One of the measures of a television show is how it recovers from a plot arc that the viewers suspect may have been a mistake. I was highly in favor of Barney and Robin getting together at that end of last season. It satisfied my gooey romantic side, and my deep desire to have the sweet, chewy caramel center that I would like to believe lies at the heart of every bad boy -- exposed.
But it didn't take long for the downside of this pairing to make itself known. Barney had to stop being Barney for Robin to be happy. And maybe we all found out that the caramel center works better as a dessert (preferably followed by the words "and they all lived happily ever after") than in the middle of a seven-course meal. Where were we supposed to go from there? So Barney and Robin had to break up. The question was whether the reset button had been hit. Were we all to pretend that this unseemly arc had been excised from the continuity? Could any trace of their love remain, or -- in order to have everything back the way it used to be -- did we have to act as if it never happened?
Me, I'll take dessert at any point in the meal. But even for purists, a little sweet something to cleanse the palate is never a bad idea. So I was moved by tonight's episode, in which Robin's vulnerability over the Barney breakup is revealed as she tries to forge a new connection with Don. Add those nice moments of Barney magnanimity to a strong guest performance by Jennifer Lopez (ah, I remember when we all thought of her as an actress!), some funny business with a catchy Marshall song, and a strikingly choreographed musical number, and you have an unusually successful episode in a far from conventional mode.
We start at the end, with Barney being pulled from the Hudson, and hear the story of how he got there in flashback. There was this hot girl in the bar who attracted his attention by complimenting his cravat then suggesting "Let's call it a tie" (Barney to the cop on the banks of the Hudson: "You see, a cravat is a kind of tie ..."), then performed many other maneuvers designed to get him all hot and bothered, capping off her performance by sashaying out of his apartment right at go time. Turns out these are all prescriptions in a book Ted's been reading (it's really Robin's) called Of Course You're Still Single, Take A Look At Yourself, You Dumb Slut. Turns out the hot girl is the author of the book (Barney looking at the author photo: "Huh -- her name must be Anita!"). And turns out her version of The Rules or He's Just Not That Into You or whatever the dating-doctor book of the moment is calls for sex after seventeen dates. (Cue a stellar sight gag from a singularly visual episode: Barney pulls up a bar stool and settles into it just so he can pratfall off of it in a jelly-legged faint.)
And turns out Robin actually set Anita on this mission to humiliate and break Barney after having Anita as a guest on Come On Get Up New York! ("But um, if you had to summarize your book in thirty words or less ..."). Robin's been suffering in silence while all the men in the group have rubbed her face in Barney's repeated, happy, carefree conquests. They even set Barney's bangeriffic propensities to music: "I-said-a-bang, bang, bangity-bang, I-said-a-bang bang bangity-bang!" When she confessed her pain to Anita, the author promised to reduce Barney to a quivering puddle devoid of any trace of Y chromosome through the power of the magical word "no," a word that immediately turns cameraman Mike into her slave. (To be fair, we found out last week how easily Mike falls into this role.)
Unable to wait for seventeen dates, Barney complains to Ted, who prescribes -- through the medium of a haunting, tinkly song and adept use of moving set components -- a superdate. Carriage ride through the park, dinner at a fancy French restaurant, a box seat at the opera, skating in the snow, and fireworks over the Manhattan skyline. It works on Barney, who doesn't even mind at the end of Ted's song that it was the gooey romantic experience you'd expect from a soft touch like Ted. (They go to a strip club to recover, though.) But when Barney is made aware of just how cruel he's been to Robin (after Ted was similarly made aware), even to the point that she can't take pleasure in her date with Don, Barney has to show Robin that she is special, that she's not just another notch on his bedpost, and that he would do anything to make her happy. Even give her and Don the superdate, and even forego the sweet revenge Anita is ready to deliver when Barney exercises the power of no. To keep no alive, Barney has to take a flying leap over the fence and into the Hudson. But the cold water can't freeze the real sweetness at Barney's center; he hopes for success in her superdate as the fireworks pop, and smiles as Robin throws "bangity bang" back in the guys' faces the next morning.
The degree of difficulty for this episode was high; it had to execute the guest star move with precision, incorporate some fancy experimental footwork with Ted's song, and maintain the right balance of romance and worldliness. Even though it might get dinged on artistic merit since the crackerjack timing and multiple layers were not as stunning as they sometimes are, "Of Course" stuck all those landings and scored big.
- Don compliments Robin's "which rodent should you avoid on the subway?" special report. "The answer may surprise you -- all of them!"
- I couldn't even count the entendres in this backfiring exchange about the fabric of Barney's suit coat: "I love a tiny fiber." "Well, you're in luck, because mine's the tiniest. And the more you touch it, the softer it gets."
- Barney comparing one of his conquests' breasts to Robin's: "Bigger. Maybe not bigger, but more shapely. And bigger."
- It's not just that the Marshall song is a great little character moment. It's also that Lily finds it catchy ... that Ted enthuses, "Count me in for a verse!" ... and that Barney shows up playing the spoons to it ... all making Robin's unnoticed despair grow ever deeper.
- Oh, and that when Barney answers the door just before Marshall knocks off the stormtrooper helmet in a fit of anger at Barney and the Empire, he's whistling the superdate song.
- "Of Course You Don't Have A Retirement Plan, Take A Look At Yourself, You Dumb Slut, due out in June!"