The Barbarian Sublimation (The Big Bang Theory)

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After hitting a low point of her life, Penny finds herself addicted to the online game, Age of Conan. Can the guys try to help her through her addiction before she ruins what little life she has?

For those of you who haven’t seen the Big Bang Theory, it’s about a group of four nerds (Leonard, Sheldon, Howard and Raj), who are geniuses in science and obsessed with everything to do with geek culture.  Unfortunately, socialization and the outside world escapes them. Enter Penny, who takes the four guys under her wing and teaches them that there’s a world beyond science, fiction, and video games.  However, the show will occasionally have episodes that revolve entirely around a video game or Dungeons and Dragons. This episode falls into the former.

Unbelievably, Age of Conan is a real MMORPG set in the world of Conan the Barbarian neither of which I’ve seen or played.  It can still be played today for free, mainly because it wasn’t popular enough for people to spend money on.  However, at one point, the makers of the game paid the Big Bang Theory to advertise for them and here’s what the writers came up with.  Do you feel like a failure in your everyday life? Your dreams of being somebody always crushed by the naysayers who turn you down? Then play Age of Conan! Explore the world of Conan the Barbarian where you can slay giants, collect treasure, and forget about the everyday problems of your failed life! Skip days of work, bug your friends while they’re trying to live their lives and forget your own life entirely!  Age of Conan, a game so addictive that you’ll spend every waking moment living in it.

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Claims to be Age of Conan but looks more like World of Warcraft.

That’s right, the writers chose to advertise Age of Conan by having a message about online gaming addiction.  Surprisingly, the victim of online gaming addiction is Penny. First, we see Sheldon playing the game but then Penny comes home with groceries after a failed audition. She goes into a meltdown due to her dreams of being an actor getting shot down once again and feeling like she’s a complete failure.  Sheldon lets her stay in his apartment and introduces Penny to Age of Conan. After one playthrough, Penny is hooked to the point that she bothers Sheldon in the middle of the night, bothers him at work and it’s hinted that she might be missing work.  Eventually, Penny’s addiction gets so bad that she agrees to go out with the gang’s resident pervert, Howard Wolowitz. That’s the low point when Penny realizes that she needs to stop.

Just from that alone, you’d think the episode was about Penny.  Unfortunately, that is not the case. The episode instead centers around Sheldon and how Penny’s addiction annoys him. As I said, she bothers Sheldon in the middle of the night and bothers him at work.

The Big Bang Theory | Shenny | The Barbarian Sublimation
Danger! Danger!

Sheldon even blames Penny for losing a dispute he was having with rival scientist, Leslie Winkle, at work. The dispute was that Sheldon printed a sign-up sheet for use of the University’s mainframe, taped it up and signed himself up for the next six months. Sheldon was never going to win this whether Penny called or not, but Sheldon and the show would have you believe that Penny is the cause.

Yeah, there was no way Sheldon was ever getting that mainframe time.

I will admit that the moment was funny, but it scapegoated Penny’s addiction and undermined the problem. Yes, I did say that it’s hinted that Penny might be missing work, but it’s not hinted very well.  At one point, Leonard comes into her apartment and asks if she should be at work to which Penny claims she doesn’t work on Mondays.  Then Leonard reminds her that it’s Thursday, something Penny only somewhat realizes but doesn’t stop playing the game.  Yes, that’s it.  There’s no call from Penny’s boss asking why she didn’t show up for work, no calls from her agent about any missed auditions, nothing from Penny’s life that shows how her online gaming addiction is destroying her.  Now one of my favorite sitcoms is Seinfeld which, like the Big Bang Theory, only had one woman, Elaine, as a main character. One of her funniest episodes is when a co-worker of Elaine mistakes her for Susie and she goes along with it to the point of throwing a fake funeral for this Susie when her boss, Peterman, is giving this made-up woman assignments. The episode shows Elaine at her job struggling with mistaken identity but imagine that, instead of showing Elaine at work, she just calls Jerry (the main character) about it to the point that it’s interrupting Jerry’s life.  Instead of being one of the main characters, Elaine would have been reduced to a side character in her own show. Which is sadly what Penny has been reduced to in the Big Bang Theory.

