If I were to say “I’m not crying– you’re crying!” after watching “The Change Constant / The Stockholm Syndrome,” the two-part series finale of The Big Bang Theory, at least half of that would be a lie. In a week of television goodbyes, it’s a huge relief to have one show get their final moments pitch-perfect. (I think you know what I’m talking about.)
The finale opens with Penny (Kaley Cuoco), Leonard (Johnny Galecki), Amy (Mayim Bialik) and Sheldon (Jim Parsons) keeping vigil in the Hofstadters’ home, waiting for a very late night/early morning phone call from the Nobel Prize committee to let Amy and Sheldon know if they’ve won.
After a couple of false alarms– a prank call from Kripke (John Ross Bowie) and a call from Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) and Howard (Simon Helberg) to see if there’s any news yet– Amy’s phone rings. It’s the genuine Nobel people calling to say for real that Amy and Sheldon have won.
The next day, Sheldon is overwhelmed by the unexpected ways in which the win immediately changes his life. First, he and Amy are accosted by members of the press as they leave their apartment building to go to work. Next, he and Amy receive an ovation from their colleagues when they enter the cafeteria. By the time reporters come looking for him in his office, he is literally hiding under the desk to avoid them.
While he’s flipping out from the intensity of the attention, Amy melts down when she sees photos of herself online and is confronted with how frumpy she looks. Raj (Kunal Nayyar) overhears her sobbing in the ladies’ room and intervenes. He reminds her that A. She is beautiful, B. She just won a freaking Nobel Prize and C. The Prize comes with a cash component. He convinces her that she can afford a makeover if she wants one and leads her off to Beverly Hills.
When Raj and Amy arrive chez Hofstadter, hoping to do a big reveal for Penny, instead they interrupt Sheldon barely keeping it together while he unloads to Leonard about how he’s feeling. When Sheldon sees the dramatic change in his wife, the one constant in his life, he storms out.
Leonard follows, attempting to calm him while also pointing out how rude he’s just been to Amy. Unfortunately, as they face off on the landing, the elevator doors open to reveal Penny standing inside and that the elevator has been fixed. This additional change breaks Sheldon.
He runs down the stairs to escape, and when he reaches the bottom, there’s Penny. She took the fast elevator and beat him. He tells her he needs to be alone and that she shouldn’t follow him. She asks if he wants a ride, and he accepts.
They head to the Cheesecake Factory, where Sheldon complains about change so much that Penny makes a drinking game of it. Ultimately, she points out that things are always changing– including the two of them– and that change is really the only constant. He recognizes the truth in this, the ways in which they’ve each evolved since they met, and it calms him. Change is a constant, and that’s what he was looking for.
When they return to Penny and Leonard’s apartment, they walk in on Amy, Raj and Leonard moments after the three have shared an empowering decision not to let accommodating Sheldon run their lives anymore. They’re ready to give it to him, but he comes in humbled and ready to enjoy the wonderful thing that has happened to him and Amy.
They begin celebrating their win in earnest, when Sheldon wonders aloud if maybe he’s dreaming. Leonard gives him a resounding slap across the face, and a joyful Sheldon is convinced that he’s awake and it’s real.
Two months later, it’s about time to head to Stockholm for the Prize ceremony, and Amy and Sheldon have treated for plane tickets and formal wear so all of their closest friends can join them. As the Fowler-Coopers work on their speeches and sort the details of the trip, Penny and Leonard conspire to keep a little secret… Penny’s night out drinking with Sheldon led to a slip in the bedroom and the imminent arrival of an unexpected-yet-welcome baby.
Bernie and Howard leave their children, whom we see for the first time ever, with Stuart (Kevin Sussman) and Denise (Lauren Lapkus); Raj leaves Cinnamon with Bert (Brian Posehn); the crew undergoes a last-minute Swedish business etiquette lesson from the Fowler-Coopers and then everyone piles their luggage into the repaired elevator and heads to LAX.
On the plane, Penny’s frequent bathroom trips catch Sheldon’s attention, convincing him that she’s carrying a virus that will infect him and ruin his big day. He shares his concerns with Leonard, and when Penny returns from the bathroom, they decide to share their news with Sheldon. His reaction is typical of him– relief that his triumph won’t be interfered with and no congratulations about their baby.
Sheldon’s insensitivity makes Leonard furious. Just after Sheldon spills the beans to Amy, Leonard confronts him about how he hurts people’s feelings with his selfishness. Amy and Bernie are mildly annoyed by not having heard about the baby from Penny first, but they’re ultimately happy for her. She didn’t think she wanted kids, but now that one is coming, she’s looking forward to it.
While the Hofstadters’ news spreads and everyone starts feeling frustrated with Sheldon, Raj is caught up in his own drama. He realizes he’s sitting next to Sarah Michelle Gellar on the plane– television’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer!
After a long flight, everyone reaches the hotel and gets settled, and it starts to seem like they might not all make it to the Prize ceremony after all. Stuart has proven to be a rather inept babysitter, reporting to the Wolowitzes that Halley has lost a tooth after a tumble down the stairs and that Michael has been running a low fever. Penny transitions quickly from loving pickled herring to clinging to the toilet as it all comes back up, and Sheldon works his way through his friends insulting them all with his insensitivity to their familial obligations. The Wolowitzes and Hofstadters decide to just go home.
Dressed in his tux and ready to accept his Prize without any of his friends in the audience after all, Sheldon learns from Amy that all of them tolerate him because they know his offenses aren’t intentional. He grasps the depth of her statement when she confesses that this is even true of her sometimes– they’re tolerating him.
Meanwhile, the rest of the gang cools down enough to realize that they want to be there to support Amy, and that even though Sheldon is a handful, they want to see him accept that medal. They take their places in the auditorium, and the Fowler-Coopers only know they’ve come when they hear Penny whooping for them in the crowd.
Amy, wearing a lovely gown and her tiara, gives a short and passionate speech about how girls who are drawn to careers in science should go for it, even if someone tells them not to, because it’s the best job in the world. Then Sheldon takes the mic and puts aside his planned speech to instead acknowledge how much support the people in his life have given him, and how that is an integral element of his success. He says:
“This honor doesn’t just belong to me. I wouldn’t be up here if it weren’t for some very important people in my life. Beginning with my mother, father, memaw, brother and sister… and my other family, who I’m so happy to have here with us. (At which point he notices that Raj has brought Buffy the Vampire Slayer with him)
“I was under a misapprehension that my accomplishments were mine alone. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have been encouraged, sustained, inspired and tolerated– not only by my wife– but by the greatest group of friends anyone ever had. I’d like to ask them to stand.”
He then names each of his friends, giving their titles– including Astronaut for Howard and “my two dearest friends in the world ” for Penny and Leonard. He inadvertently reveals the secret of Penny’s pregnancy to the audience before continuing, “Howard, Bernadette, Raj, Penny, Leonard… I apologize if I haven’t been the friend you deserve, but I want you to know: in my way, I love you all.” He turns to Amy to tell her, “I love you,” says “thank you” to those assembled and kisses his wife.
Some time later, the gang convenes at the Hofstadters’ for Chinese as an acoustic version of the show’s theme plays over their conversation. The only difference in the scene from any of their other dinners is Amy and Sheldon wearing their Nobel Prizes around their necks.
I’m going to miss this straightforward show so much. When it got things right, it got them really right. Kudos to them for making time to show the Wolowitz kids on screen tonight and for the sweet, retrospective montage that opened the episode. I believe this will go down in history as one of the better series finales of all time.
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