Porn! Stormtroopers! Barney in a fat suit! Barney not in a fat suit! Alan Thicke! From where we’re standing, last night’s episode was the best of the season.
Things start out promisingly when blissfully coupled Barney gifts Ted with his bountiful porn collection. (Admittedly, you may remember this exact scenario from The 40 Year Old Virgin.) Ted sensibly starts off with ArchiSexTure, which Barney has taped over with a message dated 2005: If you are watching this, I'm either dead, in which case I want you to take me to the Hamptons and re-create Weekend at Bernie's (yes!), or I'm in a committed relationship that YOU — dum dum dum — have to get me out of. (Also awesome: pervy Marshall and Lily boosting DVDs from the collection.)
Ted, assuming Lily's regular role of annoying relationship meddler, notices Barney and Robin have gotten lame: Instead of going out, they stay in and watch movies (Barney: "It was Legends — wait for it — of the Fall. It was Legends of the Fall. It was okay"). Also, in a development impossible not to notice, a complacent Barney is getting fat: We see him mowing chicken wings and ribs in successively larger fat suits. (As you might assume, Barney in a fat suit is bizarrely compelling television all on its own; even better is when he says stuff like "We can either have sex or order a whole pizza and lay here moaning.") Meanwhile, Robin is generally looking haggard. The takeaway: Both are miserable, but are too stubborn to bail out — they are, in another of HIMYM's cutesy, contrived phrases, playing "relationship chicken."
Ted and Marshall take it upon themselves to break up the pair, and attempt to do so by sending a Champagne glass hiding an engagement ring over to the two during dinner. The hope is that Robin will freak out, like in the
first second season with Ted. The whole thing backfires terribly when a beaten-down Barney and Robin instead back their way into getting married ("my mom would be happy ... Scherbatzky is so hard to spell"). Ted and Marshall realize they must bring in relationship-breaker-upper pro Lily, and she plans an event that will reference Barney and Robin's four biggest fights: two generic ones about dirty dishes and ex-girlfriends, and two awesome ones about stormtroopers and Neil Young. (Barney: "Now, was that the same old lady that played Archie Bunker's wife in All in the Family, or just a sound-alike?")
Which leads to the following high-watermark moment: While Robin and Barney are at dinner, Ted, Marshall, and Lily are in a stake-out station wagon across the street (a stake-out van cost $25 more, says Ted) with Crazy Meg (Barney's ex), Alan Thicke (brought in to rile up anti-Canada sentiment), the robot from Lost in Space (Lily couldn't get a stormtrooper), and a pizza-delivery guy incidentally quoting one of Barney's pornos. Things get delightfully madcap (an indignant Alan Thicke says "I'm Alan Thicke!", the robot wants to get high, and Lily rips off the Clerks innocent-people-on-the-Deathstar conversation), and the patsies are utilized — but Barney and Robin, it appears, will not break up. They love each other after all!
Or not. Back at the bar, a much healthier-looking Robin announces that she and Barney are over. They realized independently that they were making each other miserable, but instead decided that they shouldn't break up but "get back together as friends." Yes, it's a complete cop-out, but seeing as it's exactly what the show needed, we have no problem with it whatsoever!
Even better: skinny Barney's reentrance. He struts into the bar to the delight of a cornucopia of available girls, and the sound of two significant words: "Daddy's home." It’s an acknowledgment from the show's creative hive that Barney's return is a big deal. Meaning it's also an acknowledgment that neutering him in the first place was a mistake. Did the writers need to actually watch a non-awesome Barney HIMYM to realize how much he was needed? (Can you even switch things up mid-season, or is everything shot too far ahead of time?) Or was this a ploy to make the viewers appreciate awesome-Barney's charms even more? Whatever: Daddy's home.
Slate's John Swansburg calls this episode the WORST of the season. What is it, opposite day?
TV Fanatic won't settle this: They found it so-so.
TV Guide? They're just glad to have the old Barney back.