Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How I Met Your Mother - "The Ducky Tie"

Season 7, Episode 3
One of those episodes that makes you stick around

Towards the end of last week’s review, I asked – mostly directed at me, but also the audience at large – why I (we) still bother to watch a show as frustrating as the one How I Met Your Mother has become. The answer is an obvious one, but one that I always seem to forget: the show isn’t totally done being good yet. Sure, there are stretches of the show that try our patience (like say, the Zoe arc), but there are also bits that are very good and not only prove that the show still has some life in it (both Marshall and Barney’s arcs last year) and make us refute those you claim that the show has lost its way. I’m sure it’s that tug and pull that defines most people’s relationship with the show; trying to hold on to the peaks in the face of the lows.

And that’s important in considering “The Ducky Tie”, an episode I was primed to hate based on the title alone, for obvious reasons. Last week I went after the show for giving Barney a long-term-yet-predictable storyline, one which seemed like just another way for the show to pad out a story that has already been stretched beyond its limits. I held particular distaste for the introduction of the ducky tie as both some sort of symbol for a future relationship I couldn’t care less about and a waypoint on the way to Barney’s wedding. The fact that we learn that Barney will have to wear that tie FOR A YEAR only seems to extend the time we will have to wait till we reach Barney’s wedding, and it’s a sour note for an episode that works so well otherwise. At first I was glad that the show was getting the ducky tie out of the way so soon after it was introduced, but now it’s just become an even more frustrating roadblock.

But if you can put that aside – and the episode makes that selective forgetting fairly easy – the episode is really good. When it comes down to it, “Tie” is a “classic” episode of HIMYM, in the sense that it involves a flashback being told while the bumpers around it form their own story. The fact that this formula was also used in the sixth season premiere – an episode that was itself meant to usher in a show’s return to “classic” mode, after the horrid fifth season, currently the show’s nadir – does add an air of calculation to the episode, but it’s also one that fades into the background when confronted with the powerful (in a narrative sense) juxtaposition of Ted and Barney’s storylines.

Though the title is obviously in reference to Barney’s story, it’s Ted that takes the A-plot tonight, in a story that I suspect some fans might regard as a bad move. A certain section of the show’s fan base became incensed last week when “The Naked Truth” ended with Ted seeing Victoria, as they feared that Ted would pop back into a relationship with her. While I understand the fear of a narrative retread, I think what most people were afraid of was Victoria herself, which it is a bit misguided. Most of the Victoria-hate comes from, I believe, her role in season one as that speed-bump to the Ted-Robin romance. (Although a friend of mine claimed to hate her for being douchey, to which I respond, she was no douchier than Ted ever was.) Yet even though we were more-or-less trained to hate Victoria in much the same way we are meant to hate any characters that temporarily serves as the finishing corner to a love triangle, looking back on the Victoria storyline, it’s clear that she was one of the best-written relationships Ted ever had, alongside Robin and Stella.

This fact helps to propel a storyline that deals with a multiplicity of issues, and it noteworthy that the plotline never feels drag downed because of it. We see Ted apologizing/atoning for his past sins by washing Victoria’s dishes, while also knowing that it’s a subtle play to see if he can try again with her, just so that he can make sure she’s not the one for him. Victoria, meanwhile, is playing her own game, as she really only allows Ted to come along so that she can make sure that her soon-to-be fiancĂ©e Klaus, who she met on the German cooking fellowship, is in fact the one for her. These two secret agendas come to a head, as we learn that Victoria ended up dating Klaus a day and a half after Ted broke up with her, and it’s strongly implied that she would have cheated on Ted had he not gotten there first. It’s the kind of reveal that gives both characters closure on past evens without letting either off the hook.

But the real prize here was the end-of-episode revelation, wherein Victoria, and later Future Ted, reveals that it is his and Barney’s close friendship with Robin that’s preventing him from finding a lasting relationship. (It’s a testament to the episode’s storytelling – and to how good that everything else was – that I didn’t see this reveal coming, and I even wrote down “Victoria thinks Ted’s friendship with Robin is weird” in my notes.) It’s the kind of reveal that, much like with Victoria last week, I don’t know what to do with logically, as that statement could mean any number of things, and I’ll just have to see how it plays out. But it is a statement that hits the right spots emotionally, as it effectively means that A) Ted is the victims of his own poor choices and B) that there might be some nasty drama in the weeks ahead. It’s the kind of short-term, emotionally investing hook that the show should do more often.

This was all nicely counteracted with the much lighter, and funnier, B-story about Barney’s quest to see and/or touch Lilly’s new larger pregnancy boobs. (Also, bonus points for being relatable.) Connections to the ducky tie aside, this plot served as a good counterbalance to Ted’s story, with the snappy lines and quick cutaways that kept the episode from becoming too overburdened with the A-plot’s darker emotions. In fact, the B-plot was so funny that at times I forgot it’s relation to the season-long (or longer?) arc. Sure, it feels like something that we’ve seen before, especially in regards to Barney’s long con to get something that he wants, but it was a storyline that felt true to the characters and gave us enough twists and turns to stay intriguing, and that’s all I ask from this show’s B-plots.

And maybe that’s how HIMYM should play it from now on. Maybe they should just quick the gimmicky storytelling that’s stale and causes fan frustration, and instead focus on the shorter-terms stories that have a greater and more immediate emotional payoff. (As for the comedy: This is certainly a show were story matters more than jokes, to the point that I’m not really bothered if the show has good jokes as long as the emotional payoff is good – see “Last Words”. But I’ve often found that the jokes tend to be better when the story’s better as well.) The show has already proved that it can do these stories as well, so I think it’s high time they adapt to that more naturalistic – and more enjoyable – pace, and stop playing the long con on us.

Quotes, Etc:

For those of you not happy with the current direction of the show, bad news: last week’s two episodes earned 11 and 12.22 million viewers, respectively, the highest premiere viewing to date, with numbers that are generally only found in the November-March timeframe.  So if this keeps up, as Bays & Thomas keep dragging out the show for as long it keeps getting renewed, expect many more seasons of awkward and/or dragged-out plotlines.

Seriously, Klaus waited five and a half years to pop the question? Come on, dude.

“Wow, you make it sound as if I dated a series of Stieg Larson novels.”

“Geez Lilly, it’s like you have a butt on your chest.”

“Why on earth would I want to see that?” “They’re round and attached to my body. It’s a even trade.”

“So…uh…I STOLE YOUR BOYFRIEND! That is like, crazy. Like, WHAT? But bridge, water under it? It was all Ted’s fault, he got me drunk. What, yeah, be right there.”

Your Robin?” “Mine and Barney’s, yeah.”

“Victoria, do you believe in fate?” “I believe you’re about to give a big speech on fate.” “I do…”

“Wow, guy’s got a whole drawer just for socks. Must be nice.”

“I am going to have to walk this earth knowing that Barney had touched my boobs.” “Yeah, it stays with you. His email reminders don’t help.”

“I let you come wash my dishes. I said my oven needed cleaning. I invited you into a porno!”

“Are they out yet? What do they look like?...I don’t want to know. Just tell me the kind of coin.”


  1. Totally thought Victoria was making up "Klaus". The way she said the name came off as a lie. But, I for one, am glad she's gone. Let Ted find the mom!

    I'd almost be okay with a parade of Ted's exes if each episode had him learn something about himself like this one.

    PLEASE GOD no more Ted-Robin backtracking.

    "Aaand we've arrived at weird."

    "So you're washing her dishes..."

  2. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that they're won't be any Ted-Robin backtracking. But I do think that this might lead to some ugly friendship drama, and that's something that I think might be interesting to see.