As Todd VanDerWerff reported last week, the creators of How I Met Your Mother don’t know if season eight will be the show’s last. They’re putting their long-planned endgame into effect, but they also have a Plan B in case the network and stars come to an agreement to extend the show into season nine. Todd’s analysis suggests that the economics would seem to dictate this season as the endpoint, but nothing’s certain yet.
The debate that has intensified with each passing season is whether the whole idea of an endpoint, embedded as it is in the show’s premise, increasingly works against the comedy as the years pile up. You can expect to hear a lot of opinions on both sides from TV critics all over the web, including right here in the TV Roundtable discussion of “Slap Bet” coming up this Thursday. My answer has been consistent (at least as far as I remember) for the four seasons I’ve been writing about this show: The premise is only a liability if the viewer makes it one.
That sounds like a “you’re watching it wrong” argument, but I don’t mean it that way. The writers have occasionally let the focus slide too far one way or the other, toward “premise shmemise!” or “mythology above all.” But taking the seven seasons as a whole, there has been an impressive balance between the comedy of the moment and the happily ever after we want for the characters. The fundamentals haven’t changed; in fact, the detours and wheel spinning that from one angle seem intolerable, from another angle advance the show’s underlying theme of embracing maturity. We’ll get the pleasure from this show that we allow it to give us.
I watched “Farhampton” right before “Slap Bet,” and even though the latter is one of the best half hours the show has ever delivered, the former did not suffer appreciably by the juxtaposition. That’s a testament to those fundamentals and to the power of the mythology that the creative team has slowly developed over the seasons in between the two episodes. The season seven première introduced us to the wedding day on which Ted would meet the mother, and tonight we see everything but her face, hidden by the yellow umbrella. Call me a sap, but I still find that moving. Has any other sitcom been able to dole out these little revelations so effectively?
And the comedy doesn’t suffer on account of the many mother-related threads that need to be kept in the weave. Ted’s story flashes back from the “little ways down the road” timeframe of Robin and Barney’s wedding to May of 2012, when he persuaded Victoria to leave Klaus at the altar. The link is the church window that Robin is thinking of climbing out of—the same window that Ted needs to get into in order to leave Klaus the “I’m leaving you at the altar” note demanded by courtesy, and recalled so vividly by Ted from his own left-at-the-altar experience in season four’s “Shelter Island.” (Her first effort? “There’s no easy way to tell you why I won’t be marrying you today. Have a great summer.”) He’s terrified by the thought of shimmying up the drainpipe because of a scarring rope-climb exercise in P.E. when he failed after following a Greek classmate (“The rope was slick with lamb grease!” is the excuse he’s been rehearsing during all the long years afterward), and after a couple of false starts he gains admission with Victoria’s key to the bridal dressing room thanks to Barney distracting the German bridesmaid standing guard with phone sex.
But then he leaves the car keys and the room key behind with the note and has to brave the drainpipe anyway to retrieve them, which is when he meets Klaus (Thomas Lennon) coming in the other direction, having left his own note to explain that Victoria, although a wonderful person, isn’t his life’s ultimate treasure. No matter how much he feels for her and how happy she might make him, it’s not the ineffable connection between soul mates. She’s the thing that is almost the thing you want but not quite (all as one German word, of course, which amazingly is not one of the few German words Ted knows).
The final montage connects this relationship with the love that exhausted new parents Marshall and Lily feel for their new baby Marvin, despite his refusal to sleep. Back in the world where Ted is not persuading long-ago girlfriends to leave their fiancés at the altar on a whim, Barney is trying to keep his season five relationship with Robin a secret from his new fiancée, Quinn. He has photoshopped Robin out of all their pictures and purged all their mementos, but he’s undone by Marshall and Lily spilling the beans while too tired to remember that Quinn’s in the room. This leads to the gem of the episode, a one-minute speed run (complete with on-screen timer) through his entire relationship with Robin. He even has time at the end to mention, apropos of nothing, that “also I went on Price is Right and I won a dune buggy” (in season two’s “Showdown”).
Quinn takes it badly, in the way TV girlfriends always seem to take the news that their boyfriends are still close to their exes. I could certainly fault “Farhampton” for the speedy way it disposes of two romantic complications that stand between Ted and that fateful wedding day when the mother is met, but I’ll bet we haven’t seen the last of either Quinn or Victoria. Both Barney and Ted need to confront more fully the barriers that stand between them and the commitments to which they exhibit such a love-hate relationship. For Barney, it’s the counterintuitive urge to hang onto something instead of moving right along; for Ted, it’s the honesty to critique his romantic impulses.
Klaus’s monologue about true love asserts that there’s somebody out there for us all. That’s a thought that fits well with HIMYM’s teleological premise, but already complications are clouding that rosy picture. Robin and Barney’s wedding day will not go well, it seems. Those fated relationship might not be practical, for all their inevitability. What I’m looking forward to this season (and next, if need be) isn’t the fairy-tale ending, but the final transformations that take place when leaving those illusions behind.
- One romantic complication remains after Victoria and Quinn make their exits: Robin’s boy toy Nick, about whom she comments to the sleepwalking Marshall and Lily: “I don’t want to be crude, but I could spend all day licking his abs.” “You’re preaching to the choir, sister!” responds Marshall, who has no idea what she just said.
- Maybe my favorite single moment of the episode, speaking of Nick, is Robin’s adorable little “okay!” after Nick admonishes her that they need to “discuss the meaning of the word ‘emergency’ and the phrase ‘trapped under a car.’”
- Another terrific Colbie Smulders line reading comes after the camera has panned across happy couples Marshall and Lily and Barney-and-Quinn: “Robin one, poppy seed zero!” she exults after extracting some detritus from between her teeth.
- That’s Band Of Horses’ “The Funeral” playing over the mother exiting her cab, retrieving her guitar, and walking up the Farhampton train station steps in the rain.
- Probably not just the sleep deprivation talking when Marshall responds to Quinn’s invitation for the assembled ladies to be her bridesmaids with “We’d be honored!”