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How I Met Your Mother Recap: The Stakes Are High

“No Pressure”-- Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) finds something private of Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily\'s (Alyson Hannigan), on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, Monday, Feb. 20 (8:00-8:30 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS ©2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

If, like Marshall and Lily, we had placed a long-term bet last week, our odds wouldn’t be looking so good right now. For some reason, Ted’s confession of love and Barney’s meet-cute with a stripper led us to suspect that Barney’s bride-to-be was definitely not Robin. Obviously, that remains unresolved, but the brevity of Ted and Robin’s rekindled romance caught us off guard. It’s interesting, and a little perplexing, to see the writers introduce pivotal events only to dispose of them immediately. Robin’s engagement and Ted’s renewed affections could have greased a few episodes, but both were over before they even began. There’s probably something to be said for avoiding a retread of season two, but some of us were looking forward to Ted and Robin’s reunion, which might have been even more meaningful if the “friends with benefits” episode had never happened. At the very least, can we agree that Ted’s logic was sound? The two broke up five years ago because they wanted different things, yet there they were anyway, on the roof, single and as close as ever.

But the episode itself, finally, was a good one. It all began with Ted telling his kids about the first time he said “I love you” to their mother, which also marked the first time he’d said it since this most recent incident with Robin (also, did the marquee read The Blushing Bride III?). So, presumably, it’s safe to assume that Ted will not have another significant girlfriend until he meets The One, which is a relief because Ted’s women have been, across the board, pretty disagreeable. Without much ado, Robin returned Ted’s affections, which should have been the first clue that their affair would be dunzo by the episode’s end. Conveniently, Robin was then whisked away to a job in Moscow by Patrice, whom she still fantastically hates for unexplained reasons.

First-time HIMYM writer George Sloan deserves credit for finding a way to involve Marshall and Lily in this scenario without relegating them to their usual roles as professional listeners. How in the world did Marshall justify rushing off to MacLaren’s from Long Island at 7 a.m.? Why in the world is MacLaren’s open at that hour? Doesn’t matter. For not the first time, Lily tried to sabotage Ted’s chances with Robin — last time, her excuse was that they didn’t pass the front porch test, although now, in light of the discovery of the Long-Term Bets box, this could have been a long con. Ten years ago, to keep from becoming the kind of couple who builds model airplanes, Lily and Marshall developed a taste for gambling, keeping track of their wagers on little scraps of paper. Fair enough. The stakes are mostly harmless — will Ted go bald, will he pull it off if he does, will Barney die by murder — but Lily also went on record saying that Robin and Ted will not end up together. In pursuit of victory, she encouraged Ted to bombard Robin with voice mails or, better yet, go straight to Russia in a grand romantic gesture “that we all know Robin loves.” Before long, she had Ted writing sonnets and imaging an entrance via hot air balloon.

Marshall proved to be the better friend, encouraging Ted every step of the way, or at least believing in him enough to bet on his behalf. “It’s been a real nail-biter!” he said of the Robin wager, referring to Lily’s multiple demands for payment in the wake of Ted’s engagement to Stella. “Not yet,” he kept saying.

Back at the apartment, as Barney prepared to screen the Eriksen-Aldrin sex tape, Ted suddenly figured out why he and Robin hadn’t gotten back together sooner. To Barney: “Oh my God! Robin’s in love with you.” This episode was too good, and too long overdue, to warrant much nitpicking, but why had Ted overlooked the incident with the rose petals on Robin’s bed until now? For months, we’ve been thinking this was a continuity error. Great reaction from Neil Patrick Harris to the news that Robin and Kevin broke up — it was the facial equivalent of catching oneself before a faint: shock, excitement, and disappointment all rolled into one. Another sign that Robin and Ted, Part II, was doomed for failure was their quick pro-bro speech. Obviously, real-life emotions would never sort themselves out this neatly. Ted fell for Robin first, so he shouldn’t even have to ask Barney’s permission to pursue her again. And Barney wouldn’t be able to put aside his feelings so easily. As anti-Barney-and-Robin as we are, Ted can be oppressively earnest. His kisses with Robin were more chaste than we remember, especially compared to Robin and Barney’s from earlier this season.

There was some brief comic relief when Marshall and Lily, vying for separate outcomes in order to win another bet, fight for Barney’s reaction to the sex tape — “I slap my own ass” can be both the appeal and the deterrent and Marshall’s prehistoric moans were perfectly revolting. In the end, Barney destroys the VCR. Ted: “Barney, that was my VCR!” Barney: “Ted, it was a VCR.”

But when Ted picks Robin up from the airport, Marshall-style, and they return to the restaurant with the blue horn (even though it was probably inconveniently located in Brooklyn), he became clear that it wasn’t going to happen. Robin tried to invoke the “If we’re single at 40” clause, but Ted shot her down: “I can’t do that anymore. As long as the door is a little bit open, I have this feeling that I’ll just be waiting around to see if I win the lottery. I think you know how you feel about me now.” And she does: She doesn’t love him. Marshall told Robin that she needed to find another place to live and HIMYM brought out the big guns, emotionally speaking, scoring her departure with Florence and Machine’s “Shake It Out.” Future Ted voice-overs: “In my own crazy way, I was kind of happy. For the first time in years, there was no little part of me clinging to the dream of being with Robin, which meant for the first time in years, the world was wide open. Because kids, when a door closes, well, you know the rest … ” And out he walks into a rainy street teeming with passersby carrying yellow umbrellas.

It was a good scene. Like Lily, we might have a mild case of Robin fatigue — the back-and-forth between Barney and Ted and Kevin would feel less like a game of Ping-Pong if the story lines lasted for more than 23 minutes. So what to make of Marshall’s parting “Not yet”? On one hand, there was a thrill of possibility. We’ll say it again: Robin and Ted ended things prematurely. But the lack of resolution is maddening. If the writers don’t plan on returning to this well, then it should be sealed off once and for all.

Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS