How I Met Your Mother has never been one of those shows that refused to allow its characters to grow up. In fact, their maturation is the premise of the show. What changes between our youth and our adulthood can, for many of us, be summarized by the story of how we embark upon relationships of our own choosing that involve permanent commitments and legal obligations. Like marriage and parenthood.
Marshall and Lily have been out in front of their friends on this trajectory for some time, and when Marvin was born last season, they moved even further beyond Barney, Robin, and Ted. That’s led to an interesting storytelling dilemma for the show’s writers. How can they remain a part of the group when their lives, schedules, concerns, and activities are so different? Some episodes have dealt with this directly, but that doesn’t diminish the difficulty. Marshall and Lily’s storylines tend to be off in their own separate world—distractingly so.
I was feeling that same disconnect as the plotlines gained shape in “Band Or DJ?” Robin and Barney deal with Robin’s scary dad. Ted and Lily feud over who gets to plan the wedding. And Marshall and Lily worry that Marvin hasn’t had a bowel movement in three days. Friends, one of these stories is not like the others. It doesn’t matter how often the other characters gather in Marshall and Lily’s apartment where Marvin’s constipation can intrude on the action, or how often Marshall and Lily show up at MacLaren’s to give a report on their progress (or lack thereof). You can’t make those worlds collide. The preoccupations of new parents and the drama of the search for young love pull the show in two different directions, and the result is that one or the other is bound to find itself ghettoized.
At least that’s what I was thinking as the third act opened. Then the writers decided to show me how wrong I was. In a scene that vibrated with creative honesty, Lily takes Ted up on the roof, knowing that his obsession over hiring a DJ for Robin’s wedding masks his deep ambivalence about the whole idea of seeing Robin slip out of his realm of possibility forever. And to allow him to admit it, she admits something that makes her an even worse person than still wanting Robin after explicitly giving her up makes Ted. Sometimes she doesn’t want to be a mother. She wants to take back that decision and leave her baby behind and regain the dreams of freedom and personal fulfillment that she’s left behind, consciously and deliberately, but not without echoes of regret and longing that refuse to die.
All parents feel like this sometimes. It doesn’t matter how wonderful their kids are (and my kids are the most wonderful human beings I know), and it especially doesn’t matter that we thought long and hard about what we were giving up and hoping to gain when we decided to welcome them into our lives, and that we did it with forethought and full, clear-eyed intent. The human condition is longing for the roads we did not take, no matter how rewarding the one we did take turns out to be. And even though Ted’s condition is farther back in my personal timeline than Lily’s, I remember what that felt like too, and how much of a betrayal it seemed to admit it to one’s self. That person who belongs to someone else should be with me instead.
Less directly stated, but still connected, is Robin’s struggle to find a way to include her messy family background in the inauguration of her future. Her dad has given up some of his scariness (“He always looks like he just came from slapping some guy tied to a chair in a back room,” Marshall recalls with a shudder) under the influence of someone named Carol (“dental hygienist, no kids, likes Zumba”) who dresses him in Hawaiian shirts and takes him to “concerts of the recording artist James Buffet.” But he still doesn’t think blond guys like Barney are anything more than kids, and withholds his blessing until Robin’s suitor proves himself with acts of manhood like slaughtering animals (“You know what we call that in Canada? Manners”). Robin thinks she’s got a bead on what kind of trouble her dad will be; like everything else in her life, Barney won’t be good enough.
The surprise is that it’s Robin Charles Scherbatsky, Sr. who disappoints his namesake, not the other way around, by getting hitched to Carol without informing or involving his daughter. “I figured you knew, it’s on my Facebook page,” he explains. “I post a lot of great stuff. You familiar with memes?” What will Robin do with the upper hand after Barney persuades her dad to apologize? She can’t let go of the lifetime of distrust, anymore than Ted can let go of his secret Robin dreams. But as Lily says, it’s our lot in life to accept it and find a way to go forward. Sometimes the rewards of the unknown future, the one that we didn’t plan out in our younger years, tinged with all-consuming passion for a career or a person, turn out to be far greater than we could have imagined.
- “Band Or DJ?” introduces another euphemism that the show makes visually literal, like sandwiches for weed. Here Lily responds to Ted’s anger over her discussion of feces (“I’m eating chili. I’m eating chili!”) by calling it confetti, leading to a payoff where Marvin emits confetti in great clouds all over Marshall.
- Interesting that Barney takes a bit of a narrative backseat in this episode, after his machinations and maturation have driven most of the season so far. He does get one great comic monologue, where he waxes sarcastically poetic about paying for Robin like a Bedouin sheik, castigates her for interrupting his flights of fancy about her being brought to him perfumed and dancing, and then resumes bluntly and shortly: “... where we’ll do it.”
- The restrooms in Robin’s dad’s favorite restaurant (a heavily themed pizzeria) are marked Spaghetti and Meatballs. Robin chooses poorly: “It turns out spaghetti are men. I think I saw a noodle.”
- Poor Cobie was really battling some kind of respiratory illness during filming. In the last scene with Ted at the bar, she can barely get her lines out.
- Lily advises Ted to let go and let Barney and Robin “hire a band.” But right before the wedding (May 25, 2013), the band cancels; Ted happens to run into that bass player’s roommate on the subway; the roomie’s band has an unexpected opening. “Lucky I ran into you,” Ted says, and as Television’s “Guiding Light” plays, the flash-forward shows how lucky he was, as he leans on the bar at the reception and watches the bass player perform while Robin and her dad dance.