So that's that, huh? Five episodes into the season and Robin's already gone to Tokyo and back (leaving two jobs in her wake), and Ted's made multiple life-changing decisions that all come to naught when his fiancée leaves him at the altar to get back together with her ex. Are the HIMYM writers in a hurry because they have a lot of better stories they want to get to, or did they just sense that the "Robin moves out of the country" and "Ted marries a doctor from New Jersey" stories were non-starters?
Whatever the reason, "Shelter Island" was at once poignant, funny, and way too rushed. I don't know if there was enough material here for a two-parter, but I would've liked to see more of the gang gallivanting around the titular yoga center, where Ted and Stella impulsively decide to get married after Stella's sister sees her own wedding plans fall through (leaving with her with an expensive reservation for rooms, juice, and vegan meals). Barney, Lily and Marshall's reaction when they learn the Shelter Island resort contained no booze and no meat was something I could've watched play out even further, especially if it included more of Lily calling the staff "dirty hippies" and Marshall speculating on whether the juice-bartender was the lead singer of The Spin Doctors.
(I also liked the way the gang moaned at the absence of alcohol and then spent the rest of the episode nursing big cups of juice.)
I could've done with more of the Robin story too, even though the shots of her in Japan–reading the serious news while being pelted with marshmallows by a chimp–felt a little clichéd "Man don't the Japanse have wacky TV shows?" to me. Still, her character was so pivotal tonight that she should've had more screen time. She had her own drama–about whether to leave her new job so soon–and she was one of the key elements in the Ted/Stella argument over whether they should invite their exes to the wedding. And Robin was the object of Barney's attempt to solve the Beautiful Mind-like problem of "How Can I Have Sex With Robin Again?" His solution? To get her drunk at Ted's wedding. The complication? As Lily explains, there'll be so many willing women up at Shelter Island that as soon as one winks at him, "You'll have your head under her dress like an old-time photographer."
Sure enough, Stella's sister–recovering from years of vegan-hood and craving "meat"–turns Barney's head pretty quickly, despite his efforts to rebuff her advances with a generic, "Dear Female, thank you for your interest in Barney Stinson ." And then when Robin shows up at Barney's door, with no place to stay and a bottle of Scotch in her hand, she finds a naked woman tied to the bed, and wanders away, leaving Barney crestfallen at his own weak will. It's a touching moment, capped by a neat twist: the naked girl's not even Stella's sister, but the "dirty hippie" from the front desk.
Then "Shelter Island" twists again, as Robin heads back to the mainland on the ferry and sees Stella leaving too, with her ex-boyfriend (played by Jason Jones). As Ted gets the news from a note in his room, he replays all of Stella's arguments against having exes at the wedding and realizes that she wasn't talking about Robin after all. I for one didn't see that coming, and I thought that the resolution of this episode–combined with some good lines I'll get to in a minute–overcame the accelerated narrative and the ill-fitting slapstick energy of Jason Jones.
I also thought the episode showed a keen sense of self-awareness in Robin's big speech to Ted that marrying Stella was him "trying to rush to the end of the book." Over the past year he's tried being a jerky ladykiller (and annoyed everyone around him), and he's tried so hard to be Stella's suburbanite-in-waiting that he agreed to take over someone else's wedding. I know there are some Ted-dislikers in around here–including my wife, your regular host for HIMYM coverage–but I think the writers really know who this character is, and they're putting him through his paces because this whole show is about the fun you have with your friends in your 20s, and how it shapes the person you ultimately become. By the end of the series, it'll be interesting to see who Ted becomes. (Interesting to me, anyway.)
-Stella's sister, on Ted's meat-eating: "I wish I could tune out that moral voice inside but I'm not as strong as you are." Ted: "That's because you need protein"
-Ted tonight is compared to an inferior wedding and a safety school. No wonder he's so insecure.
-Too bad Ted didn't get to attend Barney's bachelor party, which was going to feature"three of the most physically and morally flexible exotic dancers."
-I thought the montage of Lily wedding meltdowns was just okay, but I liked how when she reassured Ted that Stella would have her own crisis soon, the screen cut to these words: "Like four minutes later "