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How I Met Your Mother Recap: Labor Day

"Good Crazy" -- Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) takes Marshall (Jason Segel) on a roadtrip to unwind before his baby is born, on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, Monday, April 30 (8:00-8:30 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.    Photo: Richard Cartwright/CBS.  ©2012 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Marshall’s last cigarette! There were so many callbacks in last night’s episode, which ushered us somewhat swiftly along to one of the season’s climactic events (the birth of Baby Eriksen). But the most touching was Marshall’s smoking. It’s odd to phrase it like that, but season five’s “Last Cigarette Ever” was a strangely poignant half-hour, an example of what HIMYM can do with small details. The conclusion of that episode showed the gang on the roof, allegedly smoking their final cigarette, while Future Ted informed us when each of them quit for good. For Lily, it was the day she started trying to get pregnant and for Marshall, it was the day his son was born.

So the baby is on the way, but before Lily went into labor, the boys struggled with some serious neuroses. Barney continued to object to Quinn’s stripping, Ted tried unsuccessfully to get over Robin, and Marshall deprived himself of sleep in order to prepare for fatherhood. The baby shower was mercifully skipped as a plot point and mainly referred to in the context of Ted and Robin: Both showed up with the same expensive stroller, but Robin arrived hours early while Ted came after it was long over. (Fine for the story line, but a little shitty as far as friends go.) Grandma Lois, who once unwittingly presented Lily with a dildo at her wedding shower, returned, only to get an earful from a defensive Barney about Quinn’s line of work. The writers haven’t invested much in actress Becki Newton’s character — she seems consistently amused by Barney’s discomfort, which itself is a sudden turnabout. Only a few episodes ago, the pair preemptively pranked his friends for being so judgmental about her profession. Now she’s referred to casually as “Barney’s new stripper girl.”

Barney wanted condolence high fives for his woes; Ted maintained that condolence high fives were not a thing, but if they were, he deserved them. Too much time has been spent this season on getting Ted over Robin and not enough time explaining why Ted was once again in love with her. If his recovery was going to be this painful, they should have at least officially gotten back together. Instead, his feelings rushed out of nowhere, she immediately shot them down, and the collateral damage included no good group moments while Ted and Robin avoided each other (this reunion is probably being hoarded for the finale).

Barney encouraged Ted to try online dating: “What do you expect? You’re going to meet a cute travel agent when you’re reading a newspaper at a bookstore? None of those things exist anymore.” Oddly, Ted reacted as though it were a radical idea when, in the first season, he consulted a dating service! How can a show predicated on the search for the One ignore the possibilities of online dating? This, like the tattoo jokes, showed its age. Of course, Ted immediately gave it a whirl, and Barney was immediately there with bait, much like in season four when he and Marshall pretended to be Ted’s new fling in order to prevent him from confiding his feelings for her right away. This time, Barney tricked him with a picture of an ESPN anchorwoman whom he knew Ted wouldn’t recognize.

Ted met three of the women, searching for the so-called “palate cleanser.” The first WAS a Robyn, a Canadian who also liked scotch and guns, but every time he looked at her, he could only see Robin’s face. “Well, that’s good,” responded Barney. “No, our Robin, Robin with an I,” explained Ted. Barney: “Um, our Robin has two eyes, but it’s good that you’re forgetting what she looks like.” Dumb joke, but a little funny. The next woman mentioned lasagna, which reminded Ted of Robin’s botched kugel. And the third mentioned the manners of her ex, Wayne, which led to an amusing, Batman-related stream of consciousness. Each encounter involved an imaginary confrontation with Robin in which she gradually pointed out that they loved and needed each other, now more than ever. She finally talked some sense into him from the bottle of a Wharmpess Beer label (shout-out to Randy!).

Elsewhere, Quinn bumped into a couple of clients, which she treated as being more normal than it ever possibly could be, especially when one of them mentions wearing extra-thin sweatpants. When Barney tried to get her a job as an executive strategy coordinator at GNB using bailout money, Quinn said, “I don’t want to work for a bank, you people are whores!” Oh, ha-ha, get it, she doesn’t want to be caged in, except at cage night at the Lusty Leopard. Insert groans.

And Marshall and Lily fought over how to spend their remaining childless weeks. He was trying to anticipate the sleep deprivation by setting alarms every three hours and diapering a watermelon. She wanted to enjoy the freedom. In the end, she sent Marshall packing to Atlantic City by pretending it was a baby boot camp in Paramus. And here, a few of the season’s mysteries were solved. The Marshall & Steph 4-Eva T-shirt doubled as his “mad at Lily” shirt: He’d made it in high school for his girlfriend of two days and she had packed it for him. And Barney was once again wearing the ducky tie as part of a deal he struck with Marshall to get him to turn his phone off for an hour and get subtitle-needing wasted.

And of course, what should happen? Lily went into labor. It brought Robin and Ted together, or at least it looked like it would when Ted ran smack into her outside MacLaren’s. And Barney was left to manage a smoking Beercules, Marshall’s streaking alter ego whose inebriated antics have been immortalized online. With only one hour-long episode left, it’s safe to say that this season didn’t fulfill its potential. Robin’s story lines were never as sharp as Cobie Smulders deserved, and the love triangle between her, Barney, and Ted felt more gimmicky than entertaining. Still, we’ve come this far. Marshall and Lily are having a baby. Here’s to an exciting conclusion.

Photo: Richard Cartwright/CBS