TV crossover events are usually just a ratings ploy, but tonight’s Big Bang Theory proved to be the exception. The episode delivered a satisfying—and emotional—arc and moved the story forward, something that’s all-too important as Big Bang approaches the last half of its final season.
This episode, titled “The VCR Illumination,” was also the perfect promo for anyone not watching Young Sheldon (the smart, charming spin-off starring Iain Armitage as the pint-size prodigy). In tonight’s episode, young Sheldon pays grown Sheldon (Jim Parsons) a visit via VHS tape, but it’s the appearance of Lance Barber’s George Cooper Sr. (as Sheldon’s dad) that brilliantly links the present with the past.
The episode begins as a continuation from the most recent episode—”The Citation Negation”—when Sheldon and Amy discovered that Super-Asymmetry is inherently flawed and “does not bear the weight of further examination.” It was devastating news for the newlyweds, who had spent the better part of the last year working on their theory.
The passage of time hasn’t helped either, at least when it comes to Sheldon. In the days that have passed, he’s understandably still mourning the loss of this scientific breakthrough. It’s shaken him so much that he starts questioning everything about himself. Asparagus? Maybe he likes it after all. Jazz music? Perhaps it is music to one’s ear. When Amy points out that these are all things he hates, he says, “I thought so too, but I also thought Super-Asymmetry was a good idea, so what else am I wrong about?” (To be honest, I kind of like this Sheldon.)
Amy worries that if he’s re-thinking everything, how long will it be until he re-thinks her? (Don’t be silly, Amy; you’re still the best thing ever to happen to him).
That’s when Leonard remembers that Sheldon has kept an emergency VHS tape in the safe with a pep talk from his younger self. Leonard gives it to Amy, who plays it for Sheldon; and for the first time, viewers see young Sheldon and older Sheldon in the same scene. On the tape, young Sheldon says he’s guessing something bad happened, otherwise why else would he be watching this (“I’m so smart!” grown Sheldon remarks). But as soon as young Sheldon begins to dish out advice (“Never forget, no matter how bad things seem….”) the tape switches to one of George Sr.’s football games. Yep, “taping over syndrome” is a struggle that ’80s kids will never forget. Sheldon is angry; when Amy asks what she can do to help, he barks that she can build a time machine to go back and tell his younger self to give up because nothing is going to work out how he wants.
Leonard and Penny, realizing their friend is full in crisis mode, call in back-up in the form of Dr. Beverly Hofstadter. She says Sheldon needs to grieve and suggests they throw a funeral of sorts. Sheldon thinks it’s a ridiculous idea…until he finds out Beverly made the suggestion.
So Sheldon, Amy, Leonard, and Penny all head to the bathroom for a weird makeshift funeral and end up catching the shower curtain on fire. Prior to that, Sheldon gives a moving eulogy in which he says, “I know this is just a scientific theory, but it was more than that. It described the universe in a new and beautiful way. I want that to be the universe we live in. But I guess it’s not.”
Later that night, Sheldon wakes up to the sound of Amy in the living room re-watching the old VHS tape. She wants to see if she can find anything further from young Sheldon’s speech, but adult Shelton says it doesn’t matter. It turns out he remembers everything he said in the tape. Amy wonders why he can’t just rely on that. “It would have meant more coming from me,” he says in total seriousness. (Can’t argue with genius, I suppose.)
But then, in a miracle equivalent to figuring out a Rubik’s cube, the tape also has a recording of George Sr.’s pep-talk to his players during halftime. On it, George Sr. says, “I know we’re down by a lot, and we’re probably not going to win this one. In fact, we’re definitely not going to win this one. But we’re not going to quit either. And if we do lose, that doesn’t make you losers. You learn as much about who you are and what you’re made of from failing as you do from success. Maybe more. So you can spend the next half feeling sorry for yourselves or you can get out there and give ‘em hell.”
Sheldon’s older brother Georgie (another fun cameo, this time by Young Sheldon‘s Montanta Jordan) makes an appearance as one of the football players and yells, “Yeah, give ’em hell!” But George Sr. says, “You watch your mouth, your mother’s watching!” Sheldon just so happens to pause the tape at the exact moment George Sr. is looking straight at the camera; it’s almost as if George Sr. is telepathically sending a message to his now-grown son.
But just as Amy is prepared to write off George Sr.’s speech as a nice pep-talk that didn’t really work (Sheldon points out that his dad’s team lost that day), Sheldon says maybe it did. “I’ve been acting like the game is over,” he says. “But maybe it’s only half time. There’s a lot more physics left to play.” Amy is impressed. I mean, it is the first time Sheldon’s ever used a sports metaphor, but that’s not all.
”It’s interesting,” he continues. “I always thought that my father’s journey and mine were so different, but he also faced failure and setbacks. Maybe our lives mirrored each other more than I thought.”
This is the point in the show where the sweeping movie soundtrack would start to take over, but we’re not there yet. Amy remarks that from one viewpoint, Sheldon and George Sr.’s lives are asymmetrical; from another vantage point, they’re symmetrical. “Sheldon, what if symmetry and asymmetry are observer relative?” she asks. “That would mean the Russian paper was right…”
By the way, if you’re still following all this science talk, you’re much smarter than I am.
Sheldon realizes that Amy’s on to something big. The Russian paper may have been right—that Super-Asymmetry is inherently flawed—but Sheldon notes that’s only from one perspective. If they look at it from a deeper view with more dimensions, their theory still stands. Not only does it still stand, Amy notes, but, “it might be a bigger idea than the one we were originally proposing.”
Sheldon—overcome by an enormous sense of urgency—tells Amy to run and get her laptop. “We have a paper to fix!”
Then, in perhaps the series’ most touching moment to date, Sheldon looks back at the TV screen—still paused on the image of George Sr. looking straight into the camera—and says, “Thanks, dad. We’re going to give ’em hell.” In just those two lines, Jim Parsons manages to both break your heart and put it back together. And then, in absolute silence, Sheldon turns off the light, walks to the bedroom, and the scene fades to black.