Season 7, Episode 10
“What if it’s actually the story of how we got back together?”
Last night’s How I Met Your Mother proved to be a very divisive one, with critics either upsetthat the show threw up yet another roadblock, or instead enjoying the emotional journey that the show is taking us to get to the point of Robin and Barney’s reunion. Me, I fall into the latter camp, and it appears that I have one more to add to the list of shows that I love. Sure, I may be more critical of HIMYM than the other shows on that list, but when the show is firing on all emotional cylinders, all of my rational criticisms seem to just melt away.
On an intellectual level, I realize that I should be pissed about this, that another stall tactic on a show that has perhaps stretched out certain stories for far too long. Hell, in my review of the season premiere I even took the show to task for stretching out both the mystery of who The Mother is and for prolonging Barney and Robin’s reunion. But what I realize now is that I wasn’t mad at the show for postponing these inevitabilities once again, but for doing so with stories that we don’t really care about.
Or, to put it another way: I’ve long said that I don’t particularly care about who The Mother is – that is, her absence doesn’t both me so long as the show doesn’t call so much attention to it – and, to paraphrase Donna Bowman’s review linked up above, I’m all about the journey, not the destination. And Robin and Barney’s exploration here tonight wasn’t only an interesting and moving part of the journey, but an important one as well.
We’ve been over this a lot, but it needs to be restated: The first Barney/Robin pairing didn’t work. Though it seemed like a good idea at the time, in short the show was just putting the two most wild and interesting together because on the surface they seemed like a good match for each other. But what the show failed to do was to take into consideration their deeper emotions and issues, and what we ended up with was neutered versions of the characters, without any suitable explanation for how they got that way. It’s clear that the writers hadn’t really thought out their relationship when they stuck them together in season four finale, and they spent the next eight episodes scrambling to have it all make sense.
I see “Tick, Tick, Tick” as a direct acknowledge and resolution to that problem. While the show has gone to some lengths to show that these two are now better at relationships in general – indeed, the only good thing about Nora was that she allowed Barney to get comfortable being in a committed relationship – they still haven’t shown what makes them a good match for each other.
There’s a key set of exchanges tonight, one between Robin and Barney, and the other between Robin and Kevin, both of which start off with her saying, “I’m such a mess. Why do you even like me?” Their answers, of course, are wildly different:
Barney: “I guess because you’re almost as messed up as I am.”
Kevin: “I am constantly amazed by the things you say, entranced by the things you do, and, unlike a certain jalapeño coconut martini, you’re easy on the eyes. If we’re together long enough, I hope one day you’ll see yourself the way I see you.”
Regardless of how thoughtful and poetic Kevin’s answer is, the real winner here is Barney, and not just because we want to see the two of them together. There may be a certain curtness to Barney’s answer, but there’s also a good deal of truth in it, and it comes from a place of love and mutual understanding. He is Robin’s match, even if what he’s matching is emotional immaturity. And while Kevin’s answer also comes from a place of love, his answer, much like him outright saying “I love you”, is an obvious mark of desperation, coming from someone who wants to drag Robin to where he is emotionally within their relationship.
And while these two answers say a lot about the men that Robin is torn between, it's her decision that speaks volumes about her. While Barney is the perfect match for her – the show is of course unequivocal about this – Robin isn’t ready to take the leap into potentially dangerous territory, and she would rather stay with the safe choice of a man that won’t make her nearly as happy, but on whom she can count on to stick around, than to pick the man who may give her the thrills, but also run the risk of breaking her heart once again.
And all of this ends in a beautiful punch to the gut with the show’s closing scene, where we see Barney, who has taken the leap, being let down by Robin, who’s too afraid to do so. The revelation was a might predictable, but it was still highly effective thanks to Harris’ fantastic acting, and I enjoyed that the show followed it by showing Barney picking up the pieces of the romantic setting he had made for Robin in her bedroom, while Ted looks on helplessly. And yet, even more powerfully, nobody is the bad guy in all this. It would be easy to hate Robin for causing Barney so much pain, but she isn’t in the right place emotionally for them to be together, and she's likely just as torn up as he is. Getting to that place is a process that’s going to take some time, both for Robin and the show, and if the latter pulls this off correctly, we will finally have the Barney-Robin reunion that makes sense, without destroying the characters we love.
It would be hard to follow up this powerful and emotional A-plot with any sort of B-plot, but the show’s got to do something with the other actors. (And here’s where I finally write down my long held belief that HIMYM should, like most cable shows, only use characters when there actually needed on screen. It would both make episodes stronger overall, and force the writers to give all the character significant plots, thus avoiding missteps like Marshall’s lack of stories for most of season’s four and five. But sadly, I know that’s not going to happen.) While there was some thematic parallels – both stories had a pair of characters trying to keep a secret from other(s) – Ted and Marshall’s story was intentionally slight, and also a retread of things we’ve seen before, in that Ted worries that he’s losing his friend ship with Marshall.
The humor on display here was solid, if you like watching stoned people – and I find Baked Ted and Baked Marshall to be particularly funny – and while there were some crazy and surreal gags here, especially The Creepy Guitar Guy, others, like the trite stoned saying coming out of their mouths weren’t all that inspired. Their continued confusion of the line for the women’s restroom with that of the one for the nachos felt like a “Silent Bob and the rakes” gag – in that in goes on so long that it becomes funny again – but I don’t think the joke was employed enough to reach the desired effect. And while the emotions on display here weren’t exactly original, they were well deployed, they do speak to what the show does best, and that’s telling the story of these five friends growing up. Because when the show can deal with the heartbreak and sacrifice that these people have to give up in order to live their lives, that’s when it’s firing on all cylinders, and those are the kinds of episodes that stick with you.
Quotes and Other Thoughts:
I get that the show doesn’t want us to turn against the characters, and thus wants them to remain as morally untainted as possible, but it felt like the show was trying just a bit too hard to right their wrong of sleeping together through that overly on-the-nose conversation that started the episode. Nobody cares enough about Nora to be bothered that Barney hurts her, and even though Kevin’s a good guy, and one that’s been around long enough to justify us caring about him, I don’t feel that strong of an emotional connection to him either.
“You’re asking me to lie? That’s…fine.”
“It’s a three-hour boat ride. What’s the worst that could happen?” “I’m sure that’s what Gilligan said.”
“Even the tickets smell like Cloves and mediocrity.”
“Gender Diversity Awareness-palooza, our junior year?” “Yeah, there were some real bitches there!”
“Excuse me, I should have sex with that new intern…”
“Somewhere simple and homey, like Vermont or Dubai.”
“WHY AM I NOT FEELING PARANOID?”
“Sure, act like it was all your idea…Seriously, you guys suck.”
“Or, if you’re feeling dirty, we can always face New Jersey.”
“Don’t forget your mystery bags. They’re condoms.”
“Let’s see, uh…Suits. Laser tag. I say ‘Wait for it!’ a lot. That’s about it.”