If one scene in tonight's episode sums up the whole HIMYM aesthetic, it's the one where the gang toasts Lily and Marshall's purchase of an apartment by clinking champagne flutes together: "Here's to your momentous step forward into adulthood!" And then, as Lily and Marshall tip their glasses back: "Chug! Chug! Chug!"
Like Friends and its spawn, HIMYM is about twenty-somethings who haven't yet made the transition from Joe College hanging around the student center ("no wheels, man") to responsible citizens with steady jobs and property tax bills. But unlike most of its ilk, HIMYM seems determined to show its protagonists losing touch with their ideals and dreams instead of remaining pretty much okay. And so tonight Lily's shopaholism, revealed last week in a plot development that bothered some commenters, come home to roost in the couple's inability to get a competitive mortgage rate on their dream apartment.
The trope tonight is micro-fantasy sequences with a "that's what _____ should have said" theme. And the episode uses them beautifully, leaving it alone for stretches and then piling them on top of each other with devastating effect. Nothing ends up where it should be, because nobody says what they should have said. And Lily and Marshall commit to living beyond their means -- partly because they're not savvy enough to play it cool, but mostly because they're not adult enough to face reality.
In an episode full of telling details, maybe the most revealing is the almost tossed-off crazy scheme for Lily to file for divorce so that Marshall can buy the apartment solo, with his undamaged credit. When he says no because he married Lily unknown problems and all, it seems like honesty and self-realization of the kind that sitcom third acts conjure up every week. But it's nothing of the kind. Marshall and LIly can muster up the strength to get over their fight and go forward, but not to see the facts. Their reconciliation is pure sitcom idealism, just like Barney says -- they just can't break up because then everything will be revealed as a sham. But they're living in a world that won't rearrange itself to accommodate that idealism. So they blunder on toward disaster -- with Marshall, let it not be forgotten, tied to a job he doesn't believe in for a boss who will be led away in handcuffs in a few years. The whole surprising downward spiral has got me wanting to scour the first two seasons to make sure Aunt Lily and Uncle Marshall are still together in the show's framing story.
Oh, and before this analysis gets too heavy -- yes, all this overall plot development takes place in a solidly funny episode. And again, the cold open accurately predicted the quality of the ensuing comedy: the three things Marshall most regrets, his assessment of Ted's apartment as "The Real World, but not the early seasons where they had jobs and social consciences -- Hawaii and after!", and his ga-ga fawning over the apartment in front of the realtor when he should have played it cool.
- Any show that features the word "jackassery" cannot receive less than a B from me. Sorry, folks, just the way I am.
- Is Marshall and Lily's new apartment the same set as Ted's apartment, just redressed and with the kitchen on the other side? The doors are in the same places, there a step up to the window ... is this going to be a plot point or are they just messing with my head?
- The CSI pastiche in the middle of the episode, with Ted reconstructing Marshall and Lily's fight through water bottle labels, ice cream containers, and a crooked picture by the door, is very well done, especially with Robin's sardonic attempts to deflate the scenario. But I'm glad it didn't take over the whole episode.
- Robin doesn't have her own plotline this episode, but I laughed at her attempt to metaphoricize Lily's credit-card debt by comparing it to a Canadian mountain -- leading to Lily's bewildered responses: "Waddington? Meters?"
- Jason Segel breaks out the drums and gives the warm fuzzies to Freaks and Geeks fans everywhere.
- And to get closure on the Friends reference back in paragraph 2, that was Maggie Wheeler -- Janice with the braying laugh, Chandler's nemesis -- as the real estate agent that sells Lily and Marshall the apartment of doom (aka Ted's II).