'Big Bang Theory': Inside That Game-Changing Wedding Breakthrough

Showrunner Steve Holland also talks with THR about how the season 11 finale honored Stephen Hawking.
Michael Yarish/CBS

[This story contains spoilers from the season 11 finale of CBS' The Big Bang Theory, "The Bow Tie Asymmetry."]

Despite a wedding multiple seasons in the making, CBS' The Big Bang Theory still found a way to deliver a surprise during Thursday's season finale nuptials between Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Amy (Mayim Bialik).

Among the season 11 finale highlights: Star Wars favorite Mark Hamill played himself and officiated the ceremony as a favor to Howard (Simon Helberg), who found his lost dog. Kathy Bates and comedian Teller made their debuts as Amy's parents. But the real surprise came after Sheldon found inspiration from Amy's remark that some things — like his bowtie — can't be perfectly even. The logic led the brilliant scientist to a breakthrough: "super asymmetry."

The breakthrough came as Sheldon was visiting Amy in the bridal suite, using the mirror to break down the details of his discovery and crediting his bride-to-be with helping to inspire him. In a show of just how much Sheldon has grown over the years, he insists that the duo both take credit for the discovery. What's more: Sheldon also hits pause on the math and, in another example of his growth, says the details can wait until after the ceremony.

The wedding-themed finale also featured a sweet end tag that was cut for time that featured Sheldon receiving a gift of a pocket watch from Stephen Hawking that was sent before his death.

Below, showrunner Steve Holland — who has been with the Chuck Lorre, Bill Prady and Steve Molaro comedy since season three — talks with The Hollywood Reporter about how Sheldon's discovery will play a role in season 12. (And if the comedy will wrap next year.)

Amy and Sheldon's wedding has been something that this show has been leading up to for years. How much of the episode was wish fulfillment — ideas that you've talked about over the years — vs. organic ideas when you sat down to write the episode?

It was a bit of both. There were certainly things that were a chance for us to meet some family members that we've never met. We knew early on that that was going to be a fun casting opportunity. It came up a bit later in the process that maybe one of their friends gets them a special guest to be the wedding officiant. That was more of a discovery as we were breaking out the story and seemed like an extra fun piece to add.

The episode was pieces that we knew that we had been building to. We knew that Amy had to meet Georgie (Jerry O'Connell) in last week's episode and wanted to make sure that the wedding didn't get overwhelmed by having to meet all these new people. And we knew we'd introduce Amy's parents. 

Mark Hamill signed on without seeing a script. Did he know he'd be performing the ceremony?

He knew. We knew what role we wanted him to be.

Was there anything that he suggested that you wrote into the episode?

We knew he'd be playing himself and officiating and we thought it would be funny that he got so emotionally moved by the vows that he started crying and had a hard time getting through it. So that was in our initial pitch to him, which he thought was funny. He asked if there would be a lot of Star Wars references and said that people ask him questions all the time and he doesn't know the answers to any of them. "Like, what's the Wookie home planet?!" So we wrote that into the script after our conversations with him — and Stewart has to keep stepping up and filling in answers for him.

Of all the guest-stars in the finale, I'm curious why Bob Newhart didn't reappear in Jedi form as Professor Proton.

We talked about it and we had Bob appear to Sheldon before most of his big moments in life, but we had had him on earlier this season. When we got to breaking out the wedding, it was getting so big and there were so many people to service that we just had to start making big decisions. My biggest worry was to make sure that we didn't lose Sheldon and Amy and their story in the midst of all the chaos and all the guest-stars. It was important to me to make sure that this was Sheldon and Amy's day. We had a whole list of things on the board that we thought could happen and would be fun to have and we had to start going through and making hard decisions about what we could actually accomplish and what we had to let go.

What was the idea for Newhart?

Newhart in the past has always come and given Sheldon sage advice in his dreams. It would have been something like that. This was more of a joke than an actual pitch, but we had an idea for Sheldon to see Newhart in Jedi robes shimmering at the wedding like Obi-Wan does at the end of Return of the Jedi when Luke looks up and sees him there as The Force ghost. We could have done that as a quick nod, but it didn't seem to fit in with everything else we were doing.

Sheldon displayed tremendous personal growth this season and specifically in this episode when he hits pause on his scientific breakthrough with Amy to actually start the wedding ceremony. Is that the direct impact of his relationship with Amy?

