On Thursday's The Big Bang Theory, "The Emotion Detection Automation," Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) made baby steps on his long, slow journey toward being more of a human and less of an insensitive clod who hurts people's feelings every time he opens his mouth.
The episode as a whole found the gang grappling with real feelings, and the best way to go about expressing them. As a result, it was tonally and narratively one of the strongest episodes of the season.
Raj (Kunal Nayyar) got dumped again and he has no idea why his relationships don't work out, so he does the traditionally terrible idea of assembling a focus group of his ex-girlfriends to tell him what's wrong with him. It goes very badly, of course, but at least he'll always have Howard (Simon Helberg).
Raj's breakup also inspires the A-story of Sheldon and his emotion detector. Sheldon doesn't pick up on the fact that Raj isn't really fine when he says "I'm fine," and basically ends up saying that Raj is going to die alone. Really mean! While the group argues about whether people should always say exactly what's on their mind, because Sheldon has such a hard time reading emotional cues, Berndadette (Melissa Rauch) says that a team at MIT developed a device that can read human emotions. Howard makes a call, and Sheldon gets hooked up with a prototype.
The emotion reader — which works sort of like a wireless lie detector, picking up subtle changes in breathing and heart rate in the subject to tell if they're happy, sad, angry or excited — ends up causing trouble for Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco). Leonard lies and says he's fine with Penny's drug dealer brother staying with them indefinitely while Penny helps him look for a job, but the machine catches his true feeling: anger.
Later, Sheldon feels bad because the machine made his inability to recognize others' emotions quantifiable. Amy reassures him that he's getting better at it, noting that he's noticed when she's been sad and has tried to make her feel better. She says she's proud of him and she loves him just the way he is.
The next day, Leonard and Penny come over to apologize to Sheldon for getting him caught up in their fight. They say they're fine now, but then Penny says she's going to throw Leonard under the bus to her father for refusing to let Penny's brother stay with them.
"It sounds like you're getting angry again," says Sheldon.
"That's because we are," says Leonard.
"Yes!" exclaims Sheldon. "I don't need an emotion machine, I am one!"
He's getting better at reading emotions for sure. He still needs to work on how he reacts. Progress; not perfection.
The Big Bang Theory airs Thursdays at 8/7c on CBS.