So far as I know, this is the first time I’ve written seriously about How I Met Your Mother since 2006. By any estimation, the show now is not what it was then. Indeed, when I wrote that article, the series was coming off of what might have been its finest stretch of episodes ever, a stretch that included such insta-classics as “Swarley” and “Slap Bet,” the stretch that made the show seem more and more like one of the best comedies on TV, no qualifiers needed. And, sure, the show has fallen quite a ways from those days and is now a largely pleasant comedy playing out the string. Yet it remains one of my favorite shows on TV.
I use “favorite” here in a different way than I would use “best.” By “favorite,” I simply mean that I enjoy kicking back with this show more than a lot of others. And part of that is because from the day I started going this job, I made a deal with myself that I’d never cover Mother week to week. That’s made the quality seem less like a wildly variable series of peaks and valleys and more like a fairly smooth set of plateaus and gullies. It gets bad. It gets good. But it never goes so far in one direction or the other that I get too upset about things. This is a half-hour I get to set aside my brain for every week, and on that level, I’ve always treasured it. For that reason, I was never as upset about, say, the Zoe storyline in season six as a lot of fans were. I could tell it wasn’t working, but I was enjoying the stories of Marshall and Barney so much that it didn’t really bother me that the Zoe thing just didn’t pan out. (My wife, who also loved the show far more than I did back in the day, was apoplectic, as though one of her best friends had dumped garbage all over her or something.) The show makes me mellow.
What a treat, then, to fill in for Donna and end up with an episode that maybe doesn’t go in the all-time pantheon but certainly belongs right up there when you think about the quality level of the last season or two. “The Ducky Tie,” like so many of the show’s classic episodes, employs a nested storytelling structure. It’s also written by Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, who’ve been responsible for so much of the good stuff this show has done over the years, even if they sometimes exceed their reach. Like the best episodes of Mother, it’s got a number of fun running jokes, but like many of this show’s finest half-hours, it’s also got a real sense of poignancy. There’s something genuinely sad about the final scenes with Ted and Victoria at the bus, and there’s definitely a sense of the show’s story coming full circle. I can understand those who feel jerked around by the mother story at this point, but this season, to me at least, feels different than, say, when Ted happened to see his future wife’s ankle. There’s definitely a sense of the past coming into play, of things starting to come to a close for our hero, and I, for one, am enjoying it.
I should preface this up front by saying that Victoria’s always been my favorite of Ted’s exes who aren’t regulars. (I don’t suppose this is a big surprise to anyone, honestly. Is there another contender? Maybe Stella, but I don’t think anyone loves her so much as finds her story arc pretty well-executed. Or, rather, the beginning and end of her story arc well-executed.) “Drumroll, Please” remains one of my absolute favorite episodes of the series, perhaps second behind only “Slap Bet,” and the whole “Ted meets a girl, Ted falls in love, Ted ruins it because of Robin” story arc hadn’t gotten trite and cliché just yet. Thus, having Victoria come back at the end of last week’s one-hour premiere—one that struck me a lot of the time as the show going through the motions—was bound to make me like this episode at least a little bit.
What I was surprised by, though, was that I liked the episode as much as I did. While Ted attempts to tell the gang the story of how he once again met and talked with Victoria, Barney makes assorted bets with Marshall and Lily that will allow him to touch Lily’s pregnancy boobs (which have come in before the rest of her goes all pregnancy puffy). The episode makes liberal use of the trademark HIMYM zip and zap through time, dancing between both storylines with a sort of gleeful, giddy excitement. I love the way Barney’s challenged to not look at Lily’s boobs for 10 seconds, and the editing holds just long enough to let you know he almost made it but caved (smash-cut to the hibachi restaurant). I also love the way we come out of a particularly sad part of Ted’s story to have Lily agree that, OK, Barney can see her boobs, only to have Barney proclaim, “To the alley!” There’s a zip here that the best episodes of this show have.
But there’s also a real, bleeding heart at the core of this thing. After Ted and Robin broke up, turns out, Victoria hooked up with a guy in her class named Klaus. (The scene where Ashley Williams and Josh Radnor bounce the words “class,” “Klaus,” and “close” back and forth is very silly but oddly winning. I’ve always liked the chemistry these two have.) And now, after years and years of dating, Klaus is about to propose to Victoria, out on the beach in the Hamptons. When Ted ran into her at the architecture gala, she was about to head there to meet up with him, to become his fiancée. And yet she seems uncertain. Or does she only seem uncertain because it’s Ted telling this story, and he wants to portray himself as the cool guy (when Robin sees him as the bumbling hero of a silent comedy)? But, no. She’s uncertain. They kiss. And she knows she has to get on the bus.
HIMYM has always worked for me because it has a real sense of history, a real sense of who these people are and the journey they’ve been on. Even when it loses sight of, say, the fact that Victoria ever existed, it knows exactly how to bring her back in a way that reminds you of everything she and Ted had. Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the fact that she leaves Ted with some words about how the relationship he has with Barney and Robin can’t work and turn, instead, to the way this scene plays out without that moment. It’s still bittersweet and almost achingly nostalgic for things that couldn’t have been. The moment when Ted asks if there’s another life, one where he begged Victoria to stay or went with her, one where he’s going home with her right now to their house, that’s the sort of thing I don’t know if there’s another sitcom on the air that can pull that nakedly emotional moment off, even now, seven years into the show’s run. (Things like Louie or Parks And Recreation have come close, but I don’t know that they have this show’s raw earnestness.) HIMYM has always believed that the flipside of finding “the one” is that there are many other “ones” out there who didn’t work out, whether because of timing or some other issue. Victoria and Ted were in love. It wasn’t enough. And now she’s somewhere else, and he’s going back home, alone as ever.
- So let’s talk about that moment where Victoria tells Ted that, no, he and Robin and Barney can’t carry on like they have been and just expect everything to be okay. There’s something wrong about that, Victoria says, and future Ted (who only intrudes toward the episode’s end) confirms that, yes, she was right. Their relationship, as it was, didn’t work. And there needed to be a change. Since Ted’s not going to marry Robin, it’ll be interesting to watch this play out. Or not. Who knows!
- And so we learn how Barney gets the ducky tie. In terms of HIMYM foreshadowing that… didn’t take very long, did it?
- Marshall’s frantic attempts to keep Ted from seeing his wife’s breasts were some funny physical comedy.
- Even as it’s patently ridiculous, I’m impressed by the lengths Barney goes to to win a bed.
- Thanks to Donna for letting me fill in this week. She’ll be back to guide you all through whatever’s next come next week.
- "You make it sound like I dated a series of Stieg Larsson novels."
- "Lily, it's like you have a butt on your chest."
- "Mine and Barney's, yeah."
- "I believe you're about to give a big speech on fate."
- "Lily, are you really suggesting that Barney spent six months commuting back and forth to Hoboken to learn a signature cooking style of a restaurant he doesn't even like to win a bet he hadn't even made yet? Yeah, the whole thing stinks."
- "His e-mail reminders don't help."
- "I invited you into a porno."
- "To the alley!"