With four half-hours of HIMYM remaining, it’s time to start paring down the season’s conflicts. This week is devoted to resolving Marshall and Lily’s fight, and setting them on course for their happily-ever-after. I like the way this was handled; it’s touching, and it involves Ted giving the detective’s drawing-room summation (a wonderfully douchey trope). But when it comes right down to it, this is like that business a few pages from the end of the Shakespearean comedy where one of the minor couples gets all their misunderstandings untangled and then yields the stage so that the main lovers can have their culminating moment. It’s satisfying as a part of the whole, but it’s not the reason anybody came to the theater.
And partly that’s because Lily and Marshall have been compromised figures this season. With Marshall away from the group (and sometimes, presumably due to working around Jason Segel’s schedule, barely present at all), and with the unusually heightened and stark zero-sum choice that was placed in their way to precipitate conflict, it’s been hard to see the nuance in a relationship that has always been HIMYM’s most adult (or from another angle, least immature). I’m glad the sudden capitulation by Lily wasn’t the end of the storyline, and I’m especially glad that Marshall responded by giving her everything she wanted, right back. Ted’s unraveling of the mystery of Lily’s missing time at the Captain’s house is a clever and elegant way to integrate quick flashbacks from earlier in the season, and a few callbacks from earlier in the series (such as Marshall’s warning that he’s pretended to have a duel with actual swords twice before—specifically, “The Duel” and “Last Time In New York”). And it’s wonderful to see the promise of this tightly integrated, exhaustive look at the three day weekend over the course of an entire season both gently mocked (Ted notes that it’s kinda unbelievable how much has happened since they got to Farhampton) and re-contextualized to tell a different story (Lily’s extended instructions to Linus to make her drinks non-alcoholic, just in case).
But the relationships that directly impinge on Ted’s story—on its premise, and on what 2030 reality we’re going to discover as the flashforwards continue to fill in details of the characters’ fates—are still in flux. The slightly weary “Barney will be Barney” attitude that Robin has had all season, throwing up her hands at his antics past and present, coalesces with the arrival of her mother and the accompanying reminders of what a horrible husband Robin’s father turned out to be. The parallels start with a coincidence: Robin’s father disappeared the day of the wedding threatening to teach someone some manners, and returned three hours later with a dead elk slung across his shoulders (“Who knew there were elk in Bermuda?” Robin’s mother exclaims). So when Barney and the groomsmen disappear on the morning of the wedding with the same excuse (meaning, in this case, that Barney has given Marshall permission to “go over to the Captain’s house, punch him in the face, and then come back and do this wedding”), it kickstarts Robin’s wedding-day jitters. I love how Robin’s mother follows this up with increasingly specific assurances that Papa Scherbatsky is nothing like Barney; after all he was once engaged to marry an exotic dancer, dressed up like a Prussian aristocrat next to a portrait of one to impress women, always took his mother’s side, never checked before making plans, fought with her right before the rehearsal dinner, never gave a straight answer to what he did for a living, slept with “over 20 women,” and had a gay black brother.
Robin’s mother does give one counterexample to this litany of similarities: when Barney finally greets her with an embrace, she comments: “He’s a hugger! Nothing like your dad.” But Robin is already terrified that she’s repeating history. Her mother awkwardly reassures her that the right man will send her flying, but that’s not reassuring coming from a woman with a crippling fear of flying. Is danger and the accompanying ever-present terror really what Robin wants? Or does she want someone dependable, someone she can always count on? She has one of those, too. She doesn’t love him, but… now she’s wondering.
We’re setting up for a moment where Robin has to make the choice, and Ted has to respond. Much depends on how that plays out, but from a storytelling standpoint, with where these characters have been and what they hope and fear, it’s a brilliant move. The unrequited yearning and the desire to rewrite history that happen in groups of friends trying to find love is never one-sided. For every Ted saying “she’s the one,” there’s an object of his affection, burned out on romance, thinking “maybe what I really need to do is settle down with a best friend.” And that moves the counter over to Barney as the party most in danger of being wronged. Throughout this season he has been unwavering in his commitment to become Robin’s husband; despite multiple opportunities to express doubt, and despite many longing looks back at the life he’s leaving, he’s been beatifically single-minded about loving Robin like no other. The choice Ted will be faced with, I suspect, is not whether to ruin things for Robin by declaring himself yet again, but whether to ruin things for his best friend Barney by answering when she knocks at his door.
- Billy Zabka provides the first clue as to Lily’s wee-hours whereabouts, having seen her at a convenience store while “out doing a little late-night dirt biking in the sand.” (“Naturally, go on,” Marshall prompts.)
- The Captain’s license plate is AHOY!!! Also the Captain is engaged to BoatsBoatsBoats, which makes sense, seeing that every guess he makes to Ted’s leading questions is about boats. (To be fair, every guess Barney makes is “masturbating.”)
- Biggest laugh of the episode for me was Ted calmly translating Barney’s cracker-spewing gibberish for Lily: “He’s kinda in the middle of the saltine challenge at the moment, but as soon as he’s done he’ll just pop right over.”
- Zabka contends with Ted for maximum doucheyness when Barney makes a sexual analogy involving the Captain mooring his dinghy in Lily’s lagoon. “That’s crazy, you’d never moor a dinghy in a lagoon,” Ted mumbles, and Zabka counters: “Actually, under certain tidal conditions, if you had a protected inlet …”
- How delightful is the Captain’s morning song to his housekeeping staff, which
I presume is modeled on The Sound Of Musica reader informs me is from H.M.S. Pinafore? “I’m in reasonable health, and happy to meet you all once … Oh, bother it.”
- “If I dig around in the daisy, I am all but guaranteed to find… a pregnancy test.”
- “Drink the blood of your vanquished enemy and move on!”