After weeks and weeks of passively coasting through this season, desperately clinging to the finale light at the end of the tunnel, another episode has appeared, as if on cue, to momentarily restore our faith in How I Met Your Mother (for the record, looking back now with a generous eye, that makes it a 6-for-22 showing). We very well could just be influenced by an unrelated bout of good spirits, but it sure felt like “Robots Versus Wrestlers” — which finds the gang threatening to come apart at the seams — flexed a bit of that old hokey-as-all-hell HIMYM magic.
We called last week’s episode “decidedly un-terrible,” and that was mostly thanks to the excitement of Robin quitting the group to send time with Don. This week, the writers impressively resisted a quick reunion (more on this later), as the gang makes plans to attend Robots Versus Wrestlers on Saturday night sans Robin. Then, when Ted stumbles onto an invitation to an uppity cocktail party, the night’s itinerary is complete.
And now, a word on Ted. Sometimes people lose points just by hanging around long enough for everyone to get sick of them. And sometimes, the exact opposite happens; which is to say that lame, grating, baby crazy Ted has, without changing an iota, somehow endeared to himself to us after all these years. Maybe it’s because we know exactly what we’re getting out of him, and we can acknowledge now that he’s a sensible, elemental part of the group’s internal relations. Or maybe it’s because, as in this episode, nearly all his annoying habits have been addressed and, summarily, mocked.
This time, it’s Ted’s highfalutin aspirations that get the takedown. Of course, like most things with this broad sitcom, it’s done in a broad sitcom kind of way. Just one representative critique: The uppity party, where Ted gets to show off all his worldly knowledge, the stuff that usually gets him fart-noised down by his friends, is not catered by surly Party Down types, but by equally as uppity old-man butlers (also on hand: Arianna Huffington, Will Shortz, Peter Bogdanovich, Michael York). And we will now immediately excuse said uppity butler because Marshall got to say this to him: “Do you have any mini-pizzas? Mini-burgers? Any food at all that will make me feel like a giant?” (Also, major points for Barney coining “douchepocalypse.”)
More important, as Ted decides to stay while the modified gang goes to Robots Versus Wrestling, we got to see actual realistic reactions: Ted trying hard to impress boring people; Barney whining about Ted; Lily and Marshall staying calm and collected. Then, the episode’s big hook: At wrestling, when a luchadore’s mask is torn off, Barney, Lily, and Marshall see the fourth doppelgänger — Mexican wrestler Ted. If you’ll recall, the doppelgänger thread was introduced in the season’s second episode, with stripper Lily (then, later, mustache Marshall and lesbian Robin through flashbacks). Here, it was artfully employed, believably dragging Ted away from the party via cell-phone photo right when he realized what a douche he was being, providing an excuse for Lily and Marshall to start trying to have a baby (when the universe reveals the fifth doppelgänger, they understatedly decide, it will be time), and earning us a heartwarming reunion at McLaren’s.
But what certainly was not earned was Robin showing up out of nowhere. Not that we need to say this out loud, but payoffs on serialized television are always better when they’re delayed, and the best shows are the ones confident enough to sow disorder without worrying their audience will turn. That right there? That was HIMYM, after turning in a solid performance, awkwardly bumping its head on its own ceiling.
The Shame Index, which also liked the episode, brings up a good point: “It was legendary, by the way, how much Dante HIMYM slipped into last night’s episode — has that much terza rima ever made its way into primetime television? The Index doubts it.”
Note: as The AV Club points out, the “name of the episode in two weeks is ‘Doppelgangers.’”