If there was ever a recap I dreaded writing more, it was this one, the hour-long series finale of The Big Bang Theory. What this show has meant to me—and TO so many of you—can't quite be summed up in an article. There are too many stories, too many photos, too many memories to properly encapsulate what it was like to welcome these hilariously weird, brilliant characters into our lives each week.
But this deadline wasn't going to wait until I was ready (which is never), so let's get to it. Note that this recap will be a little different because I wrote it based on the notes I scribbled down in real time during the finale taping. In other words, I didn't have the luxury of being able to pause and rewind on my DVR. So as I recap what happened on screen, I'll include what was transpiring behind- the scenes at the same time. Here we go.
The first part of the episode—titled "The Change Constant"—begins at 2:45 A.M. as Sheldon, Amy, Leonard, and Penny await word from the Nobel committee about this year's winners. We all know that Shamy is going to win—there's no way they wouldn't after so many episodes devoted to this storyline—but it's still nerve-wracking.
Sheldon's phone rings, but it's Kripke pretending to be a committee member. "You've won the Nobel prize in being suckers," he says. It's a nice send-off for John Ross Bowie (Kripke) and, more important, helps build tension for the big moment. Howard and Bernadette call Sheldon's phone minutes later to see if there's any news. "We have two little kids," they explain. "We've been up for an hour."
And then Amy's phone rings. She picks it up, and her face has the look of someone who just had the wind knocked out of them. When she finally speaks, it's unclear what's just happened. "I see. OK, thank you," she says, emotionless. And then: "We won."
Damn, this is going to be a long hour. I'm emotional already.
Sheldon can't believe it. He asks if he's dreaming. Leonard slaps him, and Sheldon realizes the magnitude and reality of the moment. "We won the Nobel Prize," he screams. Mazel Tov!
The next scene begins with Sheldon and Amy walking down the stairs of their apartment. I'm a little nervous because I have a cameo coming up—you can read about how that happened here—and I'm about to see the scene for the first time. All I know is that I yelled "Dr. Cooper! Dr. Fowler!" for nearly an hour straight. Oh, and the Fuller House house was down the block (they film next door).
Anyway, Amy and Sheldon walk outside and are bombarded by news crews and TV reporters (hi, me) hoping to get their reaction to their big achievement. It's a huge moment, as Amy is only the fourth woman to win the Nobel in physics. I see myself running up to them in an aerial shot outside the building, and then again in a brief moment while we're begging for a soundbite. Later, Jim Parsons says to me, "Just so you know, you've never been that aggressive in all the years you've interviewed me." Ha, thank goodness. The scene that airs is over in a second, but that memory—cheesiness alert—will stay with me forever. I still can't believe I got to do it.
Later, in the school cafeteria, President Siebert calls Sheldon and Amy "official superstars." Clearly he hasn't been to my parents' house, because they're saying the same thing about their daughter right about now. (I kid, I kid.) It's more than Sheldon can handle, and he makes a run for it, just like he did when he saw me playing a very heightened version of myself. He escapes to his office. Then, in one of the evening's running gags, Howard—and later Bernadette—declare themselves Amy and Sheldon's best friends who will do all their press on their behalf.
As Sheldon hides behind his desk, Amy is in the bathroom crying. Raj overhears and wants to know what's wrong. "My picture is all over the Internet, and I look terrible," she says. This seems odd for Amy, but OK. Raj then says it's not the greatest angle—rude—and suggests a makeover. Double rude. Amy says that's probably too expensive (we all know Raj is thinking on a Pretty Woman level), but he mentions that the Nobel comes with a cash prize. Amy admits she hadn't thought about what to spend the money on, but she could use some of it to get a new haircut. Raj is beside himself.
Now, let me preface this by saying that overall I think Big Bang's finale was one of the best series sendoffs ever. If you want me to grade it, I give it a solid A. But this particular storyline—as well as one later in the episode—gives me some pause. I'm all for Amy wanting to do something special for herself, but she's always been a very confident woman, especially when it comes to her appearance. She's worn those orthopedic shoes like someone proud to know she's not ruining her back. She pulls off a cardigan and a corduroy skirt better than I ever could. And she's certainly seen herself in pictures before. So this whole "I look so frumpy" narrative seems a little off for me. Some upgrades? Sure! But a makeover worthy of Queer Eye? I don't know.
