“This is what a generation raised on Bart Simpson looks like!”
Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.
There’s a lot of repressed hostility at work on The Big Bang Theory, most of it stemming from Sheldon mistreating his friends and generally being a selfish and obnoxious person. Every so often everyone needs the chance to air their grievances and relieve the tension. And what better time to spark a war among friends than a Game of Thrones viewing party? That was the premise this week, and it made for a fun conflict right up until the disappointing resolution.
It all started when Leonard put his foot down and refused to humor Sheldon by attending another “Roommate Agreement Meeting.” Why this week proved to be the breaking point for Leonard wasn’t really clear, but clearly enough was enough for him. Logically, you’d think the writers would use this as an opportunity to finally address one of the big lingering conflicts of the last couple seasons. Leonard and Penny are married now, and every attempt they’ve made to broach the subject of Leonard moving out has been met by fierce resistance from Sheldon. Their latest rift would be the perfect opportunity to dredge up that conflict, especially with the season finale looming.
Instead, the conflict took a more melodramatic but still amusing turn as the Leonard/Sheldon spat forced everyone to choose sides. Penny, ever the supportive one when it comes to Sheldon’s eccentricities, sided with him. Amy bucked the trend by joining Leonard. By the time Howard, Raj and Stuart entered the fray, it really was like an epic Game of Thrones conflict come to life. House Hofstadter vs. House Cooper. Too bad only Stuart was dressed for the conflict. Actually, it seems like Captain America: Civil War would have been a more fitting backdrop for this episode than Game of Thrones, but whatever.
The resulting split offered a lot of entertainment value and some amusing one-liners (particularly Leonard’s snipe about Sheldon turning into a butterfly). The situation also allowed the writers to dig in with the characters a bit and explore the real source of all this hostility. We learned that Amy wasn’t mad at Sheldon or loyal to Leonard so much as she was jealous about the close relationship Sheldon shares with Penny. And she’s not wrong to be jealous. Over the years, we’ve seen Sheldon connect with Penny in a way he hasn’t with anyone else. In some ways, their bond is deeper and more genuine than either the Penny/Leonard or Sheldon/Amy romances. So it’s only logical that both Leonard and Amy would be nursing some latent hostility over that fact.
“The Viewing Party Combustion” had a good thing going for a while, blending humor with a little deep insight into the core character relationships that drive the series. Sadly, this show has a habit of finding quick and lazy resolutions to its conflicts, and this episode was no exception. The characters weren’t forced to work through their differences and patch things up. Instead, Howard’s medical emergency brought a swift end to the civil war. Nothing actually felt resolved, and it’s not clear if we’ll see this conflict renew in future episodes or if one evening of complaining was all the catharsis these characters needed.
There was another flaw with this episode that bears mention. Raj has become insufferable lately. His ongoing relationship drama with Emily and Claire has managed to bring out the worst in Raj. His constant bragging about dating two women was obnoxious and repetitive, to say the elast. To be fair, it was certainly easy to understand why Howard would need a break from his best friend, and it did lead to an amusing moment where he mocked Raj with a dead-on impression.
But why does Raj have to be portrayed as such an unlikable jerk lately? Before this season, Raj was a sympathetic character because his journey to find real, lasting love over the years has resulted in one disaster after another. His relationship with Emily offered a chance for real growth, forcing Raj to accept that it’s better to be single than to cling to a relationship that clearly isn’t working. But that didn’t pan out. And based on how Emily and Claire have been portrayed lately, it’s probably safe to assume that neither is actually aware that Raj is dating them both. His obnoxious boasting is one thing, but that’s the hallmark of a true jerk.