HIMYM’s commitment to the past is the pleasure and, occasionally, pitfall of the series. When the writers reference previous episodes with subtlety, we call it continuity. When they flat-out recycle story lines, we call it unoriginal. Last night, we waffled between these two verdicts, but ultimately decided the episode relied too heavily on old jokes with flawed results, which we’re willing to overlook for one reason — and we’ll get to that in a minute.
First, let’s talk about the redundancies. So Robin’s new, deliberately nicknamed boy toy, Nate “Scooby” Scooberman, reminded the gang of a dog, à la season two’s “Stuff,” a.k.a. the episode where Ted saw Robin’s canine companions as vestiges of her many exes. Amid several coconut water product placements, Scooby scratched his ears, chased his own behind, and sat on command to the amusement of everyone, including Robin, who cannot seem to eek out a decent love life for herself this season (as always, the underpraised Smulders made the best of things). Aside from the sharp wordplay mocking Scooby to his face, this subplot didn’t really go anywhere. Or, rather, it resulted in the sharing of “a sandwich” — and wasn’t that kind of a missed opportunity? To our memory, sandwich-smoking has never occurred in the present, only in the past and future, so for Ted, Lily, and Marshall to light up now, when it could only lead to a wisecrack about Paul Shaffer’s “sandwich guy” and a lost Scooby, felt like a waste. Also? Segel’s stoned acting was not as Method as we would have expected.
Meanwhile, a sick Barney went on a second date with Nora — not the first time he’s tried to combat illness with awesomeness. Again, season two saw a very similar side of Barney, one reduced to a child, sneezing with his entire body while being spoon-fed soup by a pretty woman. So Barney, like the rest of the gang, made an appointment with a cardiologist as a precautionary measure in the wake of Mr. Eriksen’s sudden heart attack. In what was essentially a reprisal of her role on Modern Family, guest Suzy Nakamura played doctor to her anxiety-ridden patient by strapping a heart monitor to Barney’s chest for 24 hours, which, in a storytelling device that we weren’t entirely sold on, allowed Lily — and the audience — to similarly monitor the behavior of his most precious organ (not worth the joke). But, hey, the return of the surprisingly catchy “Bangity-Bang” song was very welcome.
When she was first introduced, Nora sparked some mother rumors and, last night, she fit the bill, but made us wonder if this is an outcome we could live with. On one hand, the lovely Nora shares Ted’s (incredibly detailed) fantasy of marriage and family, which Barney pretended to go along with. Then again, she got cozy uncomfortably fast. Once at MacLaren’s, she took a page out of Blah Blah’s playbook from season three by grilling the gang about Barney’s character. Ted’s date in that episode was intended to be crazy; Nora’s nosiness didn’t merit a blink. Yes, this can be excused as another plot device, and yes, it’s in keeping with Lily’s meddlesome reputation that she’s more concerned about protecting Nora from Barney’s slimy lies than Robin is, but if we didn’t already know that Nora was Robin’s friend, we wouldn’t have been able to divine that from their interaction at the bar. Speaking of Barney’s lies: No one can refute them lest Barney dish the dirt he has on everyone else. Cue Lily’s angry “sonofabitch” catchphrase. Two comments: (1) Marshall did not meet Barney at a strip club — Ted introduced them at MacLaren’s; (2) the writers had better remember to tell us about Ted’s thermos and what made it more mortifying than ballet or N’Sync.
So Nora asked Barney to meet her parents and he broke his no-brunch rule (one of the many rules not referenced in the flashbacks) by agreeing, but then confessed his deceit and lost her. For us, the episode crossed the line into corniness when the doctor, while reading the results of his heart monitor, informed Barney that his heart had “skipped a beat” just as Nora entered the restaurant the night before. We love that HIMYM doesn’t shy away from sentimentality, but this was almost too on the nose, especially once the café-ready emo song that neither Google nor Shazam could identify kicked in. Then, when a Sliding Doors version of Barney strode into the Popover Pantry and confessed his love — oh, never mind, that was just the writers saying, “Psych.”
At the risk of making an unpopular comparison, Barney has a lot in common with Sex and the City’s Samantha in terms of the role he plays on this show. He’s the id, the “sex- fueled depraved animal” who satisfies his carnal appetite while everyone else around him grapples with the messy emotional issues. And, sometimes, we have to ask ourselves: Do we even want him to evolve?
The answer is probably yes, but, right now, Barney’s search for his father feels like more fertile ground for exploring his psychology. And this is why the clumsy ending of the episode was salvageable. Normally the hullabaloo surrounding Barney’s commitment phobia would feel like a retread of his botched efforts with Robin. But we know that Barney is soon to meet his dad (John Lithgow), and we trust the writers enough to assume that the Nora situation is part of a larger crisis, one that could perhaps lead to a new and interesting arc for the Barnstormer. We just have to wait for it.