Hi everyone. Your regular guide to How I Met Your Mother, Dr. Donna Bowman, is currently jetsetting through the world of academia, so I’ve been asked to fill her immense, Shaquille O’Neal-sized recapping shoes. (For the record, they’re both comfortable and stylish.) Bad news for you: She’s much more skilled than I at explicating the complex sitcomical dynamics of HIMYM. Good news for me: “The Rough Patch” turns out to be a near-classic, and an unexpectedly eventful one to boot.
Should I have anticipated the Barney-Robin breakup? Was it really so inevitable? The two of them had so much chemistry last season, I assumed they would continue on indefinitely, pairing off in some of those flash forwards that cake all the actors in old-age makeup. But alas, there was too much awesomeness between them; as they realize later, they cancel each other out. They’re both terrified of commitment, yet stranded in a committed relationship. They’re both alpha-dogs, too, and equally unwilling to yield to the other. And, of course, there’s the Canadian-American divide, which they’ve never been able to bridge, despite Barney’s best efforts at conversion.
But as bittersweet as their breakup turned out to be, and as much as I would have liked to see the couple put through the paces for a few more weeks, “The Rough Patch” split them up in style. It all starts when Barney gives up his porn collection, which he keeps stored in what appears to be a cello case; symbolically, it’s akin to him handing over his balls in a jar of formaldehyde. Marshall, Ted, and Lily feign their horror over the bounty, but secretly dig into the case as if it were candy on Halloween night. (Favorite line, from Lily: “I got Squat.”) Ted, of course, can’t resist the ribald fantasy promised by ArchiSEXture, despite its failure to spell “Buckminster Fuller.” When he pops in the cassette, there’s Barney in Mission: Impossible mode, urging future Ted to help him get out of a committed relationship, no matter how happy he seems. (Or, if he’s dead, he wants to enjoy a Weekend At Bernie’s scenario in the Hamptons.)
Breaking up Barney and Robin doesn’t seem at first like the right thing to do. After all, Barney has sacrificed his awesomeness for something more enriching, right? And what’s “relationship gut” if not a sign that you’re comfortable enough with another person to let yourself go a little. (Or a lot.) But the rest of the gang can see things are not looking good: He and Robin fight all the time, they don’t go on “crazy adventures” any more (one night, they stayed in and watched “Legends…wait for it… Of The Fall”), and they’ve devolved in “the fat guy and the old lady.” (“My favorite ‘70s detective show!,” Marshall offers.) Both stubborn to the core, they’re locked in a game of “relationship chicken,” and neither of them has the will or the humility to call it quits.
What follows is HIMYM at its farcical best: Master relationship saboteur Lily hatching an elaborate breakup scheme involving a Stormtrooper, dirty dishes, a crazy ex-girlfriend (literally called Crazy Meg), and Alan Thicke, though not necessarily in that order. The idea is for a perfect storm to shake Barney and Robin out of their terrible relationship inertia—Robin, in fact, looks like she’s been zombified—and into the ultimate conflict. And though it doesn’t look good from the gang’s not-terribly-stealthy rented station wagon—the Stormtrooper, for one, is confused for the robot from Lost In Space—the show turns again to the flashbacks to reveal that the plan didn’t even need to be that sophisticated to work. Barney and Robin just needed to look at a reflection of what they’d become: A husk of their former awesomeness.
So we’ve basically hit the rewind button, which is a little scary, because you’d hate to see HIMYM retreating to an old and potentially stale dynamic. On the other hand, Barney wouldn’t be Barney without the freedom to tomcat around, and Robin’s resurgence in the past couple of seasons as a brassy, independent, female-Barney-type has been refreshing and could stand some more explication. And best of all, there’s a cheesy variety show out there featuring Robin Sparkles and Alan Thicke. Count me in.
• I’m normally averse to putting slim actors in fat-suits to comedic effect—let’s call it “The Norbit Rule”—but it was worth it just for Barney to quip, “I’m my own wingman tonight.” Also, “I think Barney ate the relationship chicken.”
• Another favorite moment: Barney and Robin taking relationship chicken to the next level when Ted and Marshall foolishly try to play to Robin’s commitment-phobia by giving her an engagement ring in a champagne glass. They reason that Robin could get her citizenship, most of her stuff is moved into his place already, and Scherbatsky is hard to spell. People have gotten married for less.
• A couple of great callbacks: Robin still not getting the whole Star Wars thing (“Stormtrooper? More like stone pooper.”) and the return of the non-hit single “Murder Train” by The Foreskins.
• Anything Alan Thicke-related was funny, from his “I don’t want to play that ‘I’m Alan Thicke’ card” to Lily’s curt, “Shut up, Alan Thicke!”
• Perv alert: Quick recovery for zombie Robin post break-up.