What an awkward episode. “Romeward Bound” was misleading in its questionably spoilerific title — a move to Italy for Marshall and Lily doesn’t fit the plot of the ninth season, but it still gave away the night’s conclusion in what was a clumsily executed, finale-nearing installment. How could we believe that Lily would refuse a job on the basis of a quick trip to MacLaren’s, without even speaking to her husband? And how can we accept that Marshall has been goofing off for months at his law firm, where there have been massive layoffs, without telling his wife that his livelihood was possibly in jeopardy (clever lies notwithstanding)? Both of these developments would have warranted entire arcs of their own, but since obviously neither was thoroughly considered, HIMYM settled for an implausibly neat resolution. Lily’s going to follow the Captain to Rome as an art consultant after all — or at least for the time being.
Initially, the B plot was just as problematic. Barney can’t curb his horniness, and hanging out at the bar is nothing but a waste of time now that he can’t freely ogle women … until Ted tempts him with a blonde whose body is Ghost Protocol/Nazi-face-melting worthy. Yeah, it was a confusing mix of pop-culture references, ones designed to cover for the fact that nothing was at stake beyond seeing a hot girl’s boobs. The only reason this ended up working was the resulting beef-potential: Did anyone else feel gratified by the tense interaction between Ted and Barney following Ted’s admonition that his friend be attentive to Robin’s feelings?
Ted has taken Barney and Robin’s engagement very well considering that he isn’t truly over her (and I, like Marshall, have never been able to surrender hope that they will end up together, even though it flies in the face of all logic. I know, I know, this is a hopelessly romantic notion, and it was clear it wasn’t going to happen after literally — correct use of the word — the first episode). But Barney hasn’t been terribly sensitive in this department. At times, he’s acknowledged Ted’s feelings, and his marriage proposal even hinged on Ted’s acceptance, because Robin wouldn’t have gone to the top of the WWN building if Ted hadn’t encouraged her to do so. But, for the audience at least, it’s always been the elephant in the room: How does their friendship carry on so seamlessly with this gut-wrenching turn of events at its center?
So for most of this episode, I rolled my eyes as Barney continued to literally salivate at the prospect of seeing Ted’s yoga buddy/Barney and Robin’s wedding planner remove her bulky winter coat. At the very least, this seemed like a huge flaw given that April in New York is often chilly, but not Puffington-levels of cold (Puffington being the preferred, sleeping-bag-style coat of East Coast winters). Robin proved herself cool, especially to Barney, by being equally interested in Liddy’s assets, but his attitude still sucked. He certainly didn’t behave like someone who was about to marry the girl of his dreams, and when Ted gently reminded him of this, he responded: “But you’re not getting married in three weeks, Ted. I am. Robin’s marrying me, not you.” Whoa. This is pretty much the meanest thing Barney could possibly say, and that Ted was able to stand down and gracefully buy the next round of drinks was just the latest example of his impossible restraint (and, to me, it proves why he is the more worthy suitor). It’s too bad this incident comes just episodes away from the season finale, because Barney’s capacity for being a total dick is worth exploring, although it’s very far from funny.
What I liked:
- The overuse of the word literally. Ted announced this pet peeve in “Spoiler Alert,” one of the show’s best episodes ever. At the time, his criticism was directed toward Robin, but here Barney objected to it as well.
- Marshall’s limited Italian. He dropped the college course because it conflicted with being perpetually stoned, but he still knew how to say, “Come on, bro, don’t Bogart the Funyuns” in a meaningful way, and Jason Segel’s inflections were perfect. The shout-outs to Fellini and The Godfather were pretty solid, too.
- The Captain’s nautical language. His insistence on being greeted with “ahoy” and “permission to come aboard” worked only in lieu of his failure to understand “the ship has sailed.”
- Lily’s fear of change. At her age, a year is nothing, really. When you’re 6, or even 26, twelve months seems like a long time — it’s a larger fraction of your life — but Lily knows better. She should jump at the opportunity to live in Italy. Yet her hesitation made sense. I’ve loved this show in part because I’m the same age as the characters, and many of their life decisions mirror mine. Moving out of New York is one of them, and her grasping at straws — especially the hassle of passport photos and “New York in August” — felt right-on. Free cheese is always a good incentive, but it’s tough to weigh against the short line at Shake Shack.
- The send-up of Ted’s romanticism. When he started on that speech about the bewitching little details that make you fall in love with someone — the freckles, the lilt of a laugh — it seemed like another example of his stupid smitten-ness, except that it was such an obvious setup for a punch line (i.e., Liddy’s “redonkulous” body).
What I didn’t like:
- Barney’s depiction of marriage: “There is one set of balls she can’t tie up with a necktie and lightly hit with a Ping-Pong paddle.” He means his eyes, of course, but ugh, it’s still not clear why he’s getting married. The writers just can’t seem to marry, if you will, the character as he was originally created with their eighth-season iteration.
- Robin’s lack of reaction to Lily’s unemployment. The bar has become just another set piece, and this never seemed more obvious than when Lily rotated out of the gang to go tell Marshall about her job loss, which Robin heard about and still sat down as if nothing had happened. It was a weak moment; the separate plots were conspicuously divergent.
- The repeated philistine jokes. Last night, Lily was worried that she would mistake an artist’s pasta spill for a major painting. This is becoming a go-to laugh that just plays into the Two and a Half Men audience. It wouldn’t be objectionable if episodes like this one weren’t also an insult to our intelligence.