The last episode of The Big Bang Theory reminded me of something that I had grown to believe as of late. If you haven’t watched it, this is your warning that there will be spoilers ahead. With that out-of-the-way, let me proceed.
At the end of the episode, Howard Wolowitz, played by Simon Helberg, received a call informing him that his mother had died in her sleep. Carol Ann Susi, the actress who voiced the unseen Mrs. Wolowitz, Howard’s mother, passed away from cancer in November. Instead of employing some gimmicky storytelling and having her move away, which would have been contrary to what we know of her, or having another actress come in, the writers chose to kill her off of the show.
Not that my opinion counts for much, but I believe it was the best course of action. Carol Ann brought a character to life, one who had absolutely no screen time, yet somehow managed to steal the scene. She was obnoxious and overbearing, intimidating and prone to employing guilt-trips to keep Howard from leaving. I doubt anyone could have matched her skill to bring the unseen mother to life. I’m glad we will never have to see anyone try and fail.
Now comes my confession. For the past year, I had begun to wonder if the character should be written off the show. Let me say that the thought is not because I thought the Mrs. Wolowitz to be unfunny, rather I thought Howard needed something catastrophic to happen to motivate some character growth.
Out of all the main cast, Howard was the one I hated the most in the beginning. He was crass and pushed the line between funny and creepy. He came across as desperate and perverted, a sad case of a loser with no hope of ever finding a woman, that is until Bernadette came along.
However, over the course of the past few seasons, Howard did grow, probably more than all the rest of the characters on the show. Yet even so, he was stuck between being a man and a child, a son being held hostage, never really embracing what it meant to be a husband.
I wondered if losing his mother would fuel a maturing of the character, letting go of the overbearing mother that he never was able to leave. He had become totally dependent on her, much to Bernadette’s annoyance. She accepted it for the time being, but playing the second woman in her husband’s life certainly rankled and I have to ask how long would someone like her actually tolerate being treated that way?
So I believed Mrs. Wolowitz should have to die at some point. The only other character to have lost a parent is Sheldon, and that happened sometime prior to the start of the series. This is the audience’s first time to witness how this group will rally around their friend, and how Howard will struggle to grasp what it means to lose this mother.
Unlike many fans of the show, I do not lament that the original premise of the show has changed. Had it not, I doubt the show would still be watchable. Life is about growth, and in storytelling, character development is integral in keeping the audience hooked. Without it, the story lines become stale, and there is limited stories to be told. So, as people in real life change, so too must a fictional cast of characters.
So for Sheldon to be the one to offer Howard words of comfort, says a lot about how much he has grown. For Howard to let Sheldon say his piece speaks to his evolving maturity. These are not static one-dimensional characters, but complex and ever-changing people, learning and grappling with the same hardships we deal with in real life.
I shed a few tears when Howard announced that his mother had died, and I sobbed quietly as they all tried to come to terms with the news. As much as I thought I wanted to see Howard grow, I admit that I will miss hearing Carol Ann’s screeching voice. I thought I was ready for it to happen, but now that it has, I realize that I’m not quite ready for her to have left. Her passing leaves a hole in the show, one that will never be filled, and that’s the way it should be.