One of the interesting problems faced by the creative team this season is how to create different pairs, trios, and sub-ensembles within the gang, in order to explore different relationships and tell different kinds of stories, when everybody is living in the same building for the weekend. (Except for Marshall, of course, but his complete separation presents a whole other structural problem.) I thought tonight’s episode was a clever way of turning that difficulty upside down. The format might make it hard to keep the characters out of each other’s way, but it also allows the writers to bring characters together at the drop of a hat and shuffle others into and out of their stories in quick cameos.
And it looks like we’re going to need that flexibility, because each combination of characters seems to have something to get out into the open. Tonight, it’s Ted and Barney confronting the betrayal of Ted’s continued feelings for Robin, and Robin and Lily fretting over Robin’s dearth of female friends. “The Broken Code” is a workmanlike episode, nothing fancy or inspired. Yet I admire the way Telepresence Marshall (aka Marshpillow 2.0) morphs into a wonderful reintroduction of the three male leads’ dialogue rhythms. And I sympathize with Robin’s plight; I’ve never been one to accumulate lot of girlfriends either, so much so that my bridal shower was almost exclusively attended by my mother’s church friends.
It’s a bit odd that Ted’s big secret comes out in a setting that quite literally dampens the emotional impact of the admission. Ted denies that there was anything weird about the scene Barney witnessed when he arrived late at the carousel and found them holding hands in the rain. After much banter about whether the Bro Code expressly forbids such a weird moment, the two submit the case to impartial arbiter Marshall, who hears evidence and hands down judicial orders via the iPad attached to his pillow-surrogate’s head-cushion. That’s how they end up on the beach holding hands to test the theory that a friend holding hands to comfort another friend is not weird. Then the rain starts, and the analogy to Ted and Robin in Central Park is complete, right down to the unresolvable situation. I wish the real stakes of this conversation could have come out in a scene that allowed for some sincerity. Can Barney continue to consider as his best friend a man who is admittedly unable to get over loving Barney’s bride? Can Ted really promise to tamp down those feelings indefinitely? (Barney doesn’t know yet, of course, that Ted is planning to move half a continent away rather than be faced with the feelings everyday.) Instead, the two move quickly past the moment and get on with the wedding festivities, like playing poker with replacement best man Billy Zabka (he is, after all, “the best … around”) and Barney’s personal tailor Tim Gunn. It’s not that getting this out in the open is really supposed to resolve anything, but even a determination to bull through and pretend it’s not a problem deserves a little more genuine feeling.
Robin’s subplot similarly moves past a perceived problem without leaving more than a tiny ripple of uncertainty in its wake. Lily didn’t fail to send the evite to Robin’s bachelorette party; she just couldn’t find any of the people Robin listed as her friends, like Tall Girl From Work, Mouthbreather From Coffee Shop, and Average-Sized Girl From That Place (“She’s actually kind of a bitch,” Robin admits). Concerned that Robin will have no female camaraderie at all while she’s in Rome, Lily orders her to befriend random women at the bar, only to have Robin reject them for having bangs or wearing comfortable shoes (“What are you, filibustering later?”). Then when Robin does, in Barney style, go after the soft target weeping at the bar, the two turn out to have a love for hockey and a hatred for the Boston Bruins in common—so much so that Lily fears their bond will leave her on the outside. “How about we inject a sexual edge into our abiding friendship that in no way jeopardizes our emotional connection or respective marriages?” her daydream Robin suggests to her new best friend, and Lily goes into full psycho mode to keep Robin all to herself.
The best parts of “The Broken Code” are the repeated gags, both small and large. From Barney’s astounded “How dare you!” face when Ted disses the Code, to Ted’s descent into the depths of best man loyalty (redoing the place cards, giving up his room for a basement cot, taking care of an early delivery of doves), to Robin’s disgust at the very idea of trying to find common ground with the loser women at the bar, the show finds solid laughs and even some good surprises in the first season nine episode without an strong emotional axis. Best of all is Marshall declaiming “A bro having a weird moment with a bro’s fiance is—in my bropinion—a violation,” his tablet face making the perfect timing even better. When his doll self becomes an excuse for a series of Weekend At Bernie’s gags, it’s the best possible ending to the premise, and even better for not being telegraphed from the get-go.
- Ted has worked very hard at being Barney’s best man, possibly out of guilt. Not only did he procure Billy Zabka for the bachelor party, but he also had special cards made for the best man’s poker game with Barney’s face on the kings and all the queens naked (“Twas my first decree!” Barney declares); used his calligraphy skills, much in demand at senior prom, on the placecards (“in a pretty decent Chancery, considering I only have my travel quills”), and massaged an old lady’s corns, even though she turned out to be unrelated to Barney.
- I’m always happy to see Tim Gunn anywhere, but Tim Gunn saying poker “looks like a hoot!” then spouting half a page of card lingo before folding is especially delightful.
- Lily worries that Robin will be lonely without her at their usual Saturday brunch gossip, but Robin imagines yelling at a hockey broadcast and pouring beer into her cereal with wistful anticipation.
- Barney explains that he was late to the carousel because “I was having such a good time greasing 12-year-olds!” “Lazer Tag,” Ted tells Marshpillow 2.0; “Helpful, continue,” it replies.