I have to say that this episode does not put the guys in a good light. Despite Sheldon being the cause of Penny’s online gaming addiction, he cares more about how it’s affecting his life than hers.  Which is in character for Sheldon as he is incredibly self-centered to the point that he thinks everything revolves around him. Though I really wish the show would stop proving him right, like they did in this episode. Sheldon, not wanting to deal with Penny, makes Leonard stop her by threatening to become exceedingly difficult to live with. Sheldon and Leonard are roommates and Sheldon is already difficult to live with. He sets schedules for everything, even his bathroom time, makes Leonard drive him everywhere regardless of whether Leonard’s busy with something else, and constantly complains when things don’t go his way.  So, when Sheldon says that he’ll be worse, you can bet that Leonard will do whatever it takes to prevent that from happening.  When Leonard finally sees the effect gaming has on Penny, he shows a bit of concern and even tries to talk to her in the game but that’s where his concern ends. 

After this, Leonard just gave up. What a true friend.

Eventually, the guys and Leslie discuss Penny’s gaming addiction at the university they work at and, again, it’s about how Penny is ruining Sheldon’s life.  Raj somewhat sympathizes with Penny but doesn’t do anything about it while Leslie insists that problem with Penny is lack of sexual fulfillment which is not even the main issue.  Penny is frustrated because she’s waitressing at the Cheesecake Factory and fails audition after audition, her dream of becoming a movie star looking like it would just be that.  Playing as a strong respected warrior in Age of Conan makes her feel important. Something that only Leonard sees yet, despite being in love with her, doesn’t really fight the group or insist on helping Penny recover from her addiction.  Instead, Sheldon violates her privacy by putting her on a dating website, successfully lies to her about it (despite other episodes showing that he is awful at lying), and we get a funny scene where Penny ignores an attractive man who gets freaked out by meeting Penny in real life. Then there’s Howard, who takes advantage of Penny’s vulnerable state by trying to score with her in the world of Age of Conan. Which, I must admit, is rather funny but shows Howard as not only sleazy but a bad friend. 

This is when Penny hits rock bottom and Howard shows everyone what kind of man he truly is.

The worst part is, when Howard suggests that he could help Penny by sleeping with her at the university, Leonard says nothing. Even when Leonard finds out that Sheldon signed Penny up for a dating website without her knowledge, Leonard doesn’t defend Penny nor gets mad that Sheldon told a complete stranger where they live!  The second one is unrelated but, if I had a roommate who gave our address to a stranger, do you have any idea how mad I would be?

Now I’ve recently been watching Sex and the City and there is an episode where Charlotte gets addicted to a vibrator to the point of refusing to hang out with her friends.  Said friends get so worried about her that they at once go to Charlotte’s house and give her an intervention, letting her know that this addiction is destroying her life. You read that right, the shallow women from the show Leonard and Howard once mocked are better friends than the “deep nerds” from the Big Bang Theory. Even Leonard, who is supposed to be in love with her, doesn’t even stage an intervention.  I understand that the writers might have been afraid of turning the episode into an after-school special, but there are ways to have an intervention and not make it serious. In Seinfeld, they had an episode about the hijinks the characters got into while they were setting up an intervention and skipped the event entirely. In How I Met Your Mother, the characters would have interventions when one of the other characters would do something that annoyed the other four. Before Age of Conan, Penny used wine to escape the frustrations of her life. Maybe they could have the guys beg Penny to go back to wine at the intervention.  At the very least, they could have done something to show that they care about Penny and see her more as an object or an annoyance. It would explain why Penny hangs out with them.

The episode has its funny moments and gives Penny something out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, despite Penny being the central focus, the episode focuses on Sheldon and shoves Penny to the side. I give it 6 out of 10, great idea but wrong viewpoint character.

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