Of all the supporting characters on this show, the one whose developmental arc means the most to me is Barney. I’m endlessly fascinated by Barney as a sitcom type, as a direct challenge to that type, and as a performance by Neil Patrick Harris. Tonight, we saw the end of that arc, and while it wasn’t particularly clever or artful, its simplicity—the straightforward way it presented the facts and looked the past in the eye—was affecting enough.
In the last couple of seasons, as the determination of the creative team to make Barney over into a suitable (see what I did there?) husband for Robin became apparent, there’s been a lot of discussion about whether it’s credible or even ethical. The show has had a lot of fun with Barney the heartless player, and Harris has clearly had a blast playing such a effusive and unapologetic sexist pig. Like so many catchphrase-spewing breakout characters before him, Barney became the promotional face of the show very quickly.
But it seems to me that the creative team never completely lost sight of Barney the person—conflicted, desperate, afraid—underneath the antics. They kept his friends nearby to call him on his worst excesses, or sometimes to participate in them and learn thereby who they really are, or want to be. They prompted his friends to indulge him, forgive him, or chastise him as the situation warranted. Friends like Barney make for the best stories, but let a decade go by, and those Barney types, if they don’t change, become sad reminders of how empty all those stories would be without a safe, secure place to tell them from.
Mostly I’m just a sucker for the way Harris plays the new Barney, the one that fulfilled his player destiny and changed it completely at the same time with “The Robin.” He stands straight, looks you in the eye, and throws it straight down the center of the lane with no spin. It’s so nakedly trustworthy. Even though, as Robin says in this episode, he got there through lies upon lies upon lies (“The man’s initials are B.S.!”), when he says something now, there’s no holding back, no scam, no play—which means he’s vulnerable, while at the same time remaining utterly confident in his success. It’s a combination Harris plays by just divesting himself of all of Barney’s calculated charming tics, and revealing what’s underneath. Which is the mother lode of charm from whence all of those tricks and schemes once drew their power.
So tonight, we have the necessary business of Robin getting cold feet because the locket’s never turned up, and Ted giving Barney the locket to give to her in order to prove Barney’s bona fides as the man who’s everything she wants, and Robin seeing through it all and wondering if Ted might be the real man she can count on. Ted’s speech about love being nonsensical, at one level, is an apology for the justified objections that many observers have raised against this romance. Why should Barney, whose list of crimes makes him an objectively horrible person, get to command her love, when someone who really loves her is right there? It may sound like a copout, but I have to say that Ted is right.
Years ago, I remember Harper’s Magazine posting a pros-and-cons list that was found in a airplane seat pocket: two women’s names at the top, each with their benefits and drawbacks ticked off. Under one woman’s pro side was “I love her,” balanced on the other side by the other woman’s love of sports. It’s funny because we all know that “I love her” or “I love him” isn’t just one item on a list, able to be outweighed by enough shared interests or levels of hotness. It’s the only thing. From outside, it makes no sense, but if the characters in the middle of these loves treat it as senseless, they’re missing the entire point.
Even Marshall and Lily’s botched original wedding vows plotline, which plays in the first few acts like a watered-down coffee break from the real stuff that needs to be happening right before the big wedding (I mean c’mon!) turns out to give Barney his very best moment. “Their biggest problem is that Marshall didn’t tell Lily the truth,” he points out, before vowing to always be honest with Robin, removing her last sensible objection, and completing his transformation right before her eyes, and ours.
Future Ted’s narration leads us to next week’s goodbyes with just the right tone: “It was a twisting, turning road that led to the end of the aisle.” He could say the same for the nine seasons of this show. It certainly hasn’t been perfect; nothing like this can be. But I’ll forgive it any past fault if the creators look these characters in the eye next week and love them with everything that they’ve got. Because that will mean they love us, too, in the best way. Not giving us what we demand, but giving us the best thing they do.
- A few commenters noticed that print of “The Last Supper” behind hyperventilating Barney in the promos for this episode and took it to mean betrayal was in the offing. Well, when Ted left Robin and pulled the locket out, a print of Jesus as the good shepherd was behind him. Meaning: The church where the wedding is being held decorates with a bunch of cheesy religious paintings.
- One of Barney’s rejected vows promises that he will love Robin forever “unless you pudge out, in which case I’m a Barney-shaped hole in the wall.”
- Ted’s funniest moment: He has a whole story prepared for how Barney found the locket (metal detector, found in a pigeon nest, wrestled it away from four baby birds, “and here’s where the story gets bittersweet:” mama pigeon got hit by a car, Barney returns every day to feed the four babies), but forgets to share it with Barney.
- Marshall and Lily’s updated vows: Stop shouting stuff at you when you’re dumping out (M), stop pointing out dog erections (M), tell you when you’ve got green stuff in your teeth (L), hug you even when you are covered with vomit from any source (M), stop getting so angry when you interrupt me (L), stop interrupting you (M), stop petitioning Paul McCartney to record “Chicken Pot Pie” to the tune of “Live And Let Die” (M), cry less during this pregnancy (L), cry less during this Vikings season (M).
- The Mother knows that the bride is always right, and that the bride isn’t totally okay because she’s a bit of a detective.
- Marshall’s wedding gift to Barney: the final slap. He’s free!
- Ring bear! (But nix the flower gorilla.)
- “You’ve never looked more beautiful, Robin.” “Nobody asked you, Patrice.”