Review: 'How I Met Your Mother' - 'Symphony of Illumination': How she met your father?
A review of tonight's "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as I earn the right to put the Vikings helmet on Baby Jesus...
I should be better prepared for an episode like "Symphony of Illumination" by now. I should know that "HIMYM" is a show that will gleefully pull the rug out from under its audience - has been doing so since the end of the pilot, after all - and that anything that seems like actual information about the future, and actual advancement of the story, will eventually be revealed to be anything but.
Intellectually, I know all this. I've watched the show a long time. I know its tricks, know its strengths and (unfortunately growing number of) weaknesses. I know it's a show absolutely terrified of change when it can continue to play the kind of narrative games that were cute once upon a time and have grown steadily more annoying.
I should have been ready for the stunt the show pulled tonight in revealing that the kids Robin spent the episode addressing were just figments of her imagination.
So why did it make me angrier than anything I've seen on television since "The Killing" finale?
Here's why: because there was a genuinely good episode buried that massive pile of bullshit that the framing device turned out to be, and everyone involved with that part of the show - Cobie Smulders especially - deserves better. We deserve better.
"HIMYM" set up Robin's aversion to having kids very early on, used it as a reason to delay Ted and Robin hooking up, then as a reason for them to ultimately split and stay split. It's an ingrained part of her character, and one of the few things about her the show has managed to not screw up in recent years. I didn't like the pregnancy reveal at the end of last week's episode and all the familiar, lame soap opera twists it seemed to promise, but the idea of Robin grappling with the very large gap between "I don't want kids" and "I can't have kids" was an interesting one, and one that Smulders absolutely ran with. She was every bit as good for most of this episode as Neil Patrick Harris has been in the various episodes dealing with Barney's father, and even the material before the infertility subject came up (Robin's understandable horror at cracked, bloody nipples and Barney's dismay at what Insane Dwayne had become) was funny. For that matter, this was one of Josh Radnor's best episodes in a while, between Ted's over-the-top performance as Robin's designated comfort food provider and then his more sincere insistence that his job is to support her even when she won't tell him why she needs the support.
And yet all I can focus on is yet another stupid, completely unnecessary narrative bait-and-switch from the "HIMYM" writers. The idea that Robin and Barney would have multiple kids together may not have fit what we knew about them previously, but the show could have gotten there convincingly, and the set with the kids on the couch - complete with Barney's Stormtrooper suit in the background - suggested that here was the show finally giving us a major signal about the future, and not screwing around with us by showing us the Mother's foot or promising that we'll finally meet her at a wedding Barney will have at some unspecified future date to some unspecified woman.
What exactly was gained by doing this? How did that make the episode better? "See, folks, y'all thought Robin was going to have Barney's babies, but the joke's on you, 'cause she's as barren as Holly Hunter in 'Raising Arizona'!" I can't think of a single way the episode was improved by adding what turned out to be a completely bogus framing device, rather than just telling the entire story in the present day. If anything, I think Robin's discovery about being infertile would have hit even harder, because I wouldn't have been spending time wondering if Vicki Lewis got it wrong, under what circumstances Robin and Barney might adopt, etc.
I should be dwelling on how good Cobie was, and on what a shame it is that NPH is likely the only castmember who will ever get an Emmy nomination. I should be thinking about some funny jokes at the baby store, about a goofy but engaging Marshall B-plot, about the complete silliness of the gang fulfilling Robin's expectations of them even when she substituted pole vaulting for pregnancy. But all I can think about is how "HIMYM" is a show that just can't stop itself from being too cute for its own good.
Seriously, what was the point of that, guys? Just tell a story. You can do that. I've seen you do that. You've done it exceptionally well. You more or less did it for good chunks of this episode. Don't overthink it. Don't try to outthink us. Tell. A. Story.
What did everybody else think?