How I Met Your Mother: "Rabbit Or Duck"
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How I Met Your Mother: "Rabbit Or Duck"

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How I Met Your Mother

"Rabbit Or Duck"

Season 5, Episode 15

"That was a strange episode," Noel said as "Rabbit Or Duck" ended.  Funny, that wasn't my first reaction.  My first reaction -- predictably enough -- was: "That was an awesome episode."  What can I say?  This season has tapped into my biorhythms or something.  The timing is working, the jokes are working, every single character is delighting me on a weekly basis.  And I thought "Rabbit Or Duck" was another knock out of the park.

But when I start to think about it, I know what Noel means.  There's an element of "Rabbit Or Duck" that comes dangerously close to the special-effecty, fantasy tendency of the show -- think little Barneys sitting on someone's shoulder, think fat suit -- that kinda creeps me out.  When you introduce what's basically a monkey's paw or magic lamp into the story, you're heading towards that territory. "Rabbit Or Duck" might be considered strange for the sheer amount of storyline it tries to pack into twenty-two minutes.  There's Barney's magic phone, Robin's date with Don, and Ted's request to Marshall and Lily to "arranged-marriage me!" Consider the flow: When Ted issues that command, it appeared that we had our A-story. But then that plotline goes underground into the third act.  The whole second act is Ted, Robin, Lily, and Marshall at MacLaren's talking their way toward the epiphanies of their two storylines, with occasional histrionic visits from Barney (either in the bar or via montage).

It's probably a textbook example of how not to organize your half-hour sitcom.  But it works.  On me, at least.

Let's start with Barney's little morality tale. He holds up a sign with his phone number at the Super Bowl, cleverly organized to highlight the initials of the network televising the Super Bowl (as is the time-honored tradition of sporting-event signs).  Then all he has to do is sit back and wait for "Turkey In The Straw" to come twanging out of his magic phone.  Women, each more beautiful and accomplished than the last, calling and texting.  The problem is that as soon as he gets one in his sights, the phone rings again -- and what if it's an even hotter chick? ("There's always a hotter chick," Lily muses philosophically.)  Barney can't stop with one girl long enough to actually nail her because he's got to keep lining up more.

Barney's storyline is the frothy whipped cream on top of the "Rabbit Or Duck" pie.  It's made from scratch, though; you don't get that awesome accelerating montage of girls, promises, and hops into Ranjit's car to head back to MacLaren's from the cheap fake stuff.  And as usual, NPH sinks his teeth into the craziness of it and shakes it like a dog with a chew toy.  The main courses, though, are Ted and Robin.  Take your pick (we're out of steak, chicken, and fish): rabbit or duck.

Robin hates her co-anchor Don so much that she almost loves him.  (According to Marshall, those parts of the brain are very close together.)  Ted remembers seeing a picture in a psychology textbook once that will help illustrate this -- the famous duck/rabbit gestalt example.  Robin thinks Don is a rabbit.  (Marshall disagrees with the assignment of negative emotion to rabbits, but after yet another hilarious montage -- this one of the most heated argument the group ever had -- he is shouted down and must confesss: "ducks good, rabbits bad.")  But according to Ted, she's about to realize that she's been seeing him as a duck all along.  He's invited her to his place for Valentine's Day, "just me and a bunch of other people" for what Robin nonetheless considers a date, and she's going to have to confront her feelings for him.

Meanwhile Ted is done with the whole single scene -- the freaking out, the worrying about being alone, the running around trying to find someone to sit on the couch and avoid cleaning with. He asks Marshall and Lily to find him a woman, and if she's cool with it (and she will be, because he'll wear his nice blazer), he'll marry her.  Marshall and Lily promptly forget about this until Valentine's Day, when they have to use Barney's phone at the last minute to make a date for him.  But like all the women who've called Barney's phone, she's awesome -- beautiful, a world class violinist, a gourmet cook, and able to quote Caddyshack at will.  (She's also one of the women Barney abandoned for the next tantalizing text.)

Then the twists and turns start piling up in the last two minutes.  Ted has to make a choice between the prix fixe entrees -- rabbit or duck -- and he gives up the perfect duck in hand and rushes out.  Because he's realized that he's not really that desperate to be married?  Because he loves the single life?  Because ... could it be ... he's not ready to leave Robin?  The epilogue with the two of them happy with each other, the perfect couple except for that whole love thing, would seem to suggest it.  But the real reason is that Ted has Barney's phone, and he's going to re-enact all of Barney's mistakes with as many of those female callers as he can.

Rabbit or duck?  The psychology experiment is about knowing yourself, but realizing that you can also see the world differently if you choose.  Barney suffers under the attempt to be an accelerated version of himself, but he can't see himself any other way.  Ted really tries to change his self-image, but believes at the end he's reverted to his true self (we, with the benefit of the epilogue, know better).  And Robin thinks she's been saved from having to realize something about herself she wasn't willing to face -- until the reality she was counting on decides to change himself.  The answer is not rabbit or duck, good or bad.  The answer is both.  That's what free will gets you.

Stray observations:

- The number on the sign Barney held up during the actual Super Bowl telecast was different from the one shown in the episode.  If you called that 877 number, you got a message from Barney asking you to meet him at MacLaren's at 3:45 am Monday, October 12, 2016.

- "Well, that explains where Barney is." "Dibs on his wings."

- On top of all the other awesomeness in "Rabbit Or Duck," we get as much Ranjit as you could ever want!  Ranjit in MacLaren's!  Ranjit arguing in Farsi!  Ranjit knitting a scarf, hat, and mitts while serving as Barney's driver in his magic phone girl-nailing quest!

- "Why is Ulee's Gold in every crossword?" Don wonders.  Ted gives the obvious answer: "Because of all the vowels."

- "One patient will be receiving a very special chocolate heart.  A human heart."

- "Teddy Westside -- continue."

- At the height of the screaming knock-down drag-out over rabbits vs. ducks, Marshall suggests that ducks would prove their superiority if put in a box and forced to fight with rabbits.  Ted calls Marshall's bluff: "Why don't we just do that?" "Because it's illegal, Ted!" "Only if we bet on it, Marshall!"

- "And I think that I'll amaze her.  Got it!"

- "I would never, you know ... standards ...!"

- "She could be trapped in a giant bra!"

- "Right here at channel ... um ..."

- "If her text is any indication, she's dirty, dyslexic, and wants to 96 me!  Semicolon end parentheses!"

- "Gimme thirty seconds!"

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