It’s pretty obvious the writers tried to wow us with a one-two punch midway through last night’s “Platonish.” Within seconds, we got both Bryan Cranston reprising his role as tyrannical architect Hammond Druthers for the first time since Breaking Bad AND a surprise Mother run-in. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by both. After CBS piggybacked on the AMC series’ success by promoting this episode with a corny Breaking Ted logo, all we really got from Cranston was a callback to the Pete Rose baseball and Ted’s Chicago offer (albeit with a few amusing references to Cranston’s Emmy-winning mastermind). And, I hate to say it, but I found the Mother kind of annoying.
In the first official flashback episode, Future Ted ends up telling a story that unfolded about six months prior. We join the gang in medias res at MacLaren’s, where Robin and Ted are saluting “major craving-for-a-mojito.” Lily scolds Ted for what she sees as him falling for Robin all over again, which is a little naggy, since friends are allowed to have in-jokes, and Ted and Robin already made peace by sharing this joke in the aftermath of their breakup. Barney joins them to posit: “Ted and Robin are not platonic, just like me and Robin are not platonic ... Two people are only ever platonic if within the next twenty minutes there is no chance of them ever hooking up.”
A solid premise, and from there, it’s sort of a race against the clock, except Barney and Ted don’t realize they’re both speeding toward the same finish line: pursuing Robin. This love triangle is so worn down it’s practically a circle now, and all we can do is watch the characters run around it. But technically, the writers were showing us how close Ted came to maybe successfully dating Robin again, and presumably the reason we didn’t see all this back in season eight, during the autumn of breakups, is because Ted only learns that he and Barney were neck-and-neck when the story of the diapers and samosas comes out. Does that make sense? I’m honestly not sure. Ted gave them his blessing to get engaged like a month or two after these events, so something’s not quite adding up.
Anyway, to distract from the familiarity of the setup, both guys are given their own subplot: Marshall and Ted appropriately rooted for inveterate losers, the Washington Generals, while Marshall basically reiterates every encouragement he offered Ted in season seven’s “No Pressure.” Incidentally, that was when Ted last made a plea to Robin, which concluded, in the wake of her rebuff, with him saying: “In my own crazy way, I was kinda 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.” Sure, Ted. But then the show got renewed for a ninth season, and now this eureka moment feels like the distant past, a resolution felled by a couple of olives. (Can you believe Carter Bays and Craig Thomas are thinking of doing this all over again? But, who am I kidding? I’ll probably watch.)
Meanwhile, Barney submits to a series of challenges that for once he didn’t concoct himself — scoring a girl’s number while not using the letter E (à la Gadsby), pretending to be Ryan Gosling — until he meets the Mother. Maybe I should applaud her character for being more emotionally mature than all the other nitwits Barney picked up in this episode, but I actually found her speeches a little sanctimonious. Also, why would a stranger ever tell a guy who said “target acquired” that he is “a good man”? I’m not sure any of us would go that far. Her Pollyannaish intuition (read: unnerving psychic ability) verged on manic pixie dream girl, although it makes perfect sense that Ted would end up with an MPDG. Anyway, she basically sends Barney into Robin’s arms, making Barney the One Who Cock Blocks. (No? Sorry.)
What I liked:
- Hammond Druthers, post-Heisenberg. Every time he tried to force Ted into taking the job, he, unlike the One Who Knocks, failed to fathom a remotely effective threat. I’m also tempted to read “I am going to build a tower of glass and melt you with it” as an allusion to Gus Fring’s demise, and to see Ted as the confident apprentice that Jesse never was, but that’s going a little far. This was basically a ratings bid— it looked like Cranston put in a few minutes behind a desk at a soundstage that wasn’t anywhere near the one where HIMYM is filmed, though he was generous to return at all. Also, points for the concave building that melted the aquarium across the street, since something similar happened in London.
- Barney listing Zabka after Clooney and DiCaprio. I’m onboard with this running joke, and I loved the confused look on the girl’s face.
- The callback to Marshall and Robin’s Über-platonic relationship, best established in “The Mermaid Theory.”
- Random one-liners: “Yeah, cause it’s 1994 and I’m going to pick up the phone without knowing who’s on the other end.” “Brussels sprouts are the comeback vegetable of the 21st century.” “The word for this guy is Barno.”
What I didn’t like:
- Olives? Really? That’s reaching for what qualifies as a sign from the universe.
- The Mother and Barney’s meeting. Clearly, the writers have a plan for how each character meets the mom, and I don’t know why this one had to be so far-fetched. “Do you want to keep playing the game, or do you wanna win?” she asks Barney. Great question. But it means she’s essentially the reason that Barney and Robin end up engaged, and I don’t know if I believe in a world that small. Also, advising him to give his relationship with Robin “all of [his] time, all of [his] attention, all of [his] resources”? Total Tedesque advice, but in this context, loony and stalkerish.