At the end of last week’s episode, Daphne forced the issue of Marshall’s secret judgeship by texting the news to Lily. And this week, we get the answer to one of the chief plotting questions raised by the unconventional storytelling strategy of this final season. How long should things last?
As soon as that text was deployed last week, the clock started ticking on Lily reading it. Maybe she would fail to read it for hours on end, for whatever reason. Maybe she’d read it right away, and we’d start dealing with the consequences. Maybe we can cut away from Lily for other storylines and delay the answer to “when’s she gonna read it?” for a week or so. Or maybe an episode would be devoted to the text hanging over Lily’s head, with everyone obsessing over the state of the single hair keeping it from falling.
I think that ultimately it’s this question—how long should things last?—that frustrates and divides HIMYM viewers. The whole series has been an exercise in alternately facing and finessing this question. But the final season has brought a new transparency to the thought processes of the creative team as they address it. We can see their wheels turning as soon as the idea of Daphne’s SMS hijack comes up: That’s a whole episode. Trying to keep her from reading the text.
It’s a perfectly fine episode, by the way. It’s got pleasant character moments, an endearing series of flashbacks related to all the times one character asked another to do something “no questions asked” (drill Ted out of a mailbox, bring Barney a change of trousers, catch Night Falcon as she’s being pursued by unitarded acrobats, rescue Lily from hostage-taking children), and a truly marvelous fake ghost story proffered by night clerk Rhys Darby as an excuse for Room 13’s many failings. (It’s cold because Captain Deerduff “brings with him the icy chill of death … so, bad luck there.”) There’s a nod to the season-long question of Barney and Robin’s compatibility, with the two of them pledging to work on their lone-wolf tendencies (even lone wolves can work together to corner their helpless prey and snap its limbs with their powerful jobs and watch the life drain from its eyes, after all). And at the end, the problem of the Text That Cannot Be Read is solved by Marshall realizing he doesn’t have “no questions asked” to trade with Lily because he always fesses up to the circumstances when he needs her help.
But it was at the very end, when Lily reacts to the news, that I got the most unsettling feeling from the answer this episode provides to How long should things last? Because frankly, I was expecting a bit of heartwarming there. If Marshall doesn’t want to keep secrets from Lily, shouldn’t she reciprocate by not holding his confessions against him? And after a week of thinking about Daphne’s text and Marshall’s panic, I’ve started to believe that Lily should understand that Marshall shouldn’t turn down a judgeship, a step into a new stratum of the legal career, in order to honor a prior promise to spend a year abroad. Maybe I’ve been blinded by the patriarchy, ladies (I doubt it, considering that I’ve dragged my husband all over creation for my career), but the two opportunities don’t seem symmetrical, and insisting on that previous commitment without regard to the significance of the possibility that came along afterwards seems petty, even if the disappointment of giving up the dream of Rome is acute.
So I was unnerved when Lily responded vindictively. And then I realized: This is another How long should things last? moment. Marshall tries to keep Lily from finding out: one episode. Lily plots vengeance on Marshall for his betrayal: one episode. Hey, maybe more; it’s possible that this will percolate along in the background for several weeks. (I hope not. Because my gut feeling is that Lily is wrong, and I don’t want to be unable to sympathize with her at all for weeks on end.)
But she’s enraged because it suits the season’s need for one conflict after another to have her be enraged. If she understands and forgives Marshall right away, the question How long should things last? never even gets a chance to be asked. Once you’ve asked it, though, the tendency is to answer: As long as it needs to last to get some more story out of it.
I sound very critical here, I realize—of the final season, and of the way the creative team has approached it. I offer these thoughts in the context of my unabashed boosterism about that final season and unallayed confidence that truly great television is in the offing (heralded by the accomplishment of the first couple of episodes). But a season is a marathon, not a sprint. And somewhere around the 10th or 12th mile, you’re not thinking about much except how to keep the legs churning until the next checkpoint. Looking back from the end, that’s not going to seem very important. In the middle, where we are, it’s hard to see the finish line for the flurry of story cards pinned to the bulletin board. And sometimes, unfortunately, it’s hard to see the characters through them, either.
- None of this is to diminish the wonderful creation that is Deerduff the Hooker, whose shoddily-produced reenactment Marshall watches on a rather pointed parody of those cable supernatural bunkum shows. “Others say Deerduff the Hooker was just a popular male prostitute who murdered no one and died of syphilis,” the narrator concedes.
- The gag of Marshall’s friends jumping to unnecessarily complicated ways of getting into Lily’s room while Marshall tries to tell them that the door is unlocked (“Air ducts! I’ll use the system of air ducts to get into her room, just like the bad guy in Die Hard!” Barney enthuses) is totally endearing.
- Have we seen the last of Night Falcon? Hmmmm …
- Biggest laugh of the night: “Courtney Dove! I lost Kurt Coobain, I can’t lose you too!”
- “Can’t talk; doing stuff.”