Back to the recap: While Raj is playing fairy godmother, Sheldon is at Leonard's stressing over his newfound fame. "This is something I've wanted my whole life, but everything feels different," he says. Leonard tells him to give it time. Everything will eventually settle down. And with that, cue Amy's entrance straight out of Miss Congeniality. She's cut her hair, put on lipstick, and is wearing a business suit. WITH HEELS. Mayim Bialik looks amazing. But the real Amy, I fear, has been kidnapped.
Sheldon freaks out. And who can blame him? He tells Amy he likes her better the way she was, but Amy says she likes the way she looks now. While I'm still a bit shocked by it all, I'm on board as long as Amy's happy. Sheldon can't see it that way and storms out into the hallway. "I'm sorry," he says. "Amy is the one constant I can count on, and now that's changing."
Then, as Sheldon's having a near meltdown in front of the elevator, we hear some mysterious chimes. Could it be? Yep. The elevator doors open, and Penny's standing there in a pink business suit. "Can you believe it?!" she says. "They finally fixed the elevator!" (Co-creator Bill Prady was right; having this happen so early in the episode is definitely something I didn't expect.)
Sheldon screams that this whole thing is a nightmare and runs down the stairs. My head is spinning from so many developments that even I begin to wonder if I'm seeing things. Is this a dream sequence? Real life? Have I turned into Sheldon and don't know it? WHAT IS HAPPENING? But it's fine. Really. In the name of comedy, I'm so on board.
While Sheldon's gone underground (or maybe back to Texas, who knows at this point), Amy suggests she should have done her makeover in increments to make it easier on Sheldon. But then she comes to her senses and decides it's a huge day for her. "I'm allowed to do [what I want] without worrying how it will affect my husband." OK, forget what I said earlier. The real Amy is back.
Sheldon is not, however, and has turned up at the Cheesecake Factory (nice touch, writers) drowning his sorrows with Penny as a drinking companion. Every time he says the word changing, Penny drinks. She says he's the only one who could win the biggest prize in science and still be upset about it. "You go on and on about things staying the same, but you've changed a lot," she points out. "You have friends, got married…had sex almost as many times as I have fingers.” Preach it, sister.
Sheldon says she’s changed too, and Penny explains that the only thing that stays the same is that things are always changing. That's when they notice Bernadette and Howard on CNN talking about being the best friends of the newly crowned Nobel laureates. It's enough to make Sheldon start drinking.
While Penny's getting trashed with Sheldon, Amy tells Leonard that she likes the way her hair looks and is done tip-toeing around Sheldon. That prompts Leonard to tell Amy that he's done enabling Sheldon. (Remember, he is new Leonard after all.) In fact, the reason Leonard wears hoodies is because Sheldon always demanded the thermostat be set just above freezing. Leonard also says he doesn't like the atom/DNA structure that's been in the background of every apartment shot; when he places his hand on a bunch of the tiny spheres, the whole thing collapses. Whoops.
A drunk Penny and Sheldon come home, and Penny asks Sheldon if he wants to give the elevator a try instead of taking the stairs. Sheldon stares into space before acknowledging that the elevator did work when he moved into the building. Maybe things are just coming full circle. He steps into the elevator, mumbles, “This is wild,” and we have a "To be continued…."
Episode 24: "The Stockholm Syndrome"
The last episode ever begins with a chyron that reads "Two months later…," and it really hits me that we're almost at the end. This sucks.
But back to the show: Leonard and Sheldon are rebuilding the atom/DNA structure that Leonard messed up eight weeks ago. Leonard mentions that it was a very pleasurable, but insane, number of hours it took to complete the repair. I don't remember the exact number that Leonard says, but Johnny Galecki later tells the audience it was the same amount of hours they've spent on this stage. Cue the waterworks.
Penny and Amy come home from a dress fitting for the Nobel ceremony. Amy's cut her hair even shorter (to match Mayim's new haircut, which the actress was thrilled about). Amy not so subtly mentions that dress shopping was the best day of her life because she lost weight in between fittings, while Penny's dress had to be let out. I get why this line was included to foreshadow what happens next, but I really wish it wasn't a part of the dialogue. (It's 2019; time to stop commenting on anyone's weight.) Anyway, it's clear what this means: Penny's pregnant.
Sure enough, once Sheldon and Amy leave, Leonard says to his wife, "Was Amy suspicious when they had to let your dress out?" It's revealed that the night Penny went out drinking with Sheldon, she came home, had ravenous sex with Leonard, and ended up conceiving.
