I’ve gotten rather accustomed to these post-sweeps hiatuses that linger from the end of February to mid-March, ending when CBS has its NCAA basketball platform from which to promote new episodes. The trick is how to come back from such an extended absence. It’s not generally a good idea to go big and try to hit emotional moments right off the bat. On the other hand, airing an episode that’s too tossed-off and inconsequential can make fans wonder what we waited all that time for.
“The Fortress” rests right in that sweet spot. It’s funny and snappy, directed with great pacing by long-time assistant director and occasional helmer Michael Shea and written with a terrific ear for character by Stephen Lloyd. Best of all, it doesn’t feel out of place in what’s turned out to be a great season of television. It doesn’t mark time, but it doesn’t prematurely reach for heavy significance either. Not too much plot, not too much wackiness, not too much CGI, but plenty of clever jokes and a liberal serving of Douchey Ted. Just right.
Robin broaches the subject of where they will live after the wedding and nixes Barney’s idea of staying in his apartment with its long history of sexual escapades and abundance of pervy gadgets. (When Barney explains that the bed is on rails as part of the Ho-B-Gone Sleep System that slides unwanted conquests out of the way, Robin reacts with disgust and alarm: “Where do the hos go?!”) Barney tries to pass it on to Ted via his closet-based floating Jor-El head device and best Marlon Brando impersonation (“For many years this apartment has been my fortress of Barnitude. … Soon, it will become your fortress of soli-Ted!”), but Ted turns him down and won’t even let him play with the hologram thingy (“Can you just be cool? For once? Be cool? Ted? For once? Please? Be cool?” Barney insists in a scene of virtuoso extended repetition). So Robin holds an open house at which Barney excitedly explains all the apartment’s special features, like the Heavy-Set-Go that calculates the BMI of a woman on the welcome mat, or the Room With A Screw green screen that allows Barney to trick women into thinking they’re in Paris, or at Niagara Falls, or very close to lions in Africa for some reason.
When a prospective buyer mistakes Marshall and Ted, who have brought Marvin along, for a gay couple, Marshall plays along to get back at Lily for repeatedly dashing off to check out some artwork for the Captain. These leads to a hilariously choreographed scene where Marshal loudly condemns Lily for being anti-gay (“I didn’t—I voted for—” she sputters), garnering applause from the other guests, while Ted interjects in a British accent. Because, you see, Lily’s greatest crime is never being around when Marshall and Ted want to watch Woodsworthy Manor, a Downton Abbey-esque drama where chimney sweeps are framed for stealing Lord Stoutshire’s gooseberries and the Dowager Countess never approves. Ted adopts the character of Emsbury Postlethwait, a handsome cricket player who secretly hates his life and has to improvise when a woman at the open house pointedly wishes he were straight because if he were, “I’d be all over you.” (“Huh!” Ted muses.)
Not much of consequence happens. Barney decides to give up the Fortress of Solitude because he doesn’t want to be alone anymore (and because “the Superman films are uneven”). Robin drives away the buyers who are planning to gut the apartment because they don’t appreciate the touches that make it uniquely Barney, even if those touches are super-skeevy; she realizes she accepts and appreciates “even the grossest, creepiest, most sociopathic parts of you” (“Sounds like somebody just wrote her vows,” Barney points out). And when the Captain calls Lily to investigate a zebra photographer (“Ironically, he’s great with color”), she tells him she needs time off to spend with her husband. Equilibrium restored, no material progress made toward the end of the season.
But that’s exactly what we need coming out of a hiatus. Nothing frantic, nothing momentous. A reminder that these characters are fun to be around, and that stuff is about to happen to them that we care about but not right this second. Just a solid episode in a solid season. HIMYM is cruising right now, and before we get too worked up about the twists and turns of the last few episodes of season eight, we should all take time to enjoy the view.
- In flashback, Barney reveals a particularly wonderful sex ploy: State-certified orgasmologist (“I just have to log tonight’s orgasms with the licensing board,” he says as he heads for the Ho-B-Gone switch).
- The terrific punchline at the end of the cold open (Barney, musing about where they could live where he hasn’t banged anyone, jokes “How do you feