How I Met Your Mother: "Benefits"
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How I Met Your Mother: "Benefits"

A-

How I Met Your Mother

"Benefits"

Season 4, Episode 12
A-

How I Met Your Mother

"Benefits"

Season 4, Episode 12

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 "I love you."
 
Has a sitcom ever passed over that moment so quickly and so poignantly?  Barney impulsively blurts out his feelings to Robin, and without missing a beat, she interprets it as his expression of Ted's romantic side.  She doesn't hear him, and in fact, she tells him her belief that friends can't get involved -- that it never works out.  And poor Barney, standing there unable to step back over that threshold, left with only friendship.  It was painful, it was wrenching, and most importantly, it wasn't overplayed.  I think that moment is going to stick with me for a long time.
 
But what led us to that point?  Let's trace our way back through the plot.  Marshall inspires Barney to man up and just do what he's gotta do after he overcomes his issues with taking a shit in the workplace and stops worrying that everyone's disapproving of his bodily functions.  Barney has manning-up to do because his bottled-up feelings for Robin are taking a real beating, what with Ted and Robin talking incessantly about how they're having sex.  And Ted and Robin are having sex because it keeps them from fighting over all the petty annoyances of being roomies, like putting empty milk jugs back in the fridge and not changing the toilet paper.  And it keeps them from fighting because -- wait for it -- Barney is always telling them how sex solves all arguments and could bring peace to the Middle East or any other world conflict.  To their delight and Barney's frustration, the make-love-not-war plan works.  "Peace was achieved -- repeatedly!" Robin leers at the conclusion of yet another story about her and Ted getting it on.
 
And where is Lily in all this?  Playing the role to which she's been too often relegated since the start of the Barney-loves-Robin plotline: The giver of ignored advice.  She tells Barney to stop going out back of the bar and smashing televisions from the dumpster to handle his anger.  But instead of listening, Barney insists he's fine, even though he has to move on to buying televisions after the surprisingly rich supply of them from the bar's dumpster runs out.  "So the CRT has better contrast?" he queries the clerk, before lifting his newly purchased TV over his head and slamming it to the pavement.  Lily told Ted and Robin that somebody was going to get hurt, but they didn't listen.  "My cuteness interferes with people hearing my message," she explains.
 
The old "friends with benefits" it's-just-physical storyline is deftly handled here -- I especially like the accelerated relapse after Ted and Robin renege on their decision to cut it out (milk carton, in bed, admitting it at the bar, tossing TV, choking out another "excellent, excellent, excellent").  Beside its rich vein of relationship and sexual-tension comedy, the whole "nobody likes to read a magazine at work" B-story seemed at once too fantastical and too slight.  I admire the way that the writers built to the moment of Barney's honesty so much, though.  And just as much, I admire the way they left it gently to the side, a glimpse only, all the more beautiful for that.
 
Grade: A-
 
Stray observations:
 
- Again with Barney and Madeline Albright!  Let's just get Madame Secretary to do a guest spot on the show so these two crazy kids can work it out, huh?
 
- I'm on record as not enjoying the little CGI tricks that take this show (or most sitcoms, Scrubs excepted) into the realm of the whimsical, wackly, and druggy occasionally.  The "B-list celebrities talk to Marshall from the cover of Them Weekly" gag is no exception to that rule.  Or maybe it's just that I get disgusted seeing anybody treat Heidi and Spencer as if they were worthy of notice, let alone giving them a cameo on an actually good show.  Save the guest star budget for Madeline Albright, I say!
 
- Another great underplayed moment: Marshall hands the key to the apartment back to Robin after Lily reveals that he told her about the sex, breaking his vow of silence.
 
- "Wait, reading a magazine means masturbating, right?"
 
- Your indulgence while I wax sentimental for a moment.  I know it's only television, it's only a sitcom, it's only a broadcast network, it's only, it's only, it's only.  But as the country sinks into depression and the crises facing us grow more desperate, I take great solace in laughter.  When I watch a skilled performer taking obvious pleasure in his work, like Neil Patrick Harris on last weekend's Saturday Night Live, I think that there is hope for humanity.

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