The audience loses their mind; but for a second time, I'm a bit unsure how to feel. Leonard's always wanted to be a dad, so I'm thrilled for him, but Penny was always against it. In this moment, though, Penny seems genuinely elated. It's also been a number of weeks since she found out (and we don't know how that initial reaction went down). My biggest concern was that it reinforces the notion that a couple isn't complete until they have kids, but in my interview with the EP's, they explain why they wanted to make this part of the story.
While I wasn't entirely shocked that Penny wound up pregnant, I was stunned by what happened next: Bernadette is having a conversation with Howard in their kids' bedroom and lifts up Michael—in real-life form!—from his crib. I've been begging the producers to show the kids since they were born, so I don't even believe what I'm seeing. Turns out, Chuck Lorre made the suggestion at the last minute. Well done.
In a separate scene, Cinnamon also makes an appearance, and the audience is thrilled to see Raj's mini-me again. Bert's going to take care of her while Raj is off in Sweden, and it's another perfect send-off for a secondary character (Bert, not Cinnamon).
Next up we see Amy in her dress—and, in a nice touch, wearing her tiara (as are many of the female crew members on this finale night). Amy's doing her best to listen to Sheldon, who is trying to whittle down his Nobel speech to 90 minutes. I can relate, as that's how many pages this recap is beginning to feel like.
At this point in the taping, the audience gets a break to scarf down some pizza. Kunal Nayyar (Raj) spends some time talking with Warner Bros. Television president Peter Roth in Penny and Leonard's kitchen. I notice that a few fans in the audience are wearing T-shirts that say, "The Final Show (is going out with a bang)." I ask publicity if they're handing these out—I mean, of course I want one—but no, the fans actually made these shirts on their own dime. I need to up my game.
Meanwhile, Kaley Cuoco's husband, Karl Cook, stands in the back of the audience section to capture plenty of BTS action on his phone for his wife to look at (or post) later.
Back to the action on the stage: The entire cast has gathered for what will be their last scene together on stage 25. It's not the last scene we'll see of them all together, but it's the last one they're filming in real time. In this scene, everyone's eating bagels while Sheldon goes over their itinerary—and a list of acceptable behaviors—while in Sweden. Penny wants to know if she has to go, but Sheldon says there's free alcohol in business class, so it's worth it.
Perhaps the evening's best exchange comes next when Sheldon advises her not to abuse the free alcohol, and Penny replies that she doesn't like to drink when she flies. That prompts Bernadette to ask if she's pregnant; when Penny lies and says no, Bernadette calls BS because she's known Penny to drink in the shower. Howard wants to know if that means his wife and Penny have showered together. It's funny, but Howard is disgusting.
The next scene has been pretaped, and it's the entire gang trying to fit all their luggage—and themselves—into the elevator. It's pure physical comedy and reminds me of the "Pivot!" scene from Friends. Now I miss that show too.
On the airplane, Howard confides that he's afraid to be away from the kids when Raj comes over and says he thinks Buffy the Vampire Slayer—Sarah Michelle Gellar—is on their flight. Sure, OK.
Meanwhile, Penny keeps having to go to the bathroom. Sheldon starts freaking out that she's sick and going to infect him. Leonard says she's not sick, but Sheldon's not buying it. When Sheldon eventually learns the truth, he has virtually no reaction. What he does do is tell Amy, who then runs to Penny wanting to know why she didn't confide in her. Penny says her pregnancy was an accident that happened the same night she went drinking with Sheldon.
But this is where the problems start. Sheldon says he didn't have a reaction to Penny's announcement because "it's just a baby." Besides, his Nobel is more important. Leonard tells Sheldon he's a selfish jerk. Oh boy. Things are about to go down. With only 15 minutes or so left in the episode, this storyline is getting much darker than anyone could have anticipated. To lighten the mood, Raj returns with Sarah Michelle Gellar's boarding pass. OK, then.
This is the point in the tape night where the actors take a break from filming, and Johnny and Kaley say a few words to the audience. The two have been doing this since the early days of the show, and the fans eat up their one-on-one time. "This is gonna be tough," Johnny says, his voice cracking. "Tonight marks episode 279." He's a mess, Kaley's a mess; at least I'm in good company. They talk about how much the show has been a dream come true and thank the audience for all the love. They acknowledge that even though it's the end, the show will live on in their hearts forever. (And on TBS. Always on TBS.)
