The Big Bang Theory Recap: The Proton Transmogrification

One of the greatest additions to The Big Bang Theory was the appearance of Professor Proton, a Mister Wizard clone played to stuttering perfection by Bob Newhart, who won his first Emmy Award for the guest appearance. In “The Proton Transmogrification,” the good Professor, whose name is Arthur Jeffries, makes his third, and one presumes final, appearance.

opening sceneThe episode opens with the familiar five characters sitting around the apartment eating when Sheldon points out that Star Wars Day is rapidly approaching. Penny scoffs at Sheldon’s reference to the holiday, bringing up Star Wars Christmas, which Howard points out is really Wookiee Life Day, avoiding the easy joke about the infamous 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, instead referring to a specific plot point of the Special. When Penny asks when Star Wars Day is, Sheldon, Leonard, and Raj lead her through the punny nature of the holiday and she responds with a blank stare, not out of lack of comprehension, as they believe, but rather at disbelief that that would be so excited about it. The scene is a perfect example of the schizophrenic nature of the show, letting the characters revel in their own geekiness while the outsider, representing the non-Geek, shows contempt. The dichotomy is only heightened by Leonard’s glee in sharing the holiday with Penny, only to be shot down by the woman he’s dating (and who, by now, shouldn’t be surprised at the geeky thrill the men she hangs out with take in pop culture).

first hugReturning from the first commercial, Leonard tries to talk to Sheldon, who is focused on creating a schedule for Star Wars Day (which comes, this year, the day after Free Comic Book Day, a day the boys should also be thrilled about). Sheldon explains he has a window of time built in for complaining following the screening of Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, tapping in to the deep-seated dissatisfaction fans have for the prequel trilogy. The comment also drives home how out of date the episode became even before it aired since it was also in the can when the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII was announced earlier this week, a possibility for jokes unrealized. Sheldon’s concern over scheduling the complaint period is a very astute observation of fans who seem to like nothing more than to complain about every aspect of the object of their devotion, even as they love the films, comics, books, etc. they are complaining about. Unfortunately, Leonard has come in not to talk about Star Wars Day, but rather to let Sheldon know that Professor Proton has died, followed by an awkward hug from Leonard. Sheldon greets the news with his detached stoicism until Leonard tells him that Arthur Jeffries’s funeral is going to be on Sunday…Star Wars Day.

old proton episodeSheldon is next seen sitting on the couch watching Professor Proton episodes on YouTube, allowing both Sheldon and the viewers to see the excellent Bob Newhart in action as he delivers scientific facts and droll comedy, fully aware of how badly his lines are written. Sheldon’s concern is less about Arthur Jeffries’s death and more about how it impacts him. Amy offers to join him at the funeral, and is surprised that Sheldon is going to go ahead with his Star Wars Day celebration, partly because he is concerned about being able to differentiate between the sad and the sick, but also because he feels that mourning is a waste of time. Amy asks how that is more of a waste of time than a re-watch of films Sheldon has seen countless times.

When Penny shows up on Sunday dressed for the funeral, she walks in on a full Star Wars Day celebration, with Raj offering to cook her breakfast at Admiral Ackbar’s Snack Bar. Raj’s obliviousness to the coincident holiday and funeral seems out of character for him, although Howard seems to understand that it might not be the right time to celebrate and seems a trifle uncomfortable. The offer of coffee and breakfast allows the writers to sit down and come up with several Star Wars related puns. Here, Penny’s expressions are less of disbelief in the boy’s geekiness as disgust that they are completely ignoring Professor Proton’s death and funeral. Sheldon is not joining in and Howard is concerned he’s so quiet. When Penny asks if he wants to attend the funeral, Sheldon compares Proton’s death to Obi Wan Kenobi’s death and Penny demonstrates knowledge of the trilogy, which surprises her. The fact that her character is surprised rings false since Star Wars is such a major part of popular culture that even people who aren’t interested in science fiction know something about the characters and plots from the 37 year old film. Sheldon points out that Arthur Jeffries was a scientist and refers to funerals as a “silly superstition,” although funerals themselves are more about providing a place for people to grieve.

round cakeAmy and Bernadette, meanwhile are trying to help cheer Sheldon up and get into the spirit of Star Wars Day by making him a Death Star cake, which Bernadette is concerned might be a little unsympathetic given Jeffries’s death. Just as Bernadette comments on the lack of spherical cakes, gravity exerts itself and they understand why most cakes aren’t round.

At the funeral, Penny admits that this is the first funeral she’s ever attended, the closest she’s come before was a BBQ following the death of her pet pig. Leonard begins talking about how much Arthur meant to him as both a childhood hero and later as a co-worker, bringing himself to tears and allowing Penny to cry, as well.

forced cryHoward suggests skipping The Phantom Menace since they all agree it isn’t their favorite episode, allowing Sheldon to get in a dig about Howard not being his favorite, undoing the progress the two of them made in their relationship following their trip to Texas a few episodes back. Although the show has allowed for growth in many of the characters and their relationships over the years, Sheldon is quite impervious to change, despite his budding relationship with Amy. Raj brings up the idea of watching the episodes using the “Machete” viewing order of episodes 4, 5, 2, 3, and then 6. Howard is on board, but Sheldon thinks it is a crazy idea. Since the “Machete” viewing order has been around since November 11, 2011, it is hard to believe that Howard and Sheldon have never heard of it until now, although Raj is clearly explaining it more for the viewer than the characters, despite their reaction. One certainly hopes that Rod Hilton, who first described the viewing order, was watching the episode and can glory in his moment of televised near-fame.1 I will note that when I introduced my daughter to Star Wars, I had her watch them in the Machete Order the first time through and it worked quite well, although she later went back and watched episode one. In this case, Sheldon lashes out at Raj’s suggestion and leaves the room. Rather than follow him to console him, Raj and Howard elect to stay and watch the films.

