WARNING: This review contains spoilers
‘The Empathy Optimization‘ was an odd episode. It started out irritating me, but it ended up winning me over. Leonard and Penny put it very well: Sheldon can be a jerk sometimes, but he means well. I believe the same thing happens with The Big Bang Theory.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t find the first minutes of this episode to be quite offensive towards female geeks. The Big Bang Theory has made a big effort to include female scientists in the story (pretty much every female character works in a scientific-related field), so I will give credit where credit is due. However, the show still struggles to represent women as being capable of being geeks. Having a scene in which three women are talking about Superman and treating it as some sort of miracle that could only happen in a man’s wildest fantasies came out as very jarring in this day and age. I’m optimistic when I say that, thanks to the growth of geek culture in recent years, society is finally becoming more accepting of female geeks. There are plenty of women cosplaying in geeky conventions and running geeky blogs (yours truly). Do we really need to keep treating geeky women as unicorns? I know, I know, Leonard & co. were reacting to Penny, Bernadette and Emily specifically in this scene, but it’s not like we have seen many geeky women in this series anyway.
Focusing now on the episode, ‘The Empathy Optimization’ was about… well, Sheldon trying to optimize his empathy. Apparently, when Sheldon falls sick he can get extra irritable and offensive. Luckily for him, he’s got Amy with him, someone who is extremely patient and who can actually guide him through basic human behaviour. I’m always surprised at how lucky Sheldon is to be surrounded by such understanding people. I’m not sure how a person like him would adapt to society in real life. Sheldon accepts the challenge (nice reference to How I Met Your Mother) and actually goes and sincerely apologizes to everyone he has hurt, basically to get them to invite him to the Las Vegas trip. How much of that was sincere and how much of it was just him enjoying acting I’m not quite sure.
On another note, the best part of this conflict to me was actually getting some screentime for Emily, a character who has been left in the shadows this season. When Sheldon apologizes to her, he mentions that he has always offended people and he will probably keep doing so in the future but, in his heart, he means well. While that might seem like a lazy excuse to keep being mean to others, what Sheldon really means is that he’s socially inept and that he doesn’t realize it when he’s hurting others, something that he never wants to do. These are not just words. He’s actually proved this in the past: the root of his most recent problem with Amy lay in the fact that he was neglecting her without realizing it, even though he was madly in love with her.
This is not an excuse for saying that Sheldon won’t be getting any more character development. Sheldon has changed A LOT since the beginning of the series, and I expect him to keep changing. By the way, other things that I expect are for Emily to keep being relevant and for Stuart to get some love from the others. They both deserve it!