After a week away, Mother returns — with serious issues! While the show’s two couples have relationship problems, Ted pings ineffectually between them. His only hitch: The frisky new couple upstairs won’t stop loudly (in self-imposed HIMYM PG-speak, and complete with intense soundtrack) “playing the bagpipes.”
In one of the more sensible plot contrivances this season, things begin to go awry when ultracompetitive Barney declares that, much like he was the best at being single, he is now the best at being in a relationship: Every time he and Robin are about to fight, either Barney leaves (“Can’t fight when you’re not there. That’s what Gandhi taught us.”) or Robin initiates sex. (Side note: Ted high fives Barney for the latter part, then comments “that was weird.” This is one of two hints in the episode that Ted, as we’ve previously suggested, is not so at ease with the whole “best friend dating an ex” thing. All right, all right, all right.)
The committed-since-before-the-dawn-of-time Marshall tries to laugh Barney off (“I’ve forgotten more about microwaving fat-free popcorn and watching Sandra Bullock movies than you’ll ever know”), which leads to a dream sequence both horrifying and brilliant: Barney demonstrates how he’d deal with Lily asking him to clean a dish right after he used it, complete with a sloppy Barney and Lily make-out. Marshall snaps: Turns out, he totally hates cleaning his dishes right after he’s done using them.
This leads to two things: Marshall confronting Lily and — in a move surely engineered to appease you commenters — a cameo from the slap bet! As Ted predicted, the confrontation over the dishes led to a million other fights, and Lily freaked and kicked Marshall out. Ted slaps Marshall, and then happily shows him to the couch.
Meanwhile, awesome-couple BarRob (yes? no?) goes away on a ski trip, and returns nauseatingly lovey-dovey. Ted suspects something’s up, and does some amateur sleuthing inspired by the noises he hears upstairs. (By the way, it turns out the sexing couple is old. Old!) He locates Barney’s downstairs neighbor, Phil, who reveals that Barney and Robin fight all the time; they’d just been hiding it to avoid more criticism about how weirdly commitment-phobic they are.
So BarRob seek help from Lily and Marshall, who in turn realize their little tiffs are nothing compared to their friends’ awful problems. (We get a pretty horrific fight montage set to the kind of terrible rock white baseball players use as their intro music; at one point, Barney rips his shirt open and hands Robin a knife.) Lily and Marshall make up, with some big time bagpiping, and Barney and Robin, appropriately, don’t learn anything.
We’re not sure if that’s meant to foreshadow a breakup, but we sure hope so. The relationship strife was actually fairly realistic, especially the stuff about one fight mutating into ten others. But do we really want this show to be a sobering examination of modern love? That’s not funny! As you commenters have pointed out, it feels like the show has written itself into a corner, with Barney’s monogamy neutralizing the show’s best character. It’s almost enough to make us miss Ted-centric plotlines.