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

How I Met Your Mother: "Landmarks"

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

I never really thought Ted would build that GNB Tower.  It seemed like a triumph of ambition over history, of corporate might over beauty.  But then again, I never thought that the Arcadian would end up preserved either; that seemed like a triumph of stasis over progress, of nostalgia over functionality.  Now that Ted has come right out and said it — “sometimes things have to fall apart to make way for other things” — I see that there’s something poignant in that dilemma.  By setting up the situation not as two competing goods, but as two competing ongoing problems, the writers have given us a chance to reconceptualize the choices left to Ted.  It’s lose-lose as far as the moment is concerned.  Only we know that there’s a payoff beyond the gleaming, soulless skyscraper.

It’s good to be reminded of the dramatic irony inherent in this show’s mode of storytelling.  We always know more than the characters, because the story is being told in hindsight.  For some people that means we shouldn’t be asked to care about any dead ends the characters are heading down; anything that isn’t moving the story toward its real conclusion is a waste of time.  But for me, those dead ends are the whole point.  The characters care about them, because they don’t know which will be the road that opens up the rest of their lives.  And because they care, we should feel their grief when the pathway ends.

Now Zoey was an obvious dead end.  But that doesn’t mean it’s any less affecting when Ted tries to scheme out his actions in terms of keeping her available to him as the future mother of his children (Luke and Leia).  The scheming lasts only a moment, though, before it becomes clear to him — as it is to Robin, who explains it quite cogently — that Zoey will either always represent the dream he deferred, or will always be the one he sent storming angrily away, no middle ground.  And then, tellingly, he makes a different choice than the one he made with Stella, back when he was sure that giving up all the other things he loved would be the right move if it meant getting the woman he loved.  He makes a more selfish choice, because the sacrifice it would take to do differently would poison whatever came next.

This is a fairly subtle point for a sitcom to attempt.  And while “Landmarks” bounced rather too erratically from nimble comedy (Barney’s angry miming while Robin read his note to the gang) to clumsy sentiment (Ted and Zoey’s final meeting at the Arcadian) to be a real success, it did achieve a lovely, understated illustration of the need sometimes to accept substitutions.  It’s not that cute little dog’s fault that he’s not Arthur’s beloved Tugboat, and finally Arthur sees that his bitterness at what’s been taken from him has blinded him to the possibilities inherent in what he has.

I still don’t think that GNB monstrosity will get built — not in that form, anyway.  If Ted’s going to give up today’s love to get that chance, won’t he do something worthwhile with it, if he can?  The either-or has yet to be transcended by the unseen further option (other than opening a courthouse-themed bar).  But from our vantage point in the future, we know that Ted did right to choose his friends and his chances over the relationship that would have forced him to give up both.  Doesn’t make it any less of an ending, though, and even endings we know are coming are worth a pause for grief.

Stray observations:

  • Man, I’m glad the landmarks commission chair asked about “beck-and-call” in the cold open, because it was driving me crazy, too.
  • Segel, Harris, and Smulders were doing marvelous work tonight supporting Radnor in a story that was his to sell.  I loved their relatively restrained but effortless comic stylings in this episode.  Even Lily had her moment: “If you’re hopin’ to score, don’t leave your socks on the floor!” (Marshall jumps in: “And she hasn’t since.”)
  • But I’ll give the performance of the night to Bob Odenkirk, whose “Dammit!” after the flashback showing that he regarded putting all his assets into his wife’s name as the “smartest thing I’ve ever done” was a huge belly laugh, and whose anger and grief directed at the poor little pocket dog was beautifully affecting.
  • Robin tries to illustrate Ted’s options with Zoey using chess — okay, Angry Birds: “The key to Angry Birds is to always try to see every possible outcome … and to hit some pigs with rocks or something, I don’t know, I can’t get it to download.”
  • Barney’s job at GNB is part of his identity: “It gives me the confidence I need to convince girls I’m a fighter pilot.”
  • “Every few millennia, ladybits leap forward …”