An hour later in HIMYM time, and four episodes into the season, the writers are doing a pretty impressive job building a story arc for the gang in Farhampton. In the previous recap, I mentioned how disappointing it is that Marshall won’t be joining his friends for a while, but his absence was cleverly maneuvered here when the road-trip B-plot got a break so Marshpillow 2.0 could get in on the action via Skype (CBS loves this gag — see: The Good Wife — although the prematurely deceased Happy Endings beat both to the punch a few seasons ago). More great additions to the festivities: earnest Patrice, Tim Gunn, and William “Sweep the Leg, Johnny” Zabka, returning after his surprise appearance in last season’s “The Bro Mitzvah.”
From the previews, it looked like tensions were going to come to a head between Barney and Ted, though the tears we saw shed were actually for the $600 bottle of Scotch that Ted dropped. To begin, I quote Barney himself: The Bro Code is stupid. It wasn’t always so, and the writers have gotten a lot of mileage and one book out of its many rules and ridiculous ruses (the book also got some handsome product placement last night, having replaced hotel bibles and airline safety cards), but I’m officially bored by the historical callbacks and Barney’s faux-pedagogic speeches.
Luckily, the writers seemed to sense this meme fatigue, because Ted finally, finally makes what should be the final point when he asks Barney: “If you believe in the Bro Code, how come you’ve broken it so many times?” Let’s treat these characters like real people for a second: Barney slept with, dated, and plans to marry a girl that his best friend never got over. I don’t care that Ted claimed otherwise and gamely stepped aside — Barney can’t hold any “weird moments” with Robin against Ted any more than he can erase the past. And that’s more or less what Ted said, and Barney more or less relented. Sometimes it feels repetitive, but ultimately I think this is a believably recurring issue, one handled deftly last night.
On to Robin’s sister code, or lack thereof. To be honest, I’m a little bummed out by Robin’s lady hate (her irrational bile for Patrice aside). Often, when a straight girl maintains that she’s “one of the guys” or “just doesn’t get along with women,” it means she likes to be the center of attention. Also, it’s 2013 — Robin’s vice-girl love of sports and beer with cereal doesn’t make her much of an oddity, so I don’t buy her outright truculence: “[Women] are so annoying. They’re always whining and crying over every little thing.” Then again, she was raised as a boy, and other than a night out with season four’s Woo Girls and a few co-workers, Robin doesn’t have any female friends besides Lily, so the writers made a good call exploring this here. The point was raised pretty seamlessly: Ticked that Lily spent so much time on the Marshpillow, Robin needles her for not inviting anyone to the “weak-ass” bachelorette party, comparing Lily unfavorably to Ted with his thoughtfully customized playing cards and calligraphy, until Lily (still getting excellent service from Linus) breaks down and yells: “You have no girls … You hate women, and women hate you!” Robin’s character has suffered a little in later seasons, largely because it’s so hard to accept her as the marrying kind, but while I like Cobie Smulders too much to fully embrace this new dimension, it worked, and her attitude was at least redeemed by the closing note of best friendship with Lily.
So far, each episode has effectively mixed up the cast pairings: Last week, Robin and Barney dealt with their relatives while Lily counseled Ted, and this week the gang got to exchange some old-fashioned banter before guys and girls went their separate ways. (I’m as into the Marshpillow as Lily is, especially because I’m not really dying to see what Marshall and Daphne are up to.) But the big question: When will the Mother return? (An episode titled “Bass Player Wanted” is six installments away.) And the little question: What’s with all the purple?
What I liked:
— Marshall’s Skype-delayed responses, and the scene in which Lily freezes like a technical glitch in her own story, even if it made no sense.
— Lily’s jealousy when Robin hits it off with the hockey fan at the bar. In a callback to her longtime girl-crush, Lily imagines the two of them in her absence: “How about we inject a sexual edge into our abiding friendship that in no way jeopardizes our emotional connection or respective marriages?”
— Barney’s self-awareness. He punishes Ted for holding hands with Robin at the carousel by having him move rooms and redo the table cards, and briefly replacing him as best man with Billy Zabka, but he eventually owns up to being disappointed in himself for not being there when Robin needed him. (Side note: James is not even the runner-up best man? And where is Robin’s sister in all this?)
— The Wendy Davis shout-out. Yes, Robin’s putdowns were kinda mean-spirited and superficial, but let’s assume “comfortable shoes — what are you, filibustering later?” is HIMYM’s way of throwing some respect to the state senator from Texas (certainly not Ted Cruz).
— Billy Zabka’s energy. He was so animated at the poker game, to be continued next week.
— The parting Weekend at Bernie’s callback.
What I didn’t like:
— The sexist slurs. This is a long-standing complaint. With Barney, it was always understood that he was being a pig, but when the other characters refer to sluts and bitches, it can sometimes come off as crass and out of step for a show that, at its best, is so emotionally intelligent. (On a similar note: Women threatening to cut each other is a joke that needs to be retired.)