It only took 15 episodes into season 11 of The Big Bang Theory, but the Sheldon Cooper redemption tour is finally underway. This season Sheldon has been remarkably different from seasons 9 and 10 in terms of tone, behavior, and growth. For a character that’s already extreme in his ways, it’s been a bit jarring. That bewilderment has extended to his fiancé Amy Farrah Fowler as well, who has seemingly compromised any self respect by putting up with Sheldon’s insensitive and, frankly, sexist behavior this season.
Of course, these were never two characters known for their tact, so to expect them to parade around Pasadena (or their apartment) with the social graces of Prince William and Duchess Kate was never going to happen. But after all the growth that took place the last few seasons, I thought at the start of this season that Shamy was more than ready to enter into marriage and a life together…until that all fell apart.
But in tonight’s episode, “The Novelization Correlation,” Sheldon was forced to look hard at his behavior when Wil Wheaton’s version of the Professor Proton show debuts. For context, this was Sheldon’s favorite show growing up, and Professor Proton was his idol. When the series was rebooted, Sheldon wanted nothing more than to get the gig—but it went to Wheaton instead. Cue feelings of anger, disappointment, and disbelief. In Sheldon’s defense, who wouldn’t feel that way?
When Sheldon actually watches (OK, hate watches) the new version of Wheaton’s Proton, he surprisingly likes it—until Howard shows up on the show. When Sheldon asks Amy why Howard didn’t tell him he’d be making a guest appearance, Amy guesses that Howard was probably worried Sheldon would be a big baby about it. (Truth.) Later, Howard tells Sheldon he’s going to have to apologize to Wil if he wants to be on the show, and Sheldon obliges.
In a moment of actual sincerity, Sheldon—with a reluctant Howard in tow—shows up at Wheaton’s to say he’s sorry. Just when it seems his apology worked, Wil says he’d like Amy to come on the show because he’d like to feature more female scientists. Preach.
Of course, Sheldon is taken aback and tries to negotiate himself as part of a package deal with Amy, telling Wheaton that “wouldn’t it be nice to have us both on to show that female scientists can land a man?” (This is still Sheldon we’re talking about, after all.) Howard’s dumbfounded reaction perfectly summed up the correct response to such nonsense. And if Sheldon had any hope of getting on Wheaton’s show following his “apology,” this certainly drove the nail right through that coffin.
When Sheldon returns home and asks Amy if she wants to be on the new Professor Proton, Amy tells him she’s not really interested. “I’m all for promoting women in science,” she says, “But…I know you have strong feelings about Professor Proton, and I don’t want to get in the middle of that.”
There’s so much wrong with that statement—namely, the fact that Amy is going to bypass touting her own achievements (again!)—to spare Sheldon’s feelings. Not only would this be a great showcase for her, but, as Wheaton pointed out, it would draw attention to more female scientists. Season 9 or 10 Amy would never have thought twice. But just as I was about to give up with Sheldon and Amy, we had a breakthrough:
Sheldon: “So, you’re not going to do something because you think it might upset me?”
Amy: “It’s tricky, because answering that question honestly is one of the things I tend not to do because it upsets you.”
Sheldon: “Well, that’s very upsetting.”
Amy: “Like I said.”
Sheldon: “What other things don’t you do because of me?”
Amy: “Remember last week when we went to that dueling piano bar I was so excited about?”
Amy: “Well, now you’re getting it.”
Later, Sheldon tells Howard and Raj that he’s upset Amy often doesn’t do things because she’s afraid of his reaction. Howard points out that it’s not sometimes, it’s “always.” Raj says it’s not just Amy that doesn’t do things because of Sheldon, it’s “everybody.” Howard adds that this is nothing new—everyone feels this way. Sheldon is shocked and questions if everyone walks on egg shells around him to spare his feelings. For the first time all season, it seems as though Sheldon finally has begun to understand the magnitude—and consequences—of his ways. “I don’t want my relationship with Amy to be like that. I can change,” he says. The guys doubt it, but Sheldon is determined to prove them otherwise.
After a childish game of chess at home that night (Sheldon’s doing, of course), he finally tells Amy he’s sorry. “I’m trying to show you I can change,” he says. “I don’t want you to miss out on things because of me. Maybe somewhere out there, there’s a little girl who will see you on Wil’s show and realize that she too can grow up to be a brilliant, amazing, successful scientist.” (Where has this Sheldon been hiding?!)
It’s not the most perfect apology—Sheldon naturally throws in some jabs about Amy’s chess game, because, well, he’s Sheldon—but it’s the most sincere words to come out of his mouth all season. It’s also proof that he doesn’t have to be a jackass to create story. I’d much rather watch this Sheldon than whoever was spoon-fed to us lately.
When Sheldon and Amy gather around their laptop to watch Amy’s appearance on Proton (apparently she did it after all), Sheldon tells Amy that she’s glowing and he’s so proud of her. Amy’s proud of him as well, and in classic Big Bang fashion, Sheldon asks if it’s because she can’t tell how jealous he is. “No, no, I can,” she says. “But I can tell how hard you’re trying to keep it in.” Really hard, Sheldon replies. She then gives him a kiss, says she’s going to bed, and Sheldon tells her he’s going to scream on the roof. It’s fine, Amy’s fine, and I’m fine with it, because he’s honest, sincere, and it’s still in line with who he is.