In Praise Of 'The Big Bang Theory' Leaving One Mystery Unsolved

Not every question was answered in the series finale — and that's OK.

Math. Science. History. It’s good “Big Bang Theory” didn’t unravel all its mysteries. 

When it was all over on Thursday night, and all the bazingas had been bazinga’d out, the CBS comedy wrapped up its 12 seasons and 279 episodes without the pomp and circumstance of so many TV finales before it. Like the takeout the group chows down on in the final shot of the series (as they’ve done so many times before), it was satisfying while leaving just the right amount of leftovers, including one of the show’s oldest questions: What’s Penny’s (Kaley Cuoco) maiden name?

Ahead of the finale, Cuoco teased that an answer wouldn’t be forthcoming, and she was into it.

“I kind of love it,” she told TVLine of the decision not to reveal the character’s last name.

True to her word, in one of the last moments of the series, while Sheldon (Jim Parsons) accepts the Nobel prize in physics and tosses aside his previous, self-indulgent speech to instead thank this friends, he called Penny by her married name, Penny Hofstadter, thus sealing away the mystery for good.

Like Cuoco said, the show tied up plenty of other loose ends along its two-part finale: As mentioned, Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Amy (Mayim Bialik) win the Nobel prize. Penny and Leonard (Johnny Galecki) also decide to finally have a baby, and the elevator, which has been out of commission since the “Big Bang” debut in 2007, is even back up and running.

But Penny’s last name was a gag “Big Bang” had no intention of spoiling. Over and over on the show, the other characters are constantly introduced by their whole names — Dr. Sheldon Cooper, Dr. Beverly Hofstadter (Christine Baranski), etc. — while Penny, the perennial foil to everyone else’s information overload, has pretty much just been Penny.

The cast of "The Big Bang Theory." 
The cast of "The Big Bang Theory." 

In 2013, “Big Bang Theory” Executive Producer Steve Molaro told Vulture that the show had no plans to ever reveal Penny’s name, not because it was some big secret, but because they hadn’t revealed one for so long that it would probably just be a letdown.

“We’re kind of a superstitious lot here. We’ve made it this far without knowing Penny’s last name. I think we’re good not finding out,” he said. 

“Big Bang” just so happens to be ending its run alongside another television juggernaut, “Game of Thrones.” In the streaming era, both shows were uncharacteristic outliers, continuing to bring in millions of live viewers each episode. But in terms of final seasons, the HBO show could probably take some notes.

While “Big Bang Theory” has brought a number of its storylines to sensible conclusions, “Game of Thrones” has been strongly criticized for various choices made in its abbreviated ending run. Some story threads that have been built up for years go completely ignored. (instead of attempting to have Bran’s all-seeing powers be explained or useful, he spends his time looking up plans for old wheelchairs?) Other moments that do get focus tend to feel rushed and arguably unearned (such as one character, who’s inspired a lot of real-life baby names, taking a surprisingly dark turn). 

The Penny mystery is inconsequential in the overall scheme of the show, and avoiding shoehorning in an answer helps make the finale feel like any other episode. In the “Big Bang” closer, yes, some important events happen, but no one gets thrown in jail; the screen doesn’t suddenly cut to black; there wasn’t a Blue French Horn tying everything together. In the end, the finale didn’t go out so much with a bang as it did comforting background noise, which is what made the show so big in the first place.



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