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How I Met Your Mother Recap: Time After Time

"Tick, Tick, Tick..." -- Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin (Cobie Smulders) try to maintain a secret from Nora (Nazanin Boniadi) and Kevin (Kal Penn) while attending a work event on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, Monday, Nov. 14 (8:00 - 8:30 PM ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Photo: Eric McCandless/Fox
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Every now and then, HIMYM goes dark, veering into emotional territory that dramatically richer shows expertly navigate, but that this humble sitcom finds its way around pretty damn well. Last night’s episode featured its fair share of “That would never happen” moments, but we left it thinking, Wow, this has been a really solid season so far. Except for the rose petals and the candles — that’s far too corny for Barney, and especially for Robin, who would never be able to keep a straight face in the presence of romance rendered so tritely.

Paraphrasing Einstein, Future Ted exposited: “Time moves at different speeds.” Barney and Robin’s actual tryst passed in a blur, but their guilt over cheating on their partners caused the seconds to tick by. Barney began by being too blithe about his indiscretion; Robin looked rattled by comparison. Is it nitpicky to wonder why Robin isn’t doubly bothered by the fact that she slept with with her friend’s boyfriend? The closest these two ever were was Valentine’s Day 2010 and, in fact, the notion that Robin and Nora are actual friends was abandoned almost immediately. At least she piped up about their double date on the booze cruise, even if “the three-hour boat ride” tucked a little too neatly into a Gilligan joke. Suspense established: For the first time in a while, we genuinely didn’t know where all this was heading.

Most surprising, the B-plot involving a bastardized-Lollapalooza outing was as genuinely entertaining and profound as the primary plotline. Ted, on break from being a pink-booted bozo, got to indulge his believable sentimental side with tickets to Groova Palooza. Nothing is more appropriate for a time-themed episode than his healthy helping of nostalgia. Armed with mari-(wait for it)-nated steak sandwiches, Ted planned to revisit their nineties glory days — and weed-smoking has never been so accurately depicted on this series. HIMYM used its chronologically playful storytelling gifts to a tee.

When Marshall and Ted left their seats to buy Lily’s nachos, they found themselves lost in a labyrinth of women’s restroom lines and hunted by an ominous, guitar-playing Man in Black (not that one). Not only did their paranoia echo the concerns of Robin and Barney, who elsewhere worried that Kevin and Nora suspected their secret, but it confused their sense of the hour, convincing them that they’d missed the entire concert when in reality they were only gone for two minutes. A surveillance video of their entire excursion revealed that they had never strayed far from the gate, repeatedly mistaking the bathroom line for the food court and imagining a cardboard poster of George Sloan to be human. George Sloan didn’t die of a heart attack — Ted merely knocked him over with a hug. (Although Google informed us that real-life amateur steeplechase jockey George Sloan is, unfortunately, no longer with us). But the real takeaway was that, though life appears to be moving too fast, and the years pass more quickly than we can process, there is still plenty of time to enjoy the present. Also, it helps to get high.

The seafaring half of the gang didn’t fare as well. But before we go there, a complaint that’s perhaps better suited to Gender Diversity Awareness Palooza: Last week’s Hurricane Irene story line proved that the series was able to incorporate current events into its narrative. The writers should also know that, for months, local news here has been dominated by reports of unsolved sexual assaults against women. So it’s particularly uncool to see Sandy Rivers speaking graphically about how he’d screw an intern, even if he almost got a jalapeño-coconut-vodka martini to the face.

Rant over. Barney and Robin negotiated their lie until they decided that they wanted to come clean. Maybe one of the debates of the night should be whether we accept Robin asking the following question not once, but twice, of both suitors: “I’m such a mess — why do you even like me?” On one hand, when we met her six years ago, Robin was very comfortable in her own skin and certainly not seeking validation from a boyfriend. Then again, people can present a confidence when they’re young that they tragically lose with age. She’s allowed to be vulnerable, and her insecurity speaks to larger issues that her character has been too short-shrifted to explore as of late. Bottom line: If this is finally Cobie Smulders’s year, we’re all for it.

Barney’s response was that she’s just as messed up as he is. Kevin’s was far more nurturing: “I’m constantly amazed by the things you say. I’m entranced by things you do … If we’re together long enough, I hope that one day you’ll see yourself the way I see you.” And despite the fact that Dwight Schrute could probably prove that Kevin was far from “excited” when he spoke these words, we know why they worked. As much as we identified with Barney’s disappointment when she arrived at the bar at midnight with Kevin in tow, he did begin the episode by purposefully misconstruing Robin’s guilt to take a jab at her sexual prowess. How seriously are we supposed to take his character? If Barney becomes too sincere, he loses his very Barneyness. But sometimes, he can be a real ass.

Just some minor criticisms of the episode’s logic: (1) Just a few weeks ago, an entire half-hour was devoted to the perils of dating in the Internet age. Surely, then, Robin could have texted Barney a head’s-up. Of course, her loaded “I’m so sorry” wouldn’t have been nearly as powerful if it didn’t happen in person; (2) Another episode from this season focused on Nora’s reluctance to date a dog like Barney. Would she really be willing to forgive his transgression this early on even if it “didn’t mean anything”?; (3) What therapist would shush Robin’s confession of having done something wrong by saying “The past doesn’t matter”? Clearly, she’s not talking mirror-stage past, Kevin.

Anyway, the parting shot of Ted catching Barney cleaning up the remains of his romance — which, if we hew closely to the night’s theme, he never would have had time to orchestrate while still stuck at Nora’s at 11:45 — added one final conversation topic to an episode rich with them: Was his expression registering only surprise at the thought that his ex and his friend had reunited, or also disappointment?

Photo: Eric McCandless/FOX