Alcohol is crucial to HIMYM. We believe these people live in New York City not because of the “realistic” sets or the occasional subway ride, but because they hang out in a bar, postponing adulthood. A lot. You catch an episode of Friends these days and it’s like watching the frumpy older cousin you swore you wouldn’t be at 40, never mind 30. As Barney once said: “Hanging out at a coffee place is not nearly as much fun as hanging out at a bar.” So it seemed appropriate then that an episode was dedicated to determining exactly what kind of drunk each character is and on which type of booze.
To back up: When Marshall found his job prospects sabotaged by bad recommendations from his former GNB boss Arthur (Bob Odenkirk), he joined forces with Zoey to prevent the Arcadian from being destroyed. It’s not worth quibbling with the illegality of Arthur’s actions because his depiction of Marshall as an “awful, flatulent racist” who came to the office in a sleeveless leather vest (the better to show off his "THUG" tattoo) was mildly amusing. More important, it set the stage for a showdown with Barney, who took offense to the turncoat move and spiked Marshall’s drink with — actually, the desecration is left to the imagination, as it was in season one, where this gag originated, but the reaction to the photo documentation suggests bodily fluid. Marshall retaliated by cock-blocking Barney with announcements like “Your crabs have super-herpes.” When their altercation got pushy (was Segel stifling laughter?), Carl threw the whole gang out of the bar. Come on, Carl, these guys are regulars. Ted and Barney once pretended to go to bat for that booth!
Speaking of the booth — this time, the ladies were feeling territorial, throwing shade to another girl as she gave them the “walk-by stink-eye.” “Aw, hell no! I hope this drink isn’t teething because it’s about to get nursed,” said Robin, her arsenal of witty one-liners always at the ready these days. (The Superdome/Saint quip from two weeks ago also seems to be an original.) Not sure that she pulled off Lily’s revertigo talk or whatever it was she was going for here; it felt a little forced, but poor Cobie Smulders has been given fuck-all to do this season. Anyway, getting ousted from MacLaren’s won’t fly, so the two conspired to get Marshall and Barney drunk, hoping they can hug it out over the right elixir.
Red wine? No, Barney reaches “a point of sad clarity.” Gin? Makes Marshall angry. Join the club. Absinthe once caused Robin to hallucinate a Sunny D commercial in which she was a dream that a baby was having. Martinis are nixed because Lily always tries to invent a scenario in which she has to kiss Robin. (We interpret this, like her you’re-dead-to-me stare, as a Willow shout-out.) Daiquiris make Marshall feel attractive — to himself, in the mirror. A little Bourbon and Ted thinks he’s good at beat-boxing. And Peppermint Schnapps turns Barney into Richard Dawson, the guy who hosted Family Feud back when sexual harassment was considered avuncular (“Show me chicken wings!”). Sad clarity, gin rage, and the bicurious faux-dare get high marks for accuracy. But where does Robin get her absinthe? The American kind isn’t typically that strong.
Because it would be a shame to let a set piece go to waste, Lily, Robin, Marshall, and Barney returned to Hopeless, where the girls cycled through their theories, the most heartfelt results stemming from an order of whiskey, the alcohol that allows men to talk about fathers. Marshall is only trying to make his dad proud; Barney is grappling with abandonment issues. Because this is mostly for the sake of reclaiming the booth, Robin wasn’t quite as committed to meddling as Lily and kept changing the topic with remarks about her father’s infidelity. Her off-handed “Parents, right?” met with concern, but as Lily said, that’s another issue. After some tequila shots, Marshall and Barney retreated to MacLaren’s, where Carl remedied the whole situation with beer. Beer! Of course, the ladies forgot beer. Also: While, yes, shots are probably only a good idea during an apocalypse, don’t blame the tequila, Future Ted. Brands with 100 percent agave = a great drunk.
Elsewhere, Ted and Zoey continued to fall apart, though not fast enough. Early in the episode, Ted revealed that, not unlike Barnstormer and Ro-ro, their fighting style involved avoidance, except instead of having sex or walking out of the room, he merely changed the subject whenever the Arcadian came up to something like Oprah’s retirement. But on a trip to Martha’s Vineyard in the aftermath of his friends’ fallout, he can’t suppress his anger, letting loose this very un-Ted-like cynicism: “I can handle you trying to prevent me from fulfilling a lifelong dream, that’s just being in a relationship.” So they make a deal: If Zoey can endure a night at the Arcadian, Ted will take her side. Christ, what were they thinking? Never has HIMYM seemed as fictional as it did in this moment, in this clearly made-up world where the bedbugs have not yet won.
Blah, blah, blah, Zoey lived for a time in the hotel, like a poorer Eloise, which makes sense because she is what a formerly precocious brat would be like when the cuteness wore off. (Too harsh?) Ted, sap that he is, totally fell for it and confessed his love to her for the first time, boring those of us who thought this Eureka moment already happened in the hallway during “Oh, honey.” The cockamouse, who brought screams, partially of delight and remembrance but mostly of disgust and horror, nailed this scene.
Back at the apartment, Marshall and Barney awoke from their bender mad as ever — Lily broke the one-too-many rule by popping a bottle of Champagne the night before, thus rendering all hatchet-burying moot. Barney called Zoey a “self-righteous bitch,” which, actually, was too harsh. Since we pretty much just stopped short of using these words several sentences ago, we can’t object to the sentiment, but this episode went a little hard with the number of “bitches.” Robin said it twice before, once in reference to Walk-by Stink-Eye, and again when talking about Marshall and Barney. At the very least, that’s unoriginal writing.
So in all this, we’ve avoided fully committing to an opinion about the quality of last night. The drinking plot was good, but it might have been even better if every story line went with it. And then there’s the references. HIMYM rewards its hard-core fans with callbacks that enrich the narrative arc so much that, without them, the show would be in danger of late-series mediocrity. But like Lost, these Easter eggs can sometimes overwhelm the plot, causing the audience to wonder if the episode actually achieved anything or merely offered a distraction. With the return of the cockamouse and the tactics against season one’s Butterfield, as well as one-off nods to Teddy Westside and Sasquatch, we wonder: Were we laughing because the jokes were funny, or because we recognized them as having once been funny? With only two episodes left this season, here’s to hoping HIMYM ends conclusively on a high note.