Unsatisfying Happily Ever Afters in The Big Bang Theory

We recently finished watching the final season of The Big Bang Theory (yes, I know, we’re a little behind) and although I love this series so much, I can’t help but feel that the endings some of them got weren’t quite the ones they deserved. Especially so for the girls. Let’s unpack this a little.

Fair warning: spoilers below.

Sheldon is clearly the main protagonist for the final season and the writers therefor focused all their attention on giving him the ending he deserved. Not only did he finally win a Nobel prize, but he’s happily married and has come to the realization that he needs his friends to be happy and successful and fulfilled. He’s come a long way from the selfish guy we met in Season 1.

Leonard completed his main storyline the day Penny said “I do” and since then hasn’t seen much of the limelight. His happily ever after focusses on the fact that he finally realizes his own self-worth and forgives his mother for all the crappy things she’s done to him. As a result, he’s able to move forward in his career, although not in the project he hoped to work on.

Penny’s arc is especially disappointing to me. She’s given up on her dreams of becoming an actress and is now a successful sales rep – a job that suits her but that doesn’t really bring her any joy. She’s married to Leonard, because (as all the characters often reiterates) he’s worn her down until the point where she said yes. When we first met her she was young and naïve and happy, but now she’s disillusioned, sarcastic and really quite mean, especially to Leonard. In the final season their relationship is fragile – Penny is adamant that she doesn’t want children, much to Leonard’s distress. However, in the last episode we learn that Penny is pregnant and she seems really happy about it, too. She’s even nice to Leonard. I can’t help but feel that the writers let us down here by forcing her into a stereotypical role and making us believe that impending motherhood is what she needs to be happy again.

Amy, much like Sheldon, has also come a long way. Over the course of the series, she’s turned from a socially awkward pariah into the wisest person of the group. She’s (mostly) happily married to Sheldon and is recognized as a successful scientist. In the final season, she has a makeover and changes her dowdy look into something a little more sexy – completely out of character for her (kudos to Sheldon for being upset about it). She’s also responsible for the brainwave that saves their mutual project and ultimately leads to the two of them winning the Nobel prize in physics together. However, she needed to give up her own career in neurobiology to help Sheldon achieve his dream. At the award ceremony, she proclaims that science is a great field for women before stepping aside and letting Sheldon receive most of the glory. Again, I find it disappointing that a woman had to let go of her own aspirations in order to let her man achieve happiness.

Howard is, thankfully, no longer the creepy guy we met in Season 1, but has turned into a committed husband, a good father, and even a national hero (albeit only to his friends). His happily ever after is reconciling his greatest achievement (becoming an astronaut) with the fact that he was scared every second he was up in space. He says goodbye to his wild youth (by letting go of a scooter and not chasing after a girl who used to like him) and embraces his responsibilities (although he does jump at the chance to become famous as the “best friend” of the man who’s about to win the Nobel prize). His life has turned out great and he’s finally content.

Bernadette is another character whose happily ever after is disappointing. Like Penny, she balked at having children and in the final season we can see that they’re wearing her down (even to the point where she needs to hide out in the doll house after work for some quiet time). When she’s away from home and the kids need her, her maternal instincts kick in and she realizes how much she loves them and that her place is to be with them. She’s also achieved success in her career, but at the cost of becoming so mean most of her colleagues (and even Penny) are afraid of her. At least her relationship with Howard is better than ever and, like him, she also jumps at her small claim to fame of being Amy’s “best friend” on TV.

Raj, poor guy. All Raj has ever wanted was someone to love him back. In the final season he’s desperate enough to consider an arranged marriage with a woman who is clearly unsuitable for him. He’s about to move overseas after this woman, when Howard comes for him, just like in the movies, and stops him from boarding the plane. And that’s it. His friendship with Howard is his happily ever after. Why the writers didn’t see fit to just give him a boyfriend (he’s clearly everybody’s gay friend) or, at the very least, a girl that is just as hopelessly romantic as he is, I will never understand.

Having grown middle-aged beside these characters, their (fictional) lives mean a lot to me. They were a new generation of Friends, but this time composed of a group of socially awkward, geeky misfits that I could associate with much more than with the original bunch. To see them find love and happiness, just like the popular pretty people, and even more so, acceptance and success, has been important to me. I’m over the moon for Sheldon, relieved alongside Leonard and impressed by Howard, but seeing the women forced into conventional gender-stereotyped assumptions of happiness was a letdown, one that I’m still trying to get over a few weeks later. And I just feel bad for Raj.

As a storyteller, I can understand the need for creating endings that will please the audience. After all, all the characters are happy at the end of the series, but to me their happiness feels like it has been conditioned. What these characters taught us over the years is that it’s okay to be different, to not conform to the norm.

Unfortunately, their happily ever afters were carefully groomed to fit with social convention.

What do you think? Are you satisfied with the end of all these character arcs? What would you have changed if you could come up with a happily every after for the characters of The Big Bang Theory?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *