Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

How I Met Your Mother: "Hopeless"

Illustration for article titled How I Met Your Mother: "Hopeless"

After Barney’s dad opines that at 35, Barney might be starting to understand that the party can’t go on forever, Barney explodes: “We’re not getting too old for anything!” “I feel like we collectively learn the exact opposite lesson at least once a year,” Ted observes in response.

The story of how your parents met is always the story of how they grew up, how they turned from single youths into married adults. What we are getting with the extended and convoluted story of Ted’s journey to the altar is a dissection of all the moments within that transformation. It doesn’t happen to any of us overnight. But a critical moment is when the sedate pleasures of monogamy and responsibility begin to exercise an attractive force. Against the immediate thrills of partying and playing the field, these joys have an uphill battle. And even when we start to entertain the notion that they might have their good points, we still have to learn to appreciate them in reality rather than in a romance-tinged haze of imagination. (Hence the humor of the epilogue, in which Barney decides to go fishing with his dad only to discover that this touchstone of childhood consists of sitting in silence and being bitten by mosquitoes.)

What’s touching and important about “Hopeless” is the sense it has throughout of being one of those moments, a turning point that isn’t fully recognized as it happens, but might be intuited nonetheless as the start of something new. For Barney, the realizations come thick and fast. He’s determined to show his long-lost dad how awesome his life is, so he gives his friends a makeover into awesome-r friends (Marshall and Lily have an open marriage, Robin is a professional Scotch taster, and Ted is forbidden to quote Oscar Wilde) and encourages Jerry to cut loose. And it only takes one necktie repurposed as a headband for him to realize that he’s having an iconic experience: being embarrassed when his dad fails to act his age.

For Robin, the pivot point is a chance encounter with a man on whom she’s nurtured what she calls a “secret crush” for years, after critiquing his fashion choices at a clothing sale. Although Ted ruins her chances by attempting to rescue her with their for-Jerry’s-benefit fake relationship, Robin is philosophical, ending the night with a huge smile and the irrational belief that it’s all for the best. Narrator Ted mentions that it’s not the last we’ll see of Secret Crush, either.  

And back in Barney-land, there’s more than one indicator that he’s ready to think differently about Robin. When insisting that Ted and Robin pretend to be dating, Barney explains that he can’t have a single woman in the group lest his dad start trying to matchmake; “‘Deep down you know you were never happier than you were with her.’ Uh, no thanks!” And later, when Jerry suggests that Barney won’t embark on his ultimate challenge—to settle down—until he’s met the right woman first, Barney murmurs, “Maybe I already have.” (At which the elderly woman driving the car gives a hopeful secret smile.)

But the episode is John Lithgow’s, and what a job he does with it. Every line is fresh, every over- and under-reaction perfectly pitched. “Look what I just ripped out of the groooooooound!” should become a catchphrase, so over-the-top is it in response to the parking meter Jerry is wielding to convince Barney of his craziness. It’s the exact flipside of his abject “I apologize; it might take a minute to kick in,” when the gang is waiting with bated breath for those four rapid-fire shots to make him into Crazy Jerry.

I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if there weren’t some surprises left in a season that seems to be moving rapidly toward some foregone conclusions. After all, the other theme of “Hopeless” was magic—a beautiful theme, especially when Jerry produces the “legalize it” pin back from behind Barney’s ear where he put it back in 1983— and the essence of magic is misdirection. What happened while we weren’t paying attention tonight that will turn out to be the key to the transformations about to take place?

Stray observations:

  • I admired more than I enjoyed the lengthy Abbott-and-Costello homage about the bar names. Here’s where the show’s hybrid single/multiple camera, no-live-studio-audience format works against it—that kind of routine loses steam, ironically, if it’s seen as a virtuoso sprint first and foremost without any necessity to play against an audience. I did like the ending, with Barney declaring “It’s hopeless, then,” followed by a cut to a neon bar sign reading “Hopeless.” That’s more in the HIMYM vein.
  • Much better is the escalation as Lily and Marshall parlay their assigned roles straight into a very real argument about who would get more extramarital tail in their fake open marriage: “I won a Tony!” Marshall shouts; “I brought French cooking to America!” Lily retorts, revealing that she may be confusing her character with Julia Child.
  • I did love the band intro, and the best part about it was the cut straight into it from Barney’s assertion of their ultimate awesomeness.
  • Was 6-year-old Barney saying that the name of the Zeppelin cover band he and his dad were supposed to go see was Leddenjerry? (Was Jerry actually in that band?)
  • Lily’s secret crush, to no one’s surprise, is Mila Kunis.
  • Lily may do better than Marshall at their open marriage, but Marshall does some things better, “like digesting dairy and reaching stuff.”
  • “I might be allergic to this stamp.”
  • “Many of my plays are about the bourgeois… and ennui… and one rock opera about a frozen yogurt shop.”
  • That’s a pretty astute NFL reference for a Canadian like Robin: “Get off the field at the Superdome, ‘cause you ain’t no saint.”
  • “Time to cut loose! Who wants to split a beer?”