TV Review: How I Met Your Mother (Spoilers)
How I Met Your Mother – “The Final Page, Part One and Two”
Season 8, Episodes 11-12
Less than 24 hours after Homeland tried to retroactively fix some of the storytelling holes of recent weeks, I watched the same trick on How I Met Your Mother. It’s a tough move to try and willfully deceive your audience; one that can blow up in your face. Maybe it makes me a sap, but just like Robin, I found myself won over by the maneuver.
It helped that there wasn’t a single part of The Robin that I didn’t love. I never really forgave the show for wasting the first time they got Robin and Barney together. It didn’t help that the show seemingly abandoned any sense of subtlety or realism to make its humor as broadly appealing as possible (e.g. every terrible joke involving Robin yelling “Patrice!”). The approach simultaneously made the show more popular, and improved the ratings, while killing what I loved best about it: That a few silly bits aside, I could see myself, and my friends, in these characters. But, then Ted fought a freaking goat.
Appealing to that sitcom-y humor made the first half of the episode weaker. Barney and Marshall’s jinx back story was strong enough. It was the kind of, sort of understandable, silly gag that used to be this show’s bread and butter. But, Daryl’s obsession with Lily and Marshall — and their over-the-top fear of him murdering them — was groan-worthy. Seth Green was fine as the Mark Zuckerberg of hacky sack, but the creepiness and over-reactions were just frustrating.
Of course, the Whedon geek in me loved that we had Willow, Oz, Wesley, Dr. Horrible, and Maria Hill all in the same episode (sadly, not all together). If only they could have found a way to get Anthony Steward Head into the Peter Gallagher role (as Ted’s tweedy former professor), my mind would have exploded in Buffy-nostalgia joy.
The second half of the episode was HIMYM at its best. It was probably the most thoroughly enjoyable half hour of the show since at least “Last Words” (from early 2011), and maybe even longer. And, call me crazy, but the best part was actually letting Ted Mosby be the star of the show again. After years of a never-ending supply of pretentious, annoying Ted, Josh Radnor gave his best performance since … I don’t know … maybe “Pilot”?
Sure, he’s insecure about missing out on love and being alone, but his scene with Robin in the car, and his decision to let her go, was Ted just being a better friend to both Barney and Robin. From his struggle to figure out his own feelings for Robin, to that bittersweet final look out the GNB windows, Radnor was a treat; a welcome change from our steady recent helpings of uber-douchy Ted. I loved that the episode ended with this moment rather than with the proposal. Craig Thomas and Carter Bays finally remembered who the main character of the series was always supposed to be.
Even Marshall and Lily had a better subplot as missing Marvin on their first night out was perfectly understandable. Even if drunk Lily and sad Marshall went a bit big at the end, at least they seemed like goofy, and somewhat realistic, human beings for a change. Yes, their Goodnight Song was pretty sitcom-ish, but like the glory years of HIMYM it was coming from an emotionally real place.
Ultimately, the biggest hurdle was whether Barney’s master plan to win over Robin worked for you. The fact that Barney was secretly manipulating things changes the meaning behind everything his character has done since helping Robin dump Nick — including both the entire Barney-Patrice relationship, and the current round of Robin-Barney will-they-won’t-they. The underlying point, for me, was that the entire endeavor was utterly true to Barney’s character.
One of the reasons the Robin-Barney pairing didn’t work before was that Barney stopped being Barney the first time he was with Robin, and turned into generic boyfriend guy. The entire basis of the chemistry between Cobie Smulders and Neil Patrick Harris was how well the two characters related to one another not just in spite of, but also because of the ways they were socially awkward. Remember how “Zip, Zip, Zip” proved how perfectly they clicked way back in season one? If Robin couldn’t love the Barney that would create such a crazy and manipulative trap for her, then she wasn’t be in love with the real Barney.
Everything about The Robin worked for me from little jokes like the group having no boundaries, to Barney’s hidden cameras in both his and Marshall and Lily’s apartments, to the fact that it made sense that Patrice would absolutely help, to the really moving reaction shot of Barney burning the Playbook for the girl he really wanted to marry. Everything worked, and it was vintage Barney Stinson. Maybe the best part was that Barney gave Ted all the power in the world to try to stop the proposal without Ted knowing what was really happening. This wasn’t Ted reluctantly giving permission because someone asked for it, or to seem like a good guy. No, he honestly had to get past Robin, and be alright with this situation. And, maybe that will finally leave him completely open emotionally when he meets the long overdue mother.