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How I Met Your Mother Recap: Repress Yourself

Zoey is the worst. She’s the worst of the worst. Shrill and manipulative, stubborn and phony. When she’s around, we miss bobblehead Stella, harmless Victoria, and even chatty Cathy, none of whom we were all that fond of. That she’s out to destroy Ted’s dream is the best thing about her because (1) yeah, New York City doesn’t lack for another logo-ed skyscraper and (2) maybe this will prompt Ted to dump her sooner rather than later.

We’re not sure why we had to wait an entire season for him to learn what we already knew. Or, actually, we do know why and it’s the one and only unfortunate consequence of the show’s renewal: The writers have time to kill. As Vulture reported yesterday, Bays and Thomas want the audience to treat each season like a volume in a series. What’s the hurry to meet the mother if her introduction spells the end of HIMYM? (Whether it does or not remains to be seen — it’s hard to guess whether the series will integrate her into the plot.)

Still, Zoey is a distraction. She seems like a regression, someone Ted might have dated earlier on, drawn to her sass or whatever, but as Future Ted knows, she’s a waste of time: “Kids, some couples always support each other and some couples always challenge each other. But is one really better than the other?” Pause. “Yes. Support is better, way better.”

What made last night a fine but hardly memorable half-hour is the way in which Ted arrived at this wisdom: via a dispute with Lily. He accused Lilypad and Marshmallow of having become a lazy “hermaphroditic blob.” She fired back that Zoey and Ted fight too much. He suggested that her “Japanese anime eyes” betrayed her true feelings about Marshall working for the NRDC — “What about my trip to Spain, deadbeat?” — while she imagined his “pouty woman’s mouth” begging to be on top just once. All of this was pretty clever. Couples talk about other couples. A lot. The scenes that cut between Lily and Marshall in bed “worrying” about Ted and Zoey, then vice versa, were among the most realistic of the season — all the better because the gossip was couched in such euphemistic terms. Plus, by now, it’s understood that every rookie union must square off against OGs Lily and Marshall.

As the seasons progress, the writers have resorted to wackier subplots to get our attention, sometimes sacrificing simpler pleasures. At least this was good, old-fashioned Ted vs. Lily, as seen before in “How Lily Stole Christmas” or “Say Cheese,” both of which ended, like last night’s episode, with Ted and Lily somehow acknowledging their importance in each other’s lives. The callbacks were less winky (aside from remembering Scooby, a desperate bid to justify that story line) but still substantial: There was Lily’s tendency to cut and run, like she did by moving to San Francisco at the end of season one and last night by very nearly jetting off to Spain, but not before confiding in Ted both times.

However, there’s a major continuity flaw here: A few episodes ago, Lily was angry with Marshall for working at GNB. In “Natural History,” she lashed out at him for having abandoned his principles and embraced corporate life. So what changed? Was she only upset because he took an unpaid position?

Repression appeared to be the theme of every plotline last night and maybe this development was shoehorned in accordingly: Lily repressed her anxiety that Marshall wouldn’t make money to support a family; Ted repressed his anger with Zoey over her refusal to support his architectural ambition; Barney repressed his father issues (although, as it turns out, not really); and Marshall finally put an end to his repression of GNB’s oppression. Follow? As gimmicks go, graduation goggles — the idea that change prompts you to recast negative but familiar experiences in a positive light, sometimes to the tune of “I Will Remember You” — felt authentic. Damn if that sappy Sarah McLachlan song can’t make an episode of CSI: Miami seem fraught with emotion. Hell, it could do the same for a teaser for the episode.

But, please, there needs to be a moratorium placed on the “No, you hang up!” gag. Somewhere, somebody was the first to notice this schmoopy honeymooner phenomenon. We remember it from Friends, but surely it might predate that. Just recently, it popped up on Modern Family and it always ends the same way — with some withering third party (in this case, Robin) comically putting an end to the conversation (in this case, between Zoey and Ted). Texting has rendered this joke irrelevant. Let it go.

So, finally, the titular meatball sub. Robin, like the audience, assumed Marshall upset Barney by quitting GNB because of his abandonment issues, but no, he’s just mad that he missed a chance to revenge-prank his friend for once laughing at the marinara sauce on his tie. Kind of thin, right? Barney loves a good practical joke, but we’re not convinced this was ample motivation, particularly not for him to follow through by blowing up the sub ten years down the line. Although he does feel fiercely for those ties and there didn’t seem to be a calming wife at that fake death bed, unless you count Scherbatsky …

This wasn’t quite the glorious return from a three-week absence that we were hoping for, but it’s enough to know that Ted is finally seeing Zoey for who she is. Every week that she remains on the show, it gets harder and harder for us to repress the urge to call her a grinch.

Photo: CBS