I’m a sucker for the classics. When Ted opens Marshall and Lily’s apartment door moments after leaving with Marvin and finds the two already naked on a makeshift couch-cushion bed (“Yowza!” he exclaims), I appreciate the way this little fantasy moment completes the setup Ted just offered about giving them a good long time alone. When Nick sobs, “It feels like I’ve got a pulled groin muscle… in my heart,” it’s comedy gold. And when Barney offers a heartfelt confession of love for Robin, then blows it off as a ploy to extract her from Nick’s sexy clutches, I’m beyond hope.
It’s not just a matter of being a Barney-Robin ’shipper, although I am that. I love those two together, because the places of desperate loneliness they both come from (and vehemently deny) feel so real. How could anyone other than each other ever understand them? No, it’s more than my endgame wishes. It’s that the way their feelings slip out, and the way they try to let each other off the hook, is so perfectly framed. The moments that have the highest stakes on this show are not the moments that get the big buildup. They’re the accidental moments of honesty that break the flow of these folks’ friendship, that interrupt the conversations they’re so used to having and we’re so used to hearing, that trigger hesitation. Did something just happen? Has it stopped, or is it still happening?
Very minimal setup in this “Splitsville.” Robin has realized, after a few days not having sex with Nick because he pulled a groin muscle playing basketball as a ringer on Marshall’s basketball team of lawyers (Force Majeure), that she doesn’t like Nick very much when he’s talking, or really doing anything other than shirtless situps. But she can’t get him to concentrate long enough to catch her hints that they should break up. So Barney gives her a deadline, and by way of incentive creates an invitation to a BFF fun day that he plans to send to her smothering, obsessive co-worker Patrice if she doesn’t get it done.
But Marshall wants to keep Nick happy so he’ll lift Force Majeure over their Little Ivies Professionals Over Thirty Who Work In Midtown League rivals, the Number Crunchers (accountants with an even better ringer). And he’s working out obsessively in the apartment: pull-ups with Marvin in a Baby Bjorn, push-ups with Barney sitting on his back. Meanwhile, Lily seizes on every potential sexual encounter to ask for further details, real or imaginary. Ted finally figures out they are sex-deprived, and it turns out their drought has lasted since Marvin’s birth because he cries on cue every time his parents touch each other.
Robin and Nick’s breakup is the best—meaning funniest and most meaningful—of the Autumn of Breakups. Many have speculated that it wouldn’t mean much when Nick slipped away, because Michael Trucco hasn’t been a very good temporary love interest for her. No comedy chops, some lamented. One reason “Splisville” is so good is that it effortlessly transforms Nick into a comedy machine right when we’re having to say goodbye to him. His breakdown when getting the news over the phone that his groin injury will keep him off the court for the rest of the season, performed in tandem with Marshall’s parallel despair back at the apartment listening over Robin’s speakerphone, is a thing of great beauty. “Please tell me it’s not a tear in the iliolumbar ligament,” Marshall begs; “It’s a tear in the lillio-flumflar ligament,” Nick confirms incoherently back at the restaurant.
And the other reason this breakup sparkles is Robin. If you’re not watching this show mesmerized by Cobie Smulders every moment she’s on screen, I suspect you might be accidentally on another channel. She’s never been more beautiful, perfectly controlled, unpredictably profane, and explosively funny than she has this season.
Maybe that’s why I get the teenage flutters over Barney’s declaration of love. “This woman has a hold on my heart that I could not break even if I wanted to, and there have been times I wanted to,” he tells Nick. Of course I believe him, and of course I want him to succeed. Who wouldn’t want her and wait for her? And who wouldn’t be so terrified that it couldn’t work and might crash forever and be proven impossible, that he would pretend it never happened? Well, some might not, when it comes to that last part. But that’s the other side of the yearning, that the man with these feelings hasn’t lived a life that would make anyone believe he could be sincere about it.
Such little things. But so classically beautiful. Excuse me if I just sit here for a while and enjoy.
- Ted has a basketball team of architects in the league, the T-Squares. “Are you suggesting that you are a member of a sports team and that you are the captain?” Robin asks for clarification, and Ted proves it with the C he sewed on his jersey.
- “It’s an after-work basketball league for lawyers and accountants and architects who sew!” Robin protests Marshall’s seriousness over the team later in the episode, leading to a disappointed little look from Ted.
- “If a genie gave me one wish, I would knock down that wall and create some flow!” a member of the T-Squares ruminates over the deficiencies of the gym where they’re practicing.
- Ted does make one shot in a 117-2 rout by the Number Crunchers, using the power of angles and stuff, but “Turns out those two points were taken away because apparently the ball went ‘out of bounds.’”
- Nick is amazed when Robin intuits that the fortune teller who told him he was cursed also sold him a charm to counteract the curse. “This $500 bracelet will ward off evil until the end of the week!” he enthuses.
- “Then there was the comment about gypsies.”