So much of the early stages of a relationship consists of trying to figure out what’s in the other person’s head. We sort through the nearly infinite roster of things a particular combination of looks, pauses, words, and actions could mean. That point was made beautifully in tonight's episode, I thought, by the brief sequence with Lily and Marshall in the bar trying to figure out how Robin left things with Ted when she departed for Moscow. Was it more like Ted remembers it, a sultry “We’ll pick this up again later” promise? Or more like Lily wants it to be, a tentative peck and a hesitant backing out the door in an uncomfortable silence?
These people don’t need to figure out what’s in each other’s heads, though. They’ve been friends for years, and they know. What surprises me about this action-packed episode is how honest they’re able to be about it to each other. I wrote last week about that friend-lover dilemma, the one where you keep somebody in your back pocket to serve as your safety net in case Prince Charming never comes along—or maybe the one where you keep hoping that your friend will stop looking and embrace what’s right in front of her. How many of us could get to the end of a night like the one Ted plans for Robin after her return from the Moscow butter festival and not keep on pretending and hoping? The hope is that if you behave like lovers long enough and hard enough, then that’s what you’ll become. I’m not sure that such delusions or such hopes can dissipate so fast, but if that’s what Ted and Robin each feel like the other deserves, then I tip my hat to them.
And what it means for us is that things are beginning to move quickly. In one episode, Ted’s impulsive declaration of love to Robin on the rooftop has turned sour. “Forget I ever said it,” he tells her. Significantly, it’s where he almost went right after saying it. He almost backs up, apologizes, and tries to regroup. But then when he opens his door to find Robin standing there, he blurts out his other excuse—”I go camping in secret!”, an allusion to temporary insanity brought on by Lyme disease—and Robin decides to take him up on the offer of love. But in the week of her absence, while Lily and Marshall try to influence him based on a bet Lily made years ago that the two of them wouldn’t end up together, Ted has to face a different aspect of friendship.
Why it took Ted so long to figure out the significance of the scene he witnessed back in “Tick Tick Tick,” with Barney heartbreakingly cleaning up the rose petals and candles he’d arranged in Robin’s room, I’m sure I don’t know. It seems a little strange that he would just put it out of his mind until now, when it all makes sense. But I can’t argue with the drama of the scene where Barney almost visibly tamps down his real feelings and professes that “If you make her happy, then that makes me happy.” “You’ve really grown up,” Ted responds, and ironically he’s right—but not because Barney has learned to be magnanimous with his exes.
What really signifies that someone is a grown-up is that they stop stashing candy away in the back of the closet because they think that the candy companies might go out of business and they want to be prepared. Letting go of the safety net is indeed a big step forward. But can you do it with an act of will? Ted tries; he really does. He tells Marshall that it’s better, that he can finally move on, and he’s being honest. But Marshall’s also right when he shows up to see Robin—and surprisingly, instead of trying to keep the bet alive, tells her that Ted is crushed and heartbroken, and that she needs to move out in order to give him space to heal.
I love the way this episode opened and closed, with the flash-forward to Ted telling the Mother “I love you” for the first time (wearing a slouchy gray knit hat, under her yellow umbrella, outside the movie theater because Wedding Bride III is sold out), and with Ted’s emergence onto a rainy street filled with yellow umbrella women—filled with possibilities. But you can’t just decide not to be in love with someone you’ve been keeping locked away in your heart for a rainy day. Right up until Robin left with her banker’s box, I thought they might take it back. And then Marshall pointedly refuses to declare the Ted-Robin bet over. “Not yet,” he says. For all that happened in this episode, for all that we were once again reminded that Robin isn’t the mother as we’ve known all along, for all that we know Lily wins this one, the door can’t close just because two people have a heart-to-heart, honest as they’re trying to be. Anymore than Barney saying that Robin closed the door on him makes it so.
- Although “No Pressure” is a winner because of its bittersweetness, it also succeeds on the comedy front—maybe not up to the highest standards of this season, but a solid base hit. Best moments: Marshall confessing that Ted probably would have put together the Symphony of Illumination if it had been Marshall that needed cheering up (“You’re such a good friend, Ted!”); Lily wishing for some outside validation of her desirability better than Barney’s constant attentions (“He just wants to bang me; I want something real!”); Ted going momentarily full douche (“If you’ll excuse me, I have some sonnets to write!”); and Lily and Marshall’s aggressive embrace of bookmaking on their friends’ various failings (“New hobby!” Lily growls as Marshall sweeps the model airplane parts off the table).
- How many of you had a “if we’re not married at 40” deal with somebody? Raise your hand and don’t make me feel like an idiot over here with my hand up.
- Ted’s logic that they broke up because they were headed in different directions and couldn’t see themselves together in five years—and now “it’s five years later, and where are we?”—makes sense only if they’re able to ignore that where they are isn’t where they would have chosen for themselves, much more recently than five years ago.
- Barney fleeing the bar to go back to Long Island in search of the sex tape is a little masterpiece of physical comedy, especially since he careens right over the neighboring table in his haste.
- Speaking of the sex tape, I’m not sure that the VHS tape Barney’s cleaning team finds (“To the outmoded viewing device!”) could be it, given the model of camcorder we see Marshall holding as he protests that he’s been starving himself for a week to get camera-ready. “You had a bear claw for breakfast!” Lily retorts. “Yeah—a bear claw,” Marshall explains.