as obi wanFollowing a commercial break, and forty-four minutes into the original Star Wars, the boys wonder if they should check on Sheldon, deciding to after they finish watching the Cantina scene, although (Nerd Alert) the soundtrack immediately before Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes begin playing doesn’t match up with what would be happening in the actual film. As the Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes begins playing, the camera cuts to Sheldon falls asleep and dreams that Arthur Jeffries appears to him. Never comfortable around Sheldon, Arthur explains that he doesn’t know why he’s in Sheldon’s dream, having hoped that he would haunt his ex-wife. Sheldon suggests that Arthur is his Obi Wan, a term that dream-Arthur is unfamiliar with. As with Penny, dream-Arthur managed to live his entire life without knowledge of Star Wars, so Sheldon explains that Obi Wan Kenobi was Luke Skywalker’s spirit guide, which doesn’t really help dream-Arthur’s understanding. As Sheldon decides this must be the case, Arthur suddenly appears in Jedi robes and with a blue glow, just as Obi Wan, Qui-Gon Jinn, Anakin, and Yoda appeared in the Star Wars films following their deaths. Perhaps the best part of the episode is the glee on Arthur’s face when he accidentally turns on his light saber and starts waving it around to the familiar hum. The fun Bob Newhart was having seems to come through his character.

After the funeral, Penny found it to be something of a downer and is surprised to learn that Leonard has thought about his own mortality in terms of not wanting to have any regrets. When Leonard commented that he wants to learn another language, Penny pointed out that he knows Klingon, although she doesn’t see that as something to be proud of. He also notes that he regrets not accepting Penny’s proposal of marriage. Penny points out the timing was wrong then, and that he better not propose during a funeral. Pointing out that he’s proposed and been turned down twice and she’s only been turned down once, Leonard forces Penny to propose to him again.

making cakeAnd the scene returns to Amy and Bernadette frosting what one hopes is a replacement Death Star cake and discussing whether either of them watched Professor Proton as a child. Bernadette explains that she got into science because she wanted to invent something that would make her taller and Amy explains that she got interested in science in Girl Sprouts, a group her mother made up so Amy wouldn’t sell cookies on street corners like whores. Her interested in science was sparked when she took out a book on biology to learn what whores did (which is a rather strange choice of books).

On the drive home, Leonard is dragging out his answer, and possibly a third proposal from Penny, who he tortures with the prospect of having to spend a lifetime telling people how to spell “Hofstadter” (which may or may not be a threat since seven seasons in, we still don’t know Penny’s last name. When Penny gets annoyed, Leonard declines her proposal, but immediately begins considering the third proposal.

dagobaAnd Sheldon and Arthur are now in a Dagobah-like setting, Arthur still wearing his Jedi robes and post-Jedi glow and looking lost. When Sheldon explains what Dagobah is, Arthur explains that he hoped it was Florida. Sheldon looks to Arthur for helpful advice, just as Obi-Wan gave him helpful advice, although in reality, most of the advice Luke received on Dagobah was from Yoda, although Yoda did have some conversations with Obi-Wan on Dagobah. Arthur’s advice is less cosmic that Yoda’s, suggesting a prenuptial agreement. Sheldon and Arthur begin to discuss mortality and Sheldon reveals he’s had to say goodbye to eleven Doctors Who (or Doctor Whos), leading Arthur to comment about his own out-living his doctors. Sheldon’s grandfather died when he was five and his father when he was fourteen. Sheldon realizes that with Professor Proton’s death, all the men he has looked up to have left him. Arthur explains that he can be sad about those who have died, but notes that Sheldon should show his appreciation to those who are still there for him. When Sheldon expresses his appreciation for them, Arthur asks why he’s in a swamp dressed like Friar Tuck. And Leonard’s knock on the door wakes Sheldon, who asks how Arthur’s funeral was. As Leonard begins to talk about the funeral, Sheldon returns the early hug with much less awkwardness than Leonard had given him. When they separate, Leonard invites him out to join Howard, Raj, and himself watching Return of the Jedi. Sheldon agrees, but notes that they’ll have to watch episodes 1-5 first.

second hugWatching Star Wars: Episode II: The Attack of the Clones, the characters comment on how much Jar Jar Binks has been toned down since the first episode. When Penny notes how stupid he is, Raj takes her to task, saying she’s not allowed to dis Jar Jar, although the boys can. And Amy and Bernadette enter with the Death Star cake, the bottom of which has been cut flat to prevent rolling. Bernadette was less than pleased to learn that they had just started the films over so making the cake didn’t get them out of watching the movies.

In the kicker, Professor Proton reappears to a dozing Sheldon and explains that he has to come back whenever Sheldon needs him. Calling back to Sheldon’s earlier conversation with Amy, Arthur explains that Sheldon fell asleep watching Star Wars and is dreaming he is watching Star Wars, possibly a waste of his limited time on Earth, although Sheldon doesn’t grok what Arthur is saying and Arthur washes his hands of his protégé.

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