TV Show Review

TV Review: THE BIG BANG THEORY: Season 8, Episode 18: The Leftover Thermalization [CBS]

simon helberg the big bang theory the leftover thermalization

CBS The Big Bang Theory The Leftover Thermalization TV Show Review. The Big Bang Theory, Season 8, Episode 18: The Leftover Thermalization was a televised, probably unintended psychic vivisection of the relationship between Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) and his late mother, played by the late actress Carol Ann Susi. Susi’s real life death from cancer on Nov. 11 in Los Angeles led producers to write her character’s death into the script rather than have another actress imitate her.

In the shows since, Howard exhibited a strange ambivalence toward his mother, an inability to show emotion, which in and of itself does not constitute a dysfunctional relationship. However, add in Howard’s equally odd penchant for what seem to be displays of forced affection toward his deceased mom. For example, hugging her box of ashes, or celebrating with friends a last meal she prepared after it defrosts in the refrigerator when the power goes out—the premise of The Leftover Thermalization.

I’m not a trained clinical psychologist, but I’ll go on record here as having a hunch, a premonition if you will. Most viewers may not have thought about it. I’ll ask them. Why is Howard so determined to enact public shows of warmth and affection toward his late mother that are always curiously somehow devoid of emotion?

The reasons must go deep.

Howard’s mother often yelled at him (always off screen) “How-waaard!”

This has been used in the past to generate comedy. But there is apparently a dark, more serious undercurrent.

She evidently browbeat him, treated him like a naughty little boy, dominated him to her will, even when he reached 20 years old (he’s 27 in the show). She belittled him as though he were a child, mocked him, sometimes cruelly. The two never achieved a true bond of fondness. She made him feel impotent. As a result, over the years, Howard developed a callous coldness for his mother, a disregard, a contempt, like that she had for him, but unlike hers,’ one that was bottled up, submerged, covered over like layers on an onion.

Howard felt a numbness toward his mother, all too common in dysfunctional families.

When she died, he was shocked, saddened, but couldn’t feel real grief and loss. This explains his strange detachment two episodes ago. No tears, no emotion, just a stunned look. Yet Howard is also a decent and sensitive person. He felt troubled guilt that he couldn’t feel loss and grief. So he tries to make up for it by engaging in large, burlesque, theatrical, forced displays of after-the-fact endearment—-the last supper plot in The Leftover Thermalization.

This is how Howard covers his inability to feel grief.

At one point Howard hugs his wife Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) and says, “I’ll never talk to her (his mother) again.” It’s insincere, like he’s trying to convince himself.

There are only three script possibilities:

The producers intended to portray the dysfunctional relationship I described above, which I highly doubt, as I don’t think they were introspective enough. Or secondly, I misread the whole thing, which I also doubt. Or a third possibility. As a result of chance. The script writers wanted to portray Howard’s love for his mom, and by inconsistency did exactly the opposite, displaying a bizarre kind of callous and contemptuous non-love, and frantic staged attempts by Howard to rewrite in his mind the troubled history.

I will barely touch on the old-hat second sub-plot of the show, a science magazine publishing an article about the scientific work of Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki) that leaves Leonard’s name out.

“They (magazine) made an editorial decision only to cite the lead scientist,” Sheldon says.

“But it was my idea,” Leonard responds.

Bernadette takes the arguing Sheldon and Leonard into a back room and yells at them to observe decorum and Howard’s supposed grief, leading Howard to say, “You ever think Bernadette sounds like my mom?”

It’s the perfect end to a show I describe as  a Freudian slip.

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About the author

John Sammon

John Sammon is a writer whose experience includes newspaper reporting, magazine writing, personality profiles, interviews, celebrity interviews (Clint Eastwood), historical pieces, investigative and crime. He was selected “Most Valuable Reporter” for California’s oldest continually operating newspaper, and covered the weekend crime beat for a daily newspaper in Nevada. If you beat your wife on Friday, he wrote about it and got you in deep trouble on Saturday.

He covered the Nevada brothel beat and did stories on wild horses. The publication of his investigative pieces led to a dishonest political candidate withdrawing from a statewide elective campaign, while another politician unsuccessfully sued him because he didn’t like an article Mr. Sammon produced. His articles led to government reforms, including a school district performing its first-ever financial audit, and a Nevada State Law rolling back home heating oil prices for fixed-income seniors who depended on it.

Mr. Sammon is also a humor writer of the website Sammonsays, a professional script writer, an actor and member of the Screen Actor’s Guild, a film narrator for the California State Parks system, a standup comedian, and the author of three novels and one nonfiction book.

He worked in his spare time with sick and wounded animals at the SPCA.

Mr. Sammon's latest book, "Sammon Says: Exposing American Empire," a compilation of over 100 political opinion columns written over several years and recounting America's involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, was released in October 2013 by Dictus Publishing of Germany.

He is working on a new historical romance novel.

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