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How I Met Your Mother Recap: She’s Not Having a Baby

Never has the title of a HIMYM episode been as significant as it was last night. Technically, “Symphony of Illumination” referred to Marshall’s plans for turning his Long Island house into a Christmas spectacular, but in reality, it referred to the loudness of knowledge — in this case, Robin’s discovery that she couldn’t have children. For a second season in a row, the series took a dark turn (the last time being the death of Marshall’s dad) and, though it wasn’t necessarily one of the best episodes, it certainly felt as depressing as any sitcom possibly could. Was there a dry eye in the house?

Before discussing, let’s address what appeared to be an inconsistency: Just a few weeks ago, Ted caught Barney in the act of collecting rose petals from Robin’s bed. At the time, we assumed Ted realized something had happened between the two of them. Now, after watching Ted jokingly speculate about the source of Robin’s sadness, it seems as though he had no idea. Perhaps we were only meant to think that what Ted witnessed led him to believe that Barney, fresh from his breakup with Nora, wanted to once again woo Robin, but not to suspect they already “reconnected”?

Another oddity: Kevin (Kal Penn). Where the hell was he? With the holidays approaching and Robin dealing with both the possibility of being pregnant and, later, the news that she never would be (for reasons unknown), his absence struck us as more pronounced than ever. It’s one thing to reveal that Robin and Kevin haven’t had sex in the four months they’ve been together, which Vulture reported yesterday. Implausible as that is, it’s more acceptable than the notion that he would be completely out of the picture during this entire period.

But, maybe, who cares? Everyone tuned in eager for one reason only and that was to find out the deal with Robin’s pregnancy. In the last recap, we called this plot development disappointing. The chance that both female characters would be expecting forced us to imagine a bunch of subplots involving gestation and nipple butter and other assorted jokes like the ones we were treated to last night, magnified for an entire season. Plus, Robin was the “vice girl.” She was the anti-mother. She stood for something completely nontraditional and we were reluctant to let her go.

It’s to creators Bays and Thomas’s credit that this didn’t happen. Of all the directions in which they could have steered the story, this was not the bravest, but it was the most moving. They weren’t ever going to take the abortion route. It’s 2011, yet some things are still too taboo for television, where abortions occur very rarely and in disproportion to real life. The only other option was, as previously mentioned, the convenient miscarriage, which would have been positively spineless.

Actually, scratch that: Maybe this was the brave choice. The series has never shied away from depicting disillusionment. This recapper personally feels a great deal of kinship with Robin and her stance on children: “No one to hold me back in life. No one to keep me from traveling where I want to. No one to get in the way of my career.” Or as formerly Insane Dwaye put it: play dates, preschool, and poops. But when do we ever want something more than when it’s denied us? Fertility as a choice is a source of empowerment. Losing that choice might be the most compelling development for this character, and Cobie Smulders finally — finally, finally — got to showcase her talent. From her dead faint at the beginning to her tearful breakdown at the end, she proved herself an actress with full range who’s been almost criminally underused up until this point.

Thus far, our recap has been short on recapping. So the gimmick involving Robin’s future kids was just that — a gimmick. Still, not only did it complement the show’s running gag, but it made sense for Robin to picture the children she couldn’t have (ignoring, for a moment, the possibility of adoption). We thought it was pretty transparent from the beginning, or at least after Dr. Sonja’s second round of news, but when the children actually dissolved into the park where Robin sat alone — it was bittersweet.

And then there was the decent subplot involving Big Fudge and his trickster neighbor, which marked Marshall’s uneasy transition into parenthood, a lighthearted parallel that echoed the gravity of Robin’s situation. If anything rang true amid the jokes about Teen Mom, vaginal numbing spray, and the possibly Polish ducks, it was the imagined reactions of Robin’s friends to her news. Sometimes, you know people so well that you can’t bear to endure their predictable pity — in this case, Ted’s aggressive nurturing, Lily’s needy guilt, Marshall’s logical reasoning, or Barney’s aforementioned jokes, all of which were ramped up in their actual reactions to the metaphorical story of Robin’s thwarted pole-vaulting career (Marshall: “Did you file an appeal to the IOC?”).

On the topic of Lily: Both Bays and Thomas have families, yet they seem unable to write a pregnant character with any ballast. Where is the Lily who took off for San Francisco? Granted, her mawkish response to Robin’s pregnancy was purely a projection, but motherhood has rendered her one-dimensional. In some ways, we were hoping she would see through Robin’s pole-vaulting analogy.

Instead, it was Ted, who didn’t exactly see through it, but at least saw something. Can Robin and Barney really end up together after all this? His first reaction to her pregnancy was a fat joke; he completely missed her troubling sadness. Honestly, after the AC/DC Christmas spectacular, we may never get over the impossibility of Future Ted and “Aunt Robin.” Like last year’s holiday episode, “False Positive,” this one was more than a touch melancholic, and so it seems like the right time to commend the writers for creating such lovable characters — and the cast for inhabiting these five people so thoroughly — that we actually feel an emotional attachment to them. And yes, Merry Christmas, Robin.

Photo: CBS