There’s always been something that bugged me about The Big Bang Theory. Although I have always loved the show and have watched it since the beginning, I also found it so strange that I could love a show so much when I found the main character so annoying. But, of course, that’s the whole bizarre appeal of The Big Bang Theory, isn’t it? The character of Sheldon Cooper, played to award-winning perfection by Jim Parsons, is the ultimate anti-hero. Forget Walter White or Tony Soprano…each of those characters at least had some self-awareness to balance their narcissism. Sheldon is just outright obnoxious. But Parsons’ performance is so appealing, Sheldon’s self-centered cluelessness ended up being charming because we all knew, deep down, he was a good person. Right? That’s why we watched all these years, right? We just kept waiting for one of two things to happen: he would either get his comeuppance or he would have the great epiphany. Well, it may have taken 280 episodes, but one of those finally happened. And it was glorious.
[SPOILER ALERT: if you haven’t watched the series finale of The Big Bang Theory and don’t want it spoiled, stop reading]
Leading up to the final episode of the longest-running multi-camera show in television history, Amy (Mayim Bialik) and Sheldon were waiting to find out if their discovery of super asymmetry was going to win them the Nobel Prize in Physics. When they finally get the call that tells them they have won, it sets in motion a whirlwind of events, not the least of which is Sheldon freaking out, prompting Leonard (Johnny Galecki) to engage in the slap heard ‘round the world…one 12 years in coming. Not only is Sheldon put off by all the press attention, but he is dismayed by all the changes the big win is bringing. Amy gets a makeover, Howard (Simon Helberg) acts like his best friend and even the elevator is working (in a perfectly-executed reveal). Sheldon is not good with change, as we all know, so Leonard and Penny (Kaley Cuoco) decide to hold off telling him that they are pregnant.
But Sheldon is still Sheldon, so he puts it all aside to do what he does best: boss everyone around. As the gang prepares to go to Sweden to support Sheldon and Amy for the Nobel presentation, he gives them all instructions on how to behave, speak, etc. While on the plane to Sweden, Sheldon mistakes Penny’s morning-sickness for a contagious virus, so Leonard and Penny are forced to tell him about the pregnancy, which he takes in with his usual self-interest—and then thoughtlessly blurts the news out to the others. His selfishness gets even worse in Sweden when his lack of compassion towards Howard and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch), who are worried about being so far away from their kids (who have been left at home with Stuart (Kevin Sussman)), causes Howard to finally say enough is enough as he and Bernadette plan to go home before the ceremony. Leonard and Penny decide to leave as well, still hurt from his selfish reaction to their big news. Sheldon complains to Amy, accusing his friends of being selfish and abandoning him on his big day, but she points out that he really hurt their feelings. When Sheldon responds that he didn’t mean to, Amy says “You never mean to. It’s the only reason people tolerate you.” She then even admits it’s true for her sometimes as well.
It’s quite a stunning moment, especially in the journey of this show. There have been, over the course of 280 episodes, many, MANY times where Sheldon’s selfishness or obliviousness have been brought to his attention, and almost every one of those times has he glossed over it, excused it or simply ignored it. And everyone, including the audience, continued to put up with him because, deep down, we all knew he has a good heart. But what’s the point of having a good heart if it’s always hidden? At what point would Sheldon’s friends finally say enough is enough and walk away? For the writers, having it all build up to the final scene like this showed a brilliant synergy—as if, for 12 years, they had planned for this: Sheldon’s redemption.
The last scene is quite powerful, with Dr. Sheldon Cooper at the podium, accepting the Nobel Prize for Physics, the culmination of his career, finally accepting the adulation, respect and praise he has felt he has deserved his whole life. This is his moment, and he had planned to use it to call out everyone who had ever doubted or crossed him, which would be solidly in keeping with the Sheldon we have come to know. But it is here, in his big moment, where he finally discovers what we hoped was there all along: gratitude. Instead of using his time to boast about himself, Sheldon thanks each of his friends individually (they all decided to stay after all for the presentation), acknowledging their talents, wisdom and unique contributions to his success. After 12 years of selfishly stepping on and ignoring his friends’ patience, loyalty and kindnesses, Sheldon Cooper redeems himself and proves that it’s never too late to say thank you.
Unlike other series which felt like they didn’t know how to end, it’s almost as if the creators of The Big Bang Theory knew exactly how they wanted to end it when the time came. And they played it perfectly. It gave each character a personalized send off and let Jim Parsons give one last powerhouse performance, but, this time, as the one giving the attention, not getting it. It makes you wonder if Parsons asked for the chance to send Sheldon out this way.
So, in the end, it was a perfect goodbye to one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time. It stayed true to itself, hit big laughs, and ended with a perfect bullseye to the heart. It helped me remember what I’ve loved about this show for 12 years…and why I will miss it so much.