In Season 3’s 16th installment, Sheldon scored an all-expense paid trip to Pasadena, Calif., where he and George Sr. attended an (off-screen) lecture by the wunderkind’s scientific hero, Stephen Hawking.
What made this particular experience all the more meaningful was the location of the lecture: In the final scene, Sheldon and his father found themselves at Sheldon’s future alma mater, the California Institute of Technology. As the episode drew to a close, father and son stood in the doorway of the Caltech cafeteria, where Sheldon would one day convene with his good friends Leonard Hofstadter, Howard Wolowitz and Rajesh Koothrappali.
“Imagine all the stimulating conversations that must go on at these tables,” Sheldon said. “I can see myself going here one day.”
“I think you’d fit right in,” George replied, before the camera panned out and revealed the iconic set in its entirety.
Earlier in the episode, the trip was nearly derailed when Sheldon experienced a panic attack during the in-flight safety demonstration. To calm him down, George told Sheldon to channel his inner Mr. Spock. The boy genius then accepted his “first order” and returned to his seat, where he took his father’s hand upon liftoff.
Below, series co-creator Steve Molaro reflects on the Big Bang-themed episode, including the overwhelming experience of being back on one of the mothership’s most-frequented sets, and why he decided it should be George Sr. who accompanied Sheldon on this life-changing vacation.
TVLINE | What was it like stepping back onto the Caltech cafeteria set, nearly a year after Big Bang ended?
It was more than a bit [surreal]. I can tell you that it was extremely emotional. I knew it was coming, and I walked to the stage that morning and immediately started welling up with tears as soon as I saw it. For me, I said a very heartfelt and tearful goodbye to those sets 10 months ago, and never imagined that I’d be seeing and sitting on one again… Before we even started rolling, as soon as I saw it, I was a mess.
TVLINE | Did you have to build a replica of the old set, or was the original set preserved by Warner Bros.?
It’s the actual set. Our set department actually went in and took large pieces of it from the Warner Bros. museum. If you went to the museum that day, there was an empty hole with a spot that said, “On loan to Young Sheldon.” [Laughs]
TVLINE | What came first: The idea of Sheldon attending a Stephen Hawking lecture, or Sheldon and his father taking a trip to Pasadena?
The story was borne out of the thought, “What if Stephen Hawking was appearing in person, and Sheldon was deeply driven to see him?” The idea of Sheldon getting a chance to see Stephen Hawking for the first time sounded so compelling. That was our starting point, then we started poking at the idea [of visiting Caltech].
TVLINE | Why did you have George Sr. accompany Sheldon on his trip, rather than, say, Mary?
I think it can be touching when [Sheldon and his father] bond at unlikely times… I was so attached to the idea that when Sheldon has the panic attack on the plane, that Dad could talk him through it through Star Trek. That just seemed like something that could only happen between the two of them.
TVLINE | George Sr.’s fate always adds a layer of melancholy to those moments between him and Sheldon….
It sure does. And when you see the cafeteria set at the end, to think, “Wow, his dad stood there with him,” it’s a lot… I enjoy getting to tell these stories that we might not expect about George Sr.
TVLINE | Why is it that our narrator shares all these fond memories of George Sr., when the version of Sheldon we saw on Big Bang always seemed to think so little of his dad?
Sheldon the adult narrator, who is older now and has children of his own, [is] seeing his parents in a different light for the first time. That’s why this narrator is choosing to tell us some of these stories, in part because he’s figuring it out now. “Oh, I had an idea about who my dad was, and now that I look back and I’m the age that he was then…” You start to have a different perspective on things.
TVLINE | As far as established canon goes, Sheldon told Penny that he walked in on his dad with another woman when he was 13 years old. Is that why Sheldon and Mary sounded so resentful toward George Sr. on Big Bang?
I think there’s resentment about him dying… Also, did I know we were going to be writing this show when we put that in Big Bang? No.
TVLINE | Is it something Young Sheldon will eventually address?
I don’t know what we’re going to do about that. I’m aware of it, I know it exists. I also know that… Adult Sheldon may not want to tell the audience that story. So maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t. That doesn’t mean we need to see it. Also, maybe there’s a path where what he thought happened then, and what he finds out now, [is] different. I don’t know… It’s an interesting area of the show.
What did you think of Young Sheldon‘s visit to Pasadena? Watch (or rewatch) the Caltech scene above, then hit the comments with your reactions.