Based on the past few episodes, it’s fair to say that this season of HIMYM has finally hit its stride. Of the many ways this show succeeds, holiday-referencing is high up there: The series is thematic without being sickeningly theme-y. Valentine’s Day, as a so-called holiday, doesn’t care if you’re ready for it. It falls in February, the cruelest month (sorry, T.S.), and it seems designed to keep restaurants and florists on their toes when their patrons might not be. So it makes sense that the gang is caught somewhat unprepared.
Let’s begin with Ted. After last week’s kiss with Zoey, he was left deciding how to proceed with his new girlfriend, who invited him over to bake cookies, an invitation no one but Ted took literally. Lily: “Private Booty reporting for duty.” And Robin, the dirtiest of birds: “When a lady booty-calls a guy, she invents a respectable excuse to mask the fact that she wants to get stuck real good. It’s called class, Ted.” Over the last few seasons, the writers have embellished Ted to the point that he’s become even more pretentious and anal, which makes sense from their perspective because, in order to last for much longer, the series needs to elaborate his idiosyncrasies. But if we think back to earlier incarnations, Ted wasn’t so clueless as to bring an overnight bag to Zoey’s house. We believe Old Ted would wing it. Nonetheless, perhaps age has rendered him more cautious, so his slippers (“British morning socks!”) were in tow as he went to seal the deal. Zoey freaked out, but then she changed her mind, and suddenly she was at Ted’s door asking to make this Valentine’s Day “one [they] will remember for years.”
“Isn’t that great?” enthused an anxious Ted at MacLaren’s. “If you say so!” — signature skepticism from Robin. It was Ted who seemed slightly out of character here. He’s an L-word slut. He already professed his love for Zoey. Would he really be daunted by her reciprocity? It’s okay, though, because it was an acceptably brief crisis and one that took him to St. Cloud to visit Marshall.
Here again, a lot of credit is due the writers for maintaining Marshall’s dramatic story line. It was enough that it wasn’t dropped last week, but HIMYM is even more commendable for adding a new element to his response to his dad’s death: a refusal to leave the comforts of home. An extra-great detail? Marshall rediscovered his old-school Game Boy, and not only that, but he’s playing Mario, the best video-game franchise ever (not coincidentally, the only video-game franchise this recapper can profess any mastery over). So while a lonely Lily has substituted a body pillow for Marshall, he has insisted that he needs to stay in Minnesota to help his mother, which he does by making her wait on him hand and foot because “[his] mom loves to feel needed.” Seriously, how many of us have found ourselves in this situation? Meanwhile, Marshall and Lily’s usual V-Day tradition deserves its own applause: watching Predator, which, on any day, is far better than Sleepless in Seattle. It’s backstory like this that often spares Marshmallow and Lilypad from descending into pure cheesiness.
So Ted took off, after Lily, to escape the pressure of romance while Robin and Barney stayed behind, battling over the philosophy of a made-up holiday. Or not so made-up, as Historical Barney pointed out with a Ted-approved retelling of Valentine’s Day’s origins (“Perfect X, high V”) followed by the fabricated story of Desperation Day (February 13), which established the willingness of 15-year-old girls to mate with virtually anyone in order to avoid being single. Robin is, as always, the woman who best counteracts Barney’s chauvinism, and in an admirably democratic way. She’s no sentimentalist — as V-Day protestors ourselves, it was extremely gratifying to watch our favorite character reject its importance in the face of Barney’s sneers. With the Woo Girls apparently in her rearview mirror, Robin paired up with her mild-mannered co-workers, Bev and Anna (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s very funny Artemis Pebdani, underused here). Barney: “Enchanté. That’s French for: What’s with the purple?” It’s for pride. Okay, that pushed the protest into a possibly pathetic gray area. Still, we wish they didn’t desert the cause so easily for some “white Urkels.”
Back in St. Cloud, things got heavy when Marshall confessed to Ted that he missed his father and that, in the context of a touching childhood memory, he “can’t see where [he’s] going.” Creators Bays and Thomas said they drew on the real experiences of their writing team when tackling the topic of parental death and small moments like this one prove how powerful and natural these developments truly are. We don’t tune in on Mondays to be depressed, but that doesn’t mean a sitcom can’t be sad sometimes and this was enough to bring a few tears. And to make us overlook the fact that (1) driving in a massive snowstorm isn’t necessarily an advisable alternative to flying and (2) Marshall’s sudden appearance back in the apartment was weirdly jarring.
If we had one complaint with this episode, it would be that Barney is giving us a minor case of whiplash. His Predator-esque heat-seeking skills for hunting women dovetailed nicely with Marshall and Lily’s subplot but, ultimately, his arc isn’t adding up. The last two episodes ended on a vulnerable note, with Barney pursuing his father and breaking down in front of Katy Perry’s Honey when his entreaties to his dad went unanswered. But last night, he was back to finding the daddy issues of a would-be conquest callously amusing. Presumably, Robin’s hot friend Nora will be back — though, correct us if we’re wrong, didn’t Barney get banned forever from laser tag in “Murtaugh”? Regardless, Robin triumphed over Barney by forcing him into an actual date on Valentine’s Day for the first time ever (“Desperation Day has come and gone and you have neither gone nor come”), but does this mean she thinks he’s changed? His progress will most likely continue as the season finale approaches, but it will pose a hump (what up) for the writers: Is a more neutered Barney any kind of Barney at all?