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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

How I Met Your Mother: "Challenge Accepted"

Illustration for article titled How I Met Your Mother: "Challenge Accepted"
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So the Arcadian goes up in a cloud of terrible cheap CGI, and the season is over. Or maybe I should start over: So Lily’s pregnancy test comes up positive, and the season is over. The juxtaposition of those two images—the successful conception of a new life, and the destruction of an old building—is apt for a finale that embraces a lot of the oddness of this season and tries to find productive ways to build on the paradoxes. Let’s take apart some of those conflicting maxims.

“New is always better.” Barney asserts this while assuring Ted that demolishing the Arcadian is the right thing to do, claiming that it’s “my oldest rule, which makes it the best.” It’s the problem I raised last week, here personified as Chi McBride the construction foreman, who calls Ted “Hot Shot” and oozes skepticism about whether he’s really up to the challenge of adding a skyscraper to the New York skyline. Ted later channels skepticism from this and other comment sections when he confesses to a failure of confidence because “I only got this job because you gave it to me, Barney; I didn’t earn it.” Much like his job teaching at Columbia, one might add.  Yes, these are just conveniences to move a sitcom masterplot along. What I’ve always appreciated about HIMYM, though, is that the writers don’t leave it at that but let the consequences seep back into the show’s consciousness. That’s important in a show about growing up.

“Sentimental saps who panic and get back together.” The best comic moments in a night that was never going to be about huge yucks—not when we’ve got threads to pull together, dammit!—were the portrayals of Ted calling old girlfriends at the drop of a hat. Out of whipped cream? Nobody to put Solarcaine on your sunburned back? Story about pregnant pandas on the TV news? Time to see which of your exes will meet for coffee. I especially liked Ted going back for the pink lady-slipper orchid after confidently thanking Julia, his orchid supplier, for the perfect specimen. 
But when Robin and Barney discuss the foolishness of this behavior in Ranjit’s town car, it’s not Ted and Zoey they’re talking about, but themselves. They were horrible for each other, but… “Ted really did love Zoey for a minute there, didn’t he?” Robin asks hopefully, and Barney confirms it.

“You can’t run back to the past because it’s familiar.” So Robin claims while warning Ted that he’s about to try to resurrect his relationship with Zoey because he’s freaking out over a light bulb. (“I’m freaking out over fifty thousand light bulbs!” Ted corrects her, quite rightly.) And the next moment, when Barney sees Nora, Robin’s the first to push him in that direction—not back to what the two of them briefly had, but onward to something that Barney could have taken much farther.

“It’s never too late.” So says Nora when Barney comments that he thought it was too late for sundresses. (Is it September in this scenario somehow?) Barney takes it as an invitation to try to fix what he thought was unfixable with Nora. “Challenge accepted,” he proclaims, but Robin is wondering whether it should apply to her and Barney instead.

So the future wedding is revealed, and it’s Barney’s, as some of you had long suspected—but Nora, Robin, or none of the above? That’s not the real question, intriguing as it is. It’s what happens between now and then to turn Barney into the marrying kind. And secondarily, whether his nervousness about his tie portends that he’s making the right or wrong decision.


There was a lot riding on this season finale. Although I know many of you don’t agree, I almost always prefer interesting questions to settled answers, so the way “Challenge Accepted” tries to distill the season’s bizarre twists and turns into existential choices works fine for me as a temporary exit strategy. It may not have been earth-shattering, but it doesn’t need to end anything. In fact, its job was to provide enough fodder to keep things going for another two years, and at that admittedly quixotic task, I think it succeeded.

Most satisfyingly, though, and most likely to be overlooked, is the way the whole lengthy Zoey arc gets recast as a question of whether you can really tell when a door is closed. Her unsuitability for long-term romance is clear from her circumstances— jobless, rootless, living with two 20-something drug-dealer roommates—yet still she ends up looking attractive to Ted just because she’s at a scale he knows how to deal with, unlike the unfathomable hugeness of the building he now has to build. There’s a finality to both of those juxtaposed moments, in other words, the positive pregnancy test and the imploded building. No going back. Into the unknown we plunge. “Challenge Accepted” concedes that it’s natural to be scared at that prospect, even if there’s a future out there, waiting and complete at the end of the story being told.


Stray observations:

  • Marshall’s three-hour window before the soup food-poisoning hits even fits into the theme. He knows his future, you see (or thinks he does). “A man can do a lot of living in three hours,” he muses and scarfs a jalepeno popper.
  • Come to think of it, there’s another maxim I could have listed: “Get sick get a free gallon of soup.” That’s deep.
  • I hope we’ll see a lot more of Marshall’s new boss (?) played by the great Dave Foley, who has made quite a nice career out of recurring TV guest shots in the last several years.  His relish in describing—and narrating a slideshow of—disgusting environmental devastation is the kind of thing he does really well (“Let me show you some of the gut-wrenching environmental atrocities we are working to stop”).
  • Marshall had to print off replacement resumes because he misspelled the phrase “detail-oriented.”
  • They almost got me on that “and that’s how I met your mother” gag.  My brain was racing to find a way to reconcile another blonde with that revelation.
  • “Do you know how many people it takes to replace 50,000 light bulbs?” Ted sputters. “Are they Irish, Polish, blondes? What are we talking about here?” asks Barney.
  • “Neither of you is good at pressing or even finding the button.”
  • “Ten minutes ago, I was knee-deep in liquified human feces. And that was just on the F train!”
  • “Ted can really go on about a bitch.”