Could anything top the sheer pleasure of those opening credits? Never before has HIMYM messed with the credits, and coming as it did as a total surprise Put it this way, we didn’t even keep the Shiba Inu puppy cam on in the background while we took notes, that’s how enthralled we were. But we have to back up for a second. Sometimes, this show will throw us a tired, merely passable episode like last week’s, one that causes ratings to plummet to their lowest of the season and fair-weather fans to wonder why they’re still watching. But at this point in the game, a perfect batting average is a lot to expect, and the writers probably know they’re going to have to walk a few players (this metaphor might be falling apart). Basically, we’ll take a few stinkers if it means that they’ll save their energy for an episode like last night’s, one that moved a character forward emotionally while at the same time let the rest of the gang loose in a thoroughly fun, speculation-stoking B-plot. (Is Robin rethinking her relationship with Ted? Is Barney rethinking his relationship with Robin?)
Unlike some of you, we weren’t wild about Barney and Jerry’s first encounter. We complained about the strange chemistry between Lithgow and NPH, though commenters rightly pointed out how this made sense given their estrangement. Whatever the case may be, emo-Barney didn’t totally work for us. Until now. A flashback to 1983 revealed then-Uncle Jerry abandoning his son with these immortal words: “Never stop partying.” Thus, the origins of Barney’s rage against the dying of the light …
To show his dad the error of his suburban ways, Barney enlisted his friends’ awesomeness, with some assembly required. Marshall was now an unemployed playwright in an open marriage to Lily, a self-appointed Meryl Streep character. Ted received a whole stack of index cards curbing his dullness. Also, he was romantically linked to Robin, professional scotch taster, so that, according to Barney, Jerry wouldn’t wonder why he and Robin weren’t together when, dead-giveaway alert, “deep down you know you were never happier than when you were with her.” Also? They’re all in a band! Cue Bays and Thomas’s “ba-bap-a-ba-ba-ba” theme song, performed by the five of them with Robin on drums. Of course, where else would she be? Cobie Smulders is at least as cool as Janet Weiss.
We would love to know how many takes were needed to nail the next perfectly executed gag, a fast-paced debate of ridiculously named clubs — Was, Where, Wrong, Okay, Oh No, Focus, Closed, Shut Up. Nicely played, cast. We rewound twice, just for laughs. They settled on Hopeless, where Jerry tried to be the alcoholic father Barney always wanted, at one point scoffing, “Hey, small-town preacher from the Midwest, is there a law against dancing?” (Get it? Footloose? Yes, you got it.)
This was hardly the first time Barney has attempted to school someone at life — his throwdown on age-appropriate behavior immediately recalled “Murtaugh.” But this might be the first the script was truly flipped on him. In a tried-but-true HIMYM trick, what we saw wasn’t what actually happened. Jerry relied on one of his own aphorisms — the best audience is a drunk one. He faked Barney out to please him, and Barney was so touched by this that he wanted to rush Jerry home in time to take J.J. fishing. (Personally, if we were the son who had been ignored for close to 30 years, we would have questioned Jerry’s double-booking and said, “Screw J.J.”) Yes, Barney’s intense confession — “I love my life, but I’m not sure I like loving it” — was sudden, but it sure beat the symbolic anvil that was the basketball hoop from “Legendaddy,” though this story arc probably needed both.
Meanwhile, back at Hopeless, it was callback central. Well, first, we were introduced to Robin’s secret crush. “Mila Kunis?” asked Lily, thinking Robin was referring to her secret crush and once again copping to bicuriousity. No, Battlestar Gallactica’s Michael Trucco, whom, apparently, Robin first met at the store where Ted bought those hideous red cowboy boots! From season three! (Before the G-CWOKs [Gay-Couple Without Kids] assured Ted that he was “pulling them off,” he had his doubts: “Wardrobe malfunction at the O.K. Corral.”) Robin wanted to publicly break off their fake relationship to pursue the guy. “I would have stolen you a whole orchestra — there, what’s the hurry?” said Ted, quoting the classic line from their split in “Something Blue.” These two so rarely address their former relationship in an entirely believable way, but after four years, that’s exactly the sort of sentiment they might kid about, kindly, in retrospect.
Of course, once Ted realized that their mind-blowing coitus from that day was owed to Robin’s sex fantasy (the poor guy had to keep his shirt over his face), the jig was up: He gamely thwarted her advances. But then she pulled his card: He only bought those boots because the hot blonde saleslady told him to. “So get off the field at the Superdome because you ain’t no Saint.” Can we say, “You go, girl”? No, yeah, that would be lamé. On the walk home, Robin looked so at peace with missing her chance, we wondered, even though we know we haven’t seen the last of this guy, is she remembering Ted fondly? Perhaps even wistfully?
Finally, back to Barney, breaking down in the back of Mrs. Perkins’s car. “I’m too far gone. I’m broken.” Don’t you think Jerry should have been slightly more alarmed by his son’s desperate words? Moving along, though, we get what he meant by, “A magician never reveals his greatest trick.” Barney needs to mature on his own and no one can tell him how. Solid face-acting by NPH here. Jerry’s hint? Meet the right girl. Barney: “Maybe I’ve met her already.” Well, okay then.
Obviously, this episode is a conversation starter. Will there be a story line about Robin wanting Ted again? Will Barney immediately try to win Robin back? What other awesome old-school details will the writers dig up? With the series renewed for two more seasons, anything is possible. We’re hopeful.