I think so. We've been trying to build to that all year. Like when he goes up to the cabin to visit the scientist, he realizes that he no longer wants to be the isolated scientist who can live away from all people and he realizes he needs more than that. But that moment in the bridal suite was especially important. That was a piece of the puzzle that we had early on: that Sheldon would have this scientific breakthrough. It was actually Chuck Lorre who said that maybe Amy could help lead him to it. That seemed so perfect, thematically, that their minds were joined on this theory on the same day they were joining their lives together. But then also that Sheldon was the one to say, "No, we have our whole lives for this; let's go get married," seemed like exactly the right moment for him to have.

Is that a good example of how marriage will change Amy and Sheldon?

Hopefully, like a lot of the things we've done, the changes will be small things that add up to big changes. I think that's true of marriage because it doesn't seem like that much of a change, because Amy and Sheldon were already living together, but it does start to raise other things. That will be fun for us to explore next season. Marriage won't be a straight line for them; it won't be an easy, "They lived happily ever after." There's going to be some fun in watching the two of them adjust to married life. So hopefully that growth has some ups and downs but mostly, ultimately, it's trending upward.

Let's talk about Amy and Sheldon's "super asymmetry" discovery.

Early on this season, knowing we were building to the wedding, I had this thought about Sheldon's breakthrough. I called our science consultant Dr. David Saltzberg and said that we wanted to have Sheldon to have a big breakthrough at the end of the season, something that could eventually be maybe be prize-winning or game-changing — and it had to feel like something real that no one has discovered before. We've been laying in Sheldon's work on string theory and Saltzberg was tying it into one of Stephen Hawking's theories posing if any information can escape a black hole, creating an information paradox regarding black holes. And he thought those two things could tie together. Saltzberg said super symmetry is an actual thing but no one has ever talked about super asymmetry. There are no papers that mention it, which is a line that we put in the script for Leonard. David was on set during the finale taping and wrote all the equations on the mirror to make sure the science was right.

Is that an actual discovery or is this all made up for TV?

It's all theoretical. Conceptually, it is an interesting theory that no one has talked about before. Now does that mean it's a true theory? That's probably hard to say.

How will that discovery play into season 12?

That's going to be a nice arc for us going into season 12. We've talked for years about how smart Sheldon is and we've seen it some too, but it was important for us to give him a big win and actually show that he is as smart as we've said he is all this time. That is going to be a fun and interesting story to play with, especially with him and Amy doing this as a team and married couple.

I was on set for the taping of the season finale and saw the end tag scene in which Leonard and Penny deliver gifts sent to their apartment by mistake. Sheldon receives a gift from Stephen Hawking — an inscribed pocket watch. Why was that important for you to include? (The scene was cut from the episode for time but THR will post it Friday.)

When we heard of Hawking's passing, we wanted to do something to honor him but we had already shot the next three episodes. It's hard for us to be super timely because we shoot ahead of our airdates so this seemed like a really nice opportunity. The wedding was a big episode and it seemed like a good chance to pay some tribute to him. Steve Molaro had this idea that Hawking could have sent a gift before he passed. He had had the idea for the gift and for the inscription and we contacted Professor Hawking's family to get their blessing. They were very nice and excited for us to do it. I'm glad it will be somewhere.

Big Bang Theory is different from other shows in that you don't plot story out too far in advance. That said, what kinds of conversations are you having about where the show goes from here? In theory, if season 12 is the end, CBS would want to promote it as such at next week's upfront presentation to ad buyers. Lorre said in January that you could "presume" season 12 would be the end of the series. What kind of conversations are you having about if season 12 is the end?

We know we have season 12 and we don't know what we have beyond there. Our goal for season 12 is to not leave anything on the table. Those conversations will happen and luckily, in a good way, I don't have to make that decision! (Laughs.) But if season 12 is going to be the end, I do think they should tout it as the final season. I'm not sure when we'll have a definitive answer on that. I'm sure we'll know before we're writing the last half of the season — or before — whether we're writing a series or a season finale. That's really important. We need to know what we're doing to make sure that if it is the end, to give the best ending we can and the best closure to these characters.

Many viewers have speculated over the years that the season finale would be Sheldon and Amy's wedding. What conversations did you have with Lorre, Bill Prady and Steve Molaro about how the journeys for these characters could potentially end?

Those conversations change year to year. Going into season eight, when we thought maybe season 10 would be the last, we had one thought of what that finale could be and then we moved past that moment. There was certainly a time in the life of the show where we thought Sheldon and Amy's wedding seemed like a good series-finale moment. We don't have locked in plans, but it's always a part of the discussion of where we would like to leave these characters. It's an ongoing, fun debate in the writers room about where we think these characters end up or where we'd like to leave them.

What did you think of Amy and Sheldon's wedding? Sound off in the comments section, below. Big Bang Theory returns in the fall on CBS.