I'm glad tonight's season finale didn't swing for the fences. In its quiet way, it gave us a nice moment to sum up the show and move it forward one step. This season has not been the unmitigated disaster that some seem to think; there have been plenty of high quality episodes and a couple of series high points. But it's been a rough ride, especially since we got back from that mini-hiatus. The show's natural quickness and exhilarating use of single-camera possibilities hasn't seemed to come as easy recently. For every HIMYMesque trademark swing, there's been another that tried too hard, whiffed, and walked back to the dugout kicking at the dirt and yelling at the bat boy.
"Doppelganger" is a continuation of "Robots Vs. Wrestlers," at the end of which Marshall and Lily promised each other they'd start trying to have a baby when they found the fifth doppelganger. (For the record, the first four: Lesbian Robin, Mustache Marshall (aka Senior Justicio), Stripper Lily, and Mexican Wrestler Ted.) Now only a couple of weeks later, they spot the last doppelganger — Cab Driver Barney! But then Marshall finds out that it's not a doppelganger at all, but Barney's misguided scheme to bag a chick from every nation on earth. (He did not take into account that chicks do not want to bang cab drivers.) Marshall tries to hide his knowledge because Lily seems so into the whole baby thing, but he finally has to confess that the universe has not yet given them the sign. Meanwhile Robin has to contend with a lead anchor spot offer from a Chicago station, just when she and Don are getting really close. Will she choose career over romance like she always does?
It's pretty easy to spot the twists of this episode. Robin agonizes over taking the job, declares that she's leaving just before a commercial break, changes her mind and decides to stay at the beginning of the third act, then — no shock to anyone — Don shows up to say he's been offered the same job and has decided to take it. Even though the beats are shopworn, I thought the emotional notes of this storyline were surprisingly strong. It's sitcom-typical to set up this situation by having the Robin and Don characters not discuss their job offers with each other, allowing for the destructive reveal. But we know, and the episode subtly reminds us, that Robin doesn't tell Don about the job offer because she's stuck in independent mode. She wants to make the decision on her own, based on her desires and happiness, and doesn't want Don's reaction to mess up her thought process. And so she doesn't say anything and loses her chance to make a shared decision or a conscious commitment. As she cries on Ted's shoulder, I was moved. And it gave Ted the chance to drop in the message of this understated finale: None of them are the same person they were five years ago. They've all become their own doppelgangers. If you're looking for a sign, find it in the fact that you've changed, not in a change in the universe around you.
Yet the modest ambitions of "Doppelgangers" pose a different problem. By keeping it relatively simple, the crew have avoided an embarrassing miss. But did this feel like a season finale? It almost felt like an April Fool's Day version of a season finale. Is the cliffhanger that Robin is taking a job in WNKW in Chicago? Nope, check your watch — it's only the second act. That one's going to be resolved. What about Lily and Marshall's baby ambitions — is the universe going to give them the go sign? Yes, no, maybe, I don't think we even want them to, and then yes. There's a lot of bait-and-switch tonight, and so even when something happens at the very end, it felt anticlimactic. And where's the mother? We were moving in her direction at midseason, and since then — nothing. I'm not one to complain about inaction on that front, because I think that'd just the spice in the HIMYM stew, not the meat. But it does seem terribly unfair not to even make a gesture in that direction for a season finale.
I guess it was the season finale of How I Met Your Mother; it resembled itself to a certain extent, and it made me laugh a little and get emotional a little. But I have to call "Doppelgangers" a doppelganger itself. The real thing would have gotten all dolled up for us, and this version threw on a plaid shirt and a trucker's cap for our big night out.
- One example of the classic HIMYM form that the show has been nailing all season long, even when everything else was falling apart: Marshall's fantasy of letting the gang into their intimate unprotected sex moment (Robin on the TV: "This just in … is what Marshall Erickson is about to say to his wife as he attempts to impregnate her"), followed by his increasingly high-pitched reactions as the gang actually does burst in one by one in the next act ("why is Ellen Degeneres in our bedroom?").
- Don as puppet Moo-Moo reacts to Robin as puppet Monty's statement that some drugs are natural: "Not looking for gray areas here, Monty."
- Ted seems to be well acquainted with the ladies at the salon where he's going blond. I could listen to him get exasperated at "Helen, not now!" and "Flo?!" all day.
- Barney has prepared a number of jokes about Ted's blond 'do, but they mostly reference Billy Idol.
- Barney's blog ("it's gotten a lot better") does not at first glance contain any rules about not having kids until age 45.
- Very best detail? After Barney takes off his cab driver wig, the stick-on black sideburn extensions remain behind. (By contrast, there are no good details to his Estonian street performer persona costume, unless you count the actually juggling of the swords — quite adept!)
- "Let's just say there were a few senior citizens who pretended to drown on my watch. And sadly, one who did."