When Johnny and Kaley return to the stage, the next scene is Stuart FaceTiming Bernadette and Howard. He and Denise are taking care of Michael and Halley, but Halley fell down the stairs trying to bring Michael his booboo bear. She lost a tooth, swallowed the tooth, and now everyone's waiting for her to poop out the tooth. Good times.
Once that scene is over, executive producers Steve Molaro and Steve Holland embrace Melissa Rauch (Bernadette). They're all crying, and it's only been 90 minutes since filming started.
Over in the audience section, fans are coming up to the microphone one by one to talk about what the show has meant to them. One woman is an autism specialist who says she uses the show to increase tolerance and decrease bullying. Another woman says she met her best friend online because of the show, while another says says she waited 14 hours to attend tonight's taping. Another woman says Sheldon inspired her to be a scientist. I wish everyone could listen to these testimonies. It's truly amazing.
As filming commences, Penny is seen indulging in all the room service when Sheldon comes to apologize. "I can't wait to meet it," he says of the baby. It's a terrible apology, but Sheldon's only concerned with Sheldon right now. Then Howard comes by and reveals he and Bernadette are going to head home because of the kids. Leonard says he's going to leave too, but Penny tells him no—there's too much room service food to leave behind. Raj is the only one who's not going anywhere. In fact, thanks to a surprise phone call from a surprise person, he's staying put. (I wrongly assume it's Anu coming to give Raj his rom-com ending, but it's not.)
Before the start of the next scene, Chuck Lorre is granted clapper honors (the device used to say "Take one!"). Lorre is so emotional he can barely get through it. It's the sweetest moment of the night.
Back to the show: Sheldon thinks he's fine and everyone else is the problem. Amy tries to explain that their friends are more important than the Nobel, especially because they tolerate Sheldon. Meanwhile, a few hotel rooms down, Penny is throwing up. They realize they can't go home because of how sick she is, but also because Sheldon is like their practice kid even if he's selfish and annoying. They have to stay. Howard and Bernadette do the same.
The Nobel ceremony begins, and everyone is in the audience dressed in their Pasadena finest. But wait, Raj is there with a date—and it's not Anu. So who called him in that last scene that made him freak out? The one and only Sarah Michelle Gellar, who is the final guest star I didn't know I needed.
While at the podium, Amy dedicates her speech to all the young girls interested in STEM and tells them to go for it and not to listen to anyone who says you can't. It's a poignant moment, especially given that Mayim Bialik has a Ph.D. in neuroscience and Chuck Lorre's Family Foundation created the The Big Bang Theory Scholarship Endowment at UCLA, which has raised millions to support students in financial need studying STEM. It's just another example of the impact this show will have years down the line.
When Amy passes the baton to Sheldon, he thanks his wife and says that the honor doesn't just belong to him, but his family of friends. Then, "Is that Buffy the Vampire Slayer?" I can't figure out if I'm laughing or crying or both. Sheldon goes on to say that he's been "encouraged and tolerated by the greatest group of friends" and asks them to take a stand. His final act of maturity (on the show at least) is how he's edited down his prepared remarks to give a perfect speech that speaks from the heart and acknowledges that this award is more than just about him. He tells Amy he loves her, and I have no idea what else happened because my eyes were clouded in tears.
At the end of the scene, the cast comes out for one long standing ovation. If this is the last scene, it's obvious that everyone thinks it's the perfect moment for the show to end on. Of course, it's not, as we'll later find out. Co-creator Bill Prady calls me over and says there's still one more scene that's being saved for air night. It's a pretaped scene with all the actors back home at Leonard and Amy's enjoying Chinese food. There's no dialogue, just an acoustic version of Bang's theme song from Barenaked Ladies. Penny is wearing the same turquoise top from the pilot 12 years ago, and Sheldon and Amy are wearing their Nobel medals. It's perfect.
This column is for all the amazing Big Bang fans who've been reading my columns for years (and kept reading whether you thought I hit the mark or missed it), but I want to specifically dedicate it to Joe Steiger, the ultimate Sheldon Cooper fan with the most incredible fighting spirit. Joe passed away last August from complications related to muscular dystrophy, and I miss his sense of humor and witty banter immensely. Joe, I hope you're reading and watching up above. This one's for you.
Originally Appeared on Glamour