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

How I Met Your Mother: “Trilogy Time”

Illustration for article titled How I Met Your Mother: “Trilogy Time”

It’s good to have HIMYM back, isn’t it? Not only does “Trilogy Time” contain a clever structure in which a seemingly endless string of fantasy gags and continuity callbacks can be executed, but it also deals beautifully with the central issue of this season. We could call it “A New Hope,” or we could just call it hope, full stop. When life seems to be passing you by, when others are moving forward while you’re spinning your wheels, when the things that you thought were important to you keep morphing and decomposing into disappointments and deferrals, at what point do you give it up?

Every three years since 2000, it turns out, Marshall and Ted have watched the original Star Wars trilogy together. (They appear to still be watching it on the same VHS tapes for the entire 12-year period, which would be a neat trick technologically, but would ensure no retroactive CGI contamination, so kudos.) For the first several iterations, they reassured each other that despite how their dreams didn’t come true over the last three-year period, next time the trilogy came out, things would be awesome. Only in 2012, Ted loses faith. He’s 34, and Marshall and Barney have both made significant moves toward real adult lives and relationships. Lily’s finally having kids after a decade of Marshall dreaming about it, and Barney no longer wants to bang random women but is committed to settling down with Quinn. For the first time, Ted is no longer sunny in the face of the next three years. He thinks he might have hit his high point.

“Trilogy Time” has that classic HIMYM trope of flash-forwards and backs, this time with fantasy flash-forwards embedded in the mix. Their deployment is perhaps more programmatic than the very best of the series, but nevertheless, the editing is fleet and the variations are inventive. In the fantasies, Democrats get elected to office throughout the 2000s, Marshall is able to grow a thick mustache, Lily’s always pregnant, Ted is in a hot relationship with some version of Robin, and Barney never changes. But as reality starts to chip away at the characters' confidence, Marshall—always the first to feel despair—starts insisting on changes. Lily is pregnant, but by “some douchey guy named Trey” (“I don’t know what I love more, his thick mustache or his trucker hat,” Lily purrs). In 2012, it’s Ted’s turn to face his ruined dreams, and he imagines himself in 2015 calling the customer comment line on his “frozen entree for one” to get a little human contact while surrounded by stacked newspapers and cat food containers. (Also, “America regrets giving Bush surprise 3rd term.”)

The complexity of this nested series of jumps back and forth through time, in real and imagined form, is worth savoring. Just noticing where the group is watching the trilogy (Ted’s apartment, which turns into Marshall’s apartment; Quinn’s old apartment where Ted is living now; Barney’s ultra-modern pad) keeps us on our toes; I imagine some of you obsessives could have a grand time picking out props and pieces of furniture that have come and gone over time. Even better is the bullet-train pace through the history of the gang’s hopes and dreams. Ted goes from wanting a foreign rocker girlfriend to wanting Robin in a '50s circle skirt and bobbed hair. Marshall’s desire to become a high-paid lawyer who supports Lily and their kids on one salary turns into environmental activism that doesn’t need to pay because he had a historic seven-week run on Wheel of Fortune. At first, Ted wants to keep living the stoner lifestyle, then goes ultra-posh when he imagines he’ll be designing opera houses. Marshall’s fantasies always involve the upper-crust life of fancy clothes and fancier accents, titles and yachts and social standing.

In a sweet ending, Narrator Ted reveals that he was wrong about 2015. “My life was amazing,” he reports, and after a brief fake-out where Barney complains that Ted’s bringing a girl to trilogy time, we get our first glimpse of Ted’s baby daughter. This follows a more ominous (for some of us) scene in which Barney proclaims that he wants to live with Quinn and so is going to stop holding on to the possibility of reclaiming his old life when things go south, symbolized by his set of featureless gray mugs. Once again, their potential wedding is teased for us, with Barney saying he wants to stay with Quinn forever if she’ll have him, and Quinn pointedly not saying she won’t.

At least there’s no hint of Quinn in the 2015 reality flash-forward. As it should be. But mind you, I’m not complaining that Quinn is a waste of time because Barney’s never going to end up with her, convinced as I am that he’s never going to end up with her. “Trilogy Time” is an excellent illustration of why not-forever relationships don’t represent holding patterns in the story for any of these characters. They change you—your hopes, your dreams, your fears, your ambitions, your possibilities. It is nice, though, for the HIMYM team to reassure us, even if Ted is trapped in carbonite at the moment, that the scene with the rebel alliance in triumph and everyone happy is already cued up on the third videotape, allowing us to relax and have fun getting there.

Stray observations:

  • Funny cold open with Barney being observed by an obsessed man from across the street repeating a nightly routine of walking out the door, taking seven paces, and smiling. Cut to Robin in the bar asking, “Aside from not being able to fart in the apartment, how’s living with Quinn?”
  • Barney’s static fantasy pays no attention to fad or fashion. “At least tell me that you will have changed the by-then nine-year-old beer commercial reference,” grouses Ted.
  • My favorite sequence involves Barney’s decoupage-intensive lies to cover up his and Robin’s relationship in reality-2009. (Decoupage is funny; two different decoupage extension courses at the same time and location are hilarious.) It doesn’t hurt that this sequence also features Barney answering the door naked and sweaty, and reopening it moments later perfectly suited and coiffed, a great sight gag.
  • In 2003, Marshall has not graduated from law school, but he does manage a Structure and gets ten percent off vests.
  • “‘Satisfaction’?“ “‘Hot Cross Buns.’”