past. Eliza Dushku guest starred as that sizzling FBI agent, who took her time digging up any dirt she could on Mr. Wolowitz.
She did her background research by interviewing each of Howard’s closest friends. First, she went to Raj, whose inability to talk to attractive women became less of a problem when he started indulging in rum cake. Expected and ineffective, the scene between the two limped on with marginal consequence. However, things picked up when she met with Leonard, who saw the interrogation as an opportunity to sport his new confident mentality by hitting on her. Although he was ultimately shut down, it was nice seeing a different, although short lived, side of Leonard. After seeing his sexual drive oscillate over the past few weeks, I was pleased to see a less stringent bachelor. He had fun with it, and it showed that he’s capable of potentially wooing someone with his unordinary charm.
Lastly, she met with Sheldon. Initially, he solely harped on Howard’s trivial nuisances, but out of mere bewilderment, Sheldon recounted the time Howard jeopardized the Mars rover because he wanted to impress a girl. This little fact was just enough proof to condemn Howard, denying him the security clearance he desired.
As a result, everyone felt the wrath of Howard’s anger. Sheldon was unusually affected by the consequence of his slip of the tongue, and he soon struggled with a foreign emotion – guilt. Sheldon assessed the situation by trying to right his wrong, by failing, and then by humanly apologizing to Wolowitz. His apology, which is one of the season’s most rewarding moments, also resulted in failure. And so, Sheldon, who uncharacteristically followed social protocol, was left alone and flustered.
This led to the reprise of Penny, to whom Sheldon went for advice and alcohol. Although vivacious in nature, she solemnly inferred that some things cannot be undone nor unfixed. The surprising pessimism of her advice, in addition to the drinks Sheldon kept recursively taking, pushed him to do something else foreign – make a sacrifice. Sheldon offered up the holy grail of his existence – his spot on the couch. Mr. Wolowitz could not refuse, and alas, they were friends again.
Sheldon’s sacrifice was crucial for the show. Even without a full cast, one character had a powerful moment that transcended the series. It was meaningful and unique, and it brought two typically estranged characters closer together. I wish the episode had stopped there. I wish Sheldon’s kind act would resonate to next week, but unfortunately, tonight’s coda recanted the heartfelt exchange. Jokingly, Sheldon took his spot back, and things returned to normalcy. Not only was this unfunny, but it brought the dynamic of the group back to where they were when this episode started, essentially reminding me of the frustrating fact that this show can often have its cake and eat it too. To see the series aim for an emotional core is exciting, but when it becomes anchored down by miscalculated jokes, I can only feel let down.