Brow Beat

Big Bang Theory’s Twist on the Trope of the “TV Wedding”

Not the best wedding night.

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Big Bang Theory’s ninth season kicked off Monday night with wedding bells and a lot of tension. Leonard and Penny’s romantic saga ended on a rocky cliffhanger in the Season 8 finale: As the couple drove to Las Vegas to get spontaneously married, Leonard confessed to Penny that he’d kissed another girl awhile back. But they agreed to get married anyway, “because we love each other.” So at last, Monday night, the couple did, indeed, get hitched.

Vegas weddings rarely end well on TV. “Vegas” tends to be a stand-in for “rash and ill-advised.” Usually, both parties are very drunk and end up breaking it off, or someone walks (or runs) out on the wedding. Leonard and Penny did manage—some bickering aside—to pull off some very sweet nuptials. Leonard wrote his own vows, which were, in typical Leonard fashion, both very geeky and very sentimental. And Penny’s, though impromptu, were equally sweet, making reference to one of Leonard’s favorite movies, Toy Story. In a very Big Bang Theory move, Leonard and Penny’s friends get to watch the whole thing as it streams online.

But their wedding night quickly devolved into post-infidelity cliches, as Penny admitted later she couldn’t stop picturing Leonard kissing the other girl and Leonard admitted he still sees her regularly, as they work together. When the episode closes, the two are spending the remainder of their wedding night apart—and Leonard is, of course, back with Sheldon, who is still figuring out how to deal with his own relationship problems.  

Perhaps the best thing about this episode was how it played with the “TV wedding” trope. Generally, weddings happen in season finales for obvious reason—because TV is a sucker for the classic “marriage plot,” in which the wedding is a nice ribbon to tie up a long stretch of well-they-or-wont-they. Happy Endings featured a failed wedding in its pilot, but that was a way to establish a looming question mark over Alex and Dave’s relationship. In the case of Big Bang Theory, there was something that felt a bit revolutionary about a season that begins with an imperfect wedding between two characters who’ve had a well-established relationship in the world of the show, then uses it as a launching pad to explore how marriage really works.

Although the wedding may have satisfied fans’ long-building anticipation, it was also far from a resolution—if anything, it’s a beginning of its own “Will they or won’t they,” after eight seasons wondering if Leonard and Penny will ever get together for good.