The Expedition Approximation

(Editor’s Apology:  Update:  Screen caps from the episode have been added to this post.)

bb openingOnce again The Big Bang Theory opens with the group sitting around eating. Rather than her traditional outfit, Penny is wearing a suit in keeping with her new job as a drug rep and Bernadette compliments her on the way she looks, leading Howard to point out the difference between Penny’s attractiveness and Leonard’s. Penny points out that her job is not to flirt with doctors, but when Amy notices that she can see down Penny’s shirt when Penny leans over, Penny sees it as a benefit. Bernadette asks Sheldon how his new research project into Dark Matter is going, and Sheldon immodestly points out that now that he is participating in Dark Matter research, it is, ipso facto the most exciting time in the history of the field. Raj brings up the fact that the government is funding an experiment using abandoned salt mines to study Dark Matter and that he and Sheldon should apply to form one of the teams since Dark Matter touches on both theoretical physics and astrophysics. Penny suggests that a mine might not be the best place for Sheldon, who doesn’t even like to be in a car wash, leading to a round of jokes about being in a mine which seem almost non sequitors, since they don’t play on any of Sheldon’s (or Raj’s) known peccadillos. Sheldon does recognize that he is being mocked and notes that he preferred the old days when he couldn’t tell when he was being mocked.

bb moneyAfter the opening, Leonard is having a private dinner with Penny, sharing his disappointment about finding that one of his favorite video games, Shadow of the Colossus, isn’t as good on the PS3 as it was on the PS2. As could be expected, Penny can scarcely hide her lack of interest in Leonard’s story. When Leonard noticed her boredom, she explained she was thinking about work since it was more interesting than listening to him prattle on about videogames. Now that Penny is working and has a company car, she no longer needs the car that Leonard bought her (in last season’s “The Friendship Turbulence”) and she has sold it on Craig’s List, and hands a pile of cash to Leonard, returning his investment in her. She doesn’t realize that returning the money would be seen as rejecting him, however, she does present him with a photo of them and the car, showing how much she did appreciate it. They then argue about who should have the money, trading it back and forth.

bb whiteboardRaj bursts in on Sheldon who is working on solving the Penrose conjecture (named for Roger Penrose) and is simultaneously composing his Nobel Prize acceptance speech for solving same. Since this isn’t enough to fully occupy his mind, he is also wondering about mermaid birthing habits, although as demonstrated in the previous week’s “The Focus Attenuation,” Sheldon’s ability to focus his attention on one item at a time, let alone multiple items, may not be as great as he thinks it is. Raj suggests that mermaids would lay eggs on a rock. Rather than consider other alternatives, such as spawning, Sheldon announces he now has space to think of something else and asks why Raj came in. Raj points out the negatives of going into a mine for research, heat, humidity, explosions from mining operations, the length of time in the mine, and no bathrooms, the last of which is enough to make Sheldon reconsider. However, Raj points out that they can attempt to simulate a mine’s environment to adjust to it, much as Howard underwent astronaut training. To figure out where to do their training, Sheldon googles “Hot, Dark, and Moist” (most of the top hits, now point to this episode of The Big Bang Theory, and as an aside, Simon Helberg, who plays Howard, played Moist in Doctor Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog), although when Sheldon did his search, he found a whole bunch of videos that would shock him if he were to watch them, and probably make him wish that humans spawned or laid eggs on rocks.

bb penny huggingLeonard suggests to Penny that they take the money and open a joint account, to begin their married life. Penny likes the idea and Leonard points out that he isn’t just a genius in bed, having to agree with himself in a falsetto when Penny doesn’t jump in to acknowledge his sexual prowess. Penny comments that Leonard is so hung up on the money issue because now that she has a well-paying job she’s less reliant on his generosity. Leonard replies that he doesn’t need to buy her affection, but it bothered her because she wasn’t in control of their relationship, although after their first couple of breakups, Penny was not always the dominant individual in their relationship. Penny suggests rather than her having control issues, Leonard may have insecurity issue, which he does, and which he demonstrates. The two decide that money isn’t important as Leonard tries to slip it into Penny’s pocket.

Raj and Sheldon have decided that the steam tunnels beneath the university will be the best place to acclimatize themselves to the conditions in a salt mine, and Amy comes along to be their link to the outside world. Raj notes that the steam room at the gym isn’t as accurate and there is the possibility of running into their co-workers, or Howard, in the nude. Amy has her instructions to rescue Sheldon first and only come back for Raj if there is time, much like her instructions in the case of a Zombie apocalypse. Amy is surprised Sheldon is willing to attempt the experiment since he has an aversion to heat, small places, going below floor level, dampness, hatches, ladders, darkness, echoes, and relieving himself in buckets. Of course, his “Fortress of Solitude” in the sixth season’s “The 43 Peculiarity” was in the university’s basement, technically underground, and several of them can be linked to what Sheldon would have experienced between the second and third season in the Arctic, as the writers give him new neuroses without regard to previous storylines.

bb going downReturning from a commercial break, the two are descending into the bowels of the steam tunnels, Raj’s sweat dripping onto Sheldon. Although originally thinking it is 704°, Sheldon realizes his thermometer is on clock mode, but the real temperature of 102° isn’t much better. Sheldon records a log entry indicating that he is already becoming tired of Raj’s company, not boding well for their experiment, and again making the viewer wonder if Sheldon is any good at all as a scientist in any discipline.

bb money and marriageRather than argue over money, Penny and Leonard decide to head over to Bernadette and Howard’s to ask their married friends about how they handle money, shattering Howard’s hopes (?) that it was an invitation to “swing,” again reminding the viewer that Howard began as a fundamentally creepy character and it remains under the veneer of civilization brought out by his relationship with Bernadette. Bernadette explains that they do fight over money at times, partly because she earns so much more than Howard, a description Howard is annoyed with, but Bernadette points out, with her typical shark-like grin when she’s being nasty, that it is an accurate description. According to Bernadette, Howard’s assets are mostly in the form of collectibles, and an argument begins when she finds out he recently bought a Star Trek plate on E-bay, revealing to Leonard and Penny (but not the audience) that she keeps Howard on an allowance (a result of Howard and Raj buying a 3D printer in “The Cooper/Kripke Inversion” ).

bb sheldon in tunnelBack in the steam tunnels, Sheldon is feeling claustrophobic and Raj decides that they should set up the scientific equipment to keep their mind off the discomfort (and perhaps actually act like scientists, although they would be too much for Sheldon). Sheldon would rather sing mining songs, of which he apparently knows a plethora, beginning with Merle Travis’s “Dark as a Dungeon.” Sitting next to him Raj is halfway listening to him while fiddling with equipment, noting that the song’s lyrics are rather bleak despite the tune. When Raj suggests Miley Cyrus would be better than Merle Travis, Sheldon demonstrates a (blissful) ignorance of her work.

Howard and Bernadette’s argument moves on from money to other aspects of their relationship, pointing out that Howard is in many ways an adolescent who has never learned to be an adult under the withering thumb of living in his mother’s house. Howard storms out, leaving Leonard and Penny sitting awkwardly.

And back in the d/u/n/g/e/o/n steam tunnels, Raj is explaining Hannah Montana to Sheldon, who finds it insane that nobody would fail to recognize Miley Cyrus is Hannah Montana just because she wears a wig. Raj points out that Sheldon has no problem believing that a pair of glasses high Superman’s secret identity. Amy calls down to check on them, and Sheldon tells her to use the walkie talkie, then castigating her for speaking on an emergency device until he learns she is planning on going to the vending machine, and he places an order for Funyons, Peppermint Patties, Dr. Peppers, and, as long as he’s going halfway, he suggests she get him a portable DVD player and the first season of Hannah Montana, although Raj tells him season two is better.’

Bernadette apologizes for their fight and explains that part of the problem is that Bernadette makes more than he does and there is still pressure on men to be the providers. Penny is concerned that she could conceivably make more than Leonard and it would lead to problems. Leonard explains that it won’t be a problem since his vision of marriage is based on seeing his parents’ relationship in which his mother emasculated his father in every possible way. Bernadette leaves them alone to check on Howard, and as Penny and Leonard calmly discuss their relationship they hear the arguing began anew from the other room, although Howard is much less shrill with Bernadette than he is with his mother.

bb raj ratsRaj is complaining about the heat. Raj suggests taking more simulated instrument readings and Sheldon notes that he is trying to keep his claustrophobia at bay. Raj offers to end the experiment if it would help, but Sheldon explains that he is wrestling with an emotional struggle. Sheldon realizes that entering the Dark Matter field in his 30s, and is scared. Raj explains that he thinks of the spacecraft Voyager when he is scared. The craft was only supposed to last a few years, ending its mission before Raj was born, but it continued to travel and to send back data. The poignancy with which the scene is played demonstrated a side of Kunal Nayyar’s skill as an actor which is rarely allowed to surface on the show, although the scene is cut short when Sheldon catches sight of large rats behind Raj and flees, leaving Raj to fend for himself. As he flees, Amy reveals he was only in the tunnels for 11 minutes and Raj’s screams echo from the tunnels as the screen fades to black.

bb money bedLeonard is spreading out the money from Penny’s car on the bed as the two prepare to roll around on it, the most fun thing Penny can think to do with the money. When Penny doesn’t respond to Leonard’s comment that he’s never had sex on money, Leonard finds himself needing to retrieve his falsetto voice to carry out the conversation. Meanwhile, Howard and Bernadette and lying in bed following sex discussing their relationship in more adult terms until they begin to talk about his birthday party. Sheldon has turned over his recorded log to Amy to transcribe, although she thinks it silly. As she transcribes the fourth entry, an enraged Raj enters, complaining about Sheldon’s cowardice, and Sheldon notes that Raj’s statements of the obvious continue to annoy.

bb raj complainingThis episode is noteworthy not only for its indication that Sheldon is a rather poor scientist, but also for the strong acting of Kunal Nayyar and his characters use of science to make his way through the scary parts of his life. Nerd culture was used for laughs and pathos in Howard’s obsession with collectibles, but otherwise the fannish world doesn’t appear.

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