So, I guess I should preface this by saying The Big Bang Theory is a show I mostly watch with my parents and I have no idea what the exact timeline is but I probably have seen more than my fair share of everything.
So be warned, there’s spoilers and judgment ahead.
Last night’s episode, “The Earworm Reverberation,” made me want to head-desk on every surface available to head-desk. It was so cringeworthy that my father asked me what was wrong with my face.
So, here’s a brief recap: Sheldon had an annoying song in his head. There was no context to this song. Just that it’s annoying and he’s annoying everyone. At the same time, Amy goes out on a second date with a science-y dude that obsessed with Sheldon. Dude is British and funny and seems to like Amy. Amy seems interested in at least seeing where things would go. Back to Sheldon, he figures out it’s a Beach Boys song that somehow reminds him of Amy (????) and that he’s in love with her and wants to get back with her. He runs to her apartment, interrupts her date, admits his love, she gets heart eyes and says they’ll get back together, they kiss for an interminable amount of time in front of British dude.
As a woman, I was offended. As a writer, I was appalled.
Sheldon, as a character, has had some interesting character arcs and awful ret-cons common with sitcoms that feel like personal growth is great until it ruins a punchline. He has difficulty empathizing with others, as evident on the show, but not because he doesn’t feel empathy, also as evident on the show. Sometimes, he’s incredibly intuitive, others he has the emotional depth of a shower.
Amy Farrah Fowler, on the other hand, has mostly been spared the fate of Sheldon’s main-character-osis. She has gone from a rigid, obtuse Sheldon copy to a well-rounded, emotionally driven character. She has learned boundaries in interacting with others and can stand up for herself. She’s sexual without apologizing, even if it tends to be accompanied by a laugh track, and she’s definitely bisexual (I mean, come on. She would date Penny in a hot second and I will fight someone on this.) She doesn’t let even her friends change who she is. It would be easy to discard the sweaters and grandma skirts with friends like Penny and Bernadette, particularly in a sitcom where the “ugly girl to hot babe” transformation would fit right in with the overall misogyny. But, Amy has managed to escape this fate. She has really grown as a character, in ways the others in the troupe rarely get to.
On the other hand, Amy and Sheldon’s romantic relationship was a one-way ticket to OMG BREAK UP Town. Sheldon constantly dismissed her work, ignored her accomplishments, and took her for granted. Whatever “lesson” the latest episode allowed was promptly forgotten by the next in order to secure the punchline. He mocked her sexuality, derided her emotional needs, and set her up as his personal emotional labor assistant. When Amy finally broke up with him, it fit into her personal narrative perfectly, the next step on her journey of personal growth. When he tried to ask her back and she denied him, it was even more perfect and in line with her character, a woman not afraid to communicate her needs and desires and refuse to settle for less.
Then the writers thoroughly bombed her character arc to teeny-tiny pieces.
Something of a theme in television shows is the set up of female characters as romantic interests. You can see this in Arrow, Castle, Teen Wolf, How I Met Your Mother, Seinfeld, Gossip Girl – so many I can’t even name. When female characters are introduced, it becomes a waiting game for when they will be romantically entangled with one of the male leads. And, when they break up, she tends to fade away altogether. She doesn’t exist on her own terms. She doesn’t become part of the story in a platonic way. Her story ends when the love story ends.
The only time this doesn’t tend to hold true is when she begins to date a different male lead (Robin Scherbatsky, you deserved so much better.)
This is what happened to Amy Farrah Fowler. Instead of letting her exist in the group dynamic as her own person, as she was firmly entrenched at this point as part of the troupe, they couldn’t rectify her continued presence on the show unless she was romantically involved with the male lead. Every female character on this show has been introduced as a love interest or potential love interest. Once the relationship/potential for a relationship ends, they seem to disappear (Priya, Leslie Winkle, Missy Cooper). Without the romance, they are no longer relevant to the story.
This tried and tired trope infuriates me for a few reasons. One, it’s lazy writing, pure and simple. Writers should be able to create well-rounded female characters (yes, even in sitcoms) that don’t fall off the face of the earth once the romance ends. The Big Bang Theory seems to be able to do this with multiple male characters, who become embedded into the periphery of the show (Stuart and Kripke immediately come to mind.) Writers should be able to follow a character arc they created to its logical conclusion, rather than setting it on fire in a viking funeral.
Second, it’s still lazy writing, but even more detrimental within a cultural context. The Big Bang Theory, like so many other movies/shows, is this alternate universe where men can’t be friends with women. Ever. Unless they’re dating someone else and not sexually available to you, then you can be friends with them. But, even then, it’s made pretty clear that you would bang them, you’re just respecting the authority of the dude that owns – I mean – is dating them.
Stories like this tell us that women exist solely as romantic interests. That women cannot and do not exist as individuals unless in conjunction with a man. That, when a relationship ends, the woman is meant to disappear, not longer relevant, while the man continues. Stories like this are inherently stories about men, and women are only side characters. Or, even worse, NPC’s.
(Stories like this are also inherently heterosexual, but I’m going to leave that for a different day.)
What does this mean for Amy Farrah Fowler?
This means that she’s not important on her own. That she never has been. That she never will be. She’ll never be part of the group the way Howard is, or Leonard is, or Raj is.
She’s an add-on. A plus-one that exists because Sheldon exists and needs a plus-on. The opportunity for her to claim her own space has been revoked. All that change, all that growth, it’s all for nothing.
After all, she’s just the love interest.
That’s how her story ends.