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

How I Met Your Mother: “The Autumn Of Break-Ups”

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One of the worries we’ve all had about the HIMYM endgame is that all the romantic changes have been rung on the main cast, and now we’re just throwing guest stars in their way until the final happily-ever-afters. But friendships with former romantic partners are complicated; there’s always some yearning left over, some what-ifs, some thought that after all the dust has settled, you’ll still be there for each other.

To have Robin be the touchstone that Ted can’t quite escape—that lends some symmetry to the show over the years. Last season, in “The Drunk Train,” he tried to solve both their problems in one fell swoop by confessing his love. Now in the face of one of the terribly unfair ultimatums that people on TV love to give each other, he has to decide between his past and his future. Victoria finally gets tired of dropping hints that she wants Ted to make a commitment and lays it on the line, and Ted—good old Ted, always ready to give the people he wants to love exactly what they want—responds by proposing. But Victoria has a condition. She doesn’t want to wait around and worry that whatever was once between Robin and Ted, which six years ago broke them up, will reignite.

Meanwhile, Barney seems way too excited about the dog that followed him home, whom he has named Brover and whom he describes as the perfect wingman, attracting all the girls, unfailingly loyal, never selfish. Robin is concerned, so she asks Nick if they can have him over to see if he’s okay. Ted and Victoria. Robin and Nick. These are couples that we know will not last. But they are breaking up in different ways. There are mirror-images in “The Autumn of Breakups,” but they are not along the easy lines. And I admire that.

Mirror image #1: Couples inviting someone over. Robin and Nick invite Barney over; Marshall and Lily invite Ted over. Both do so in order to psychoanalyze, perhaps offer some unsolicited advice, probably to feel superior in their established coupledom. But these are not couples on equal footing. Marshall and Lily are HIMYM’s version of a sure bet. Robin and Nick are the flavor of the week. And that’s reflected in how thoroughly the couple is coupled. In a trope that I found funny at the outset but that quickly became bizarrely broad and cartoonish, Marshall is trying to become Lily’s girlfriend, giving sassy advice and elaborate snaps. They’re on the same page. But Nick just goes along with Robin’s concern about Barney because she asks him to; he doesn’t see anything wrong with Barney’s dog obsession.

Mirror image #2: Wingmen. Barney celebrates the way Brover gets the girls’ attention, and reciprocates by chatting up the “chubby lady friend” when Brover has his eye on a cutie. When he gets the call that Brover’s owner has returned from out of town and wants the dog (who escaped from a kennel) back, Robin first pulls him back from stepping off the balcony, then accompanies Barney to the owner’s door. And when the owner turns out to be a cute young thing who initially mistakes Barney and Robin for a couple themselves, Robin proves herself the superior wingman by pretending to be her butch aunt who lives on a farm upstate with “my special friend Maureen, who I just realize is my lesbian lover.”

Mirror image #3: Once and future partners. When Barney carefully folds his napkin, strides across the room, opens the door to the terrace, takes his coat off and climbs up on the ledge—followed by Robin, dressed so beautifully in a slim black dress, running across the room to stop him—it’s a powerful moment. Robin believes, and does her best to convince Nick, that her concern for Barney is rooted in their friendship. But we know, and Nick suspects surely, that what used to be there and has periodically flared up again might be the motivation.

And in the other heartbreaking moment of “The Autumn of Breakups,” the moment where we don’t know if Ted is going to choose Victoria over Robin until we see who ends up on the other side of that booth in MacLaren’s, Ted explains that he’ll never be a couple with Robin again, but she’s like family, and he can’t leave her behind for what might be. Victoria responds: “I really hope you get her someday.”

These once and future couples form a Venn diagram with an overlap. Ted and Robin’s future isn’t used up. But neither is Robin and Barney’s. It’s not neat at all. Something will have to give, painfully, and some possibility will have to be left behind. That’s the way this show should be winding down—with the pang of what can’t be, as well as the promise of what Future Ted knows will be.

Stray observations:

  • Douchey Ted is just as charming as he can be in this episode. “The high altitude would affect the density of the pastries,” he deadpans when Victoria mentions opening a shop in Denver. “A lot of really smart people would argue that the clock resets,” he mumbles after having the argument about whether his previous relationship with Victoria counts on the where-should-we-be-by-now timeline. “When my friend’s retainer went missing, the Mosby boys were on the case!” he enthusiastically reminisces when explaining that he used to be quite the detective.
  • The Mosby boys, by the way, were Ted, his sister, and a squirrel they thought they had trained. (“Squirrelock Holmes!” Ted recalls fondly.)
  • It’s good to see Nick get some comic moments trying out catchphrases on his cable access cooking show, “Nick The Bad Boy Chef.” But how do you compete with “Bam!” It just says it all.
  • Seriously, I’m as freaked out by Jason Segel’s very energetic rendition of an Oprah-esque advice guru and a old Southern wise woman as I am by his striking weight loss. Wacky, the whole thing.
  • Music cues in this episode included a little Sex In The City riff while Marshall is giving bad advice in MacLaren’s (“If you really want to get pregnant, just stop taking the pill!”) and The Swell Season’s “Low Rising” as Ted is going down the steps to the bar to say goodbye to Victoria.
  • Cobie Smulders is killing it this season. She’s peaking at just the right time too, since she’s in the middle of this endgame love triangle.
  • Men. “If there weren’t pickle jars to open and spiders to kill and computers to back up, why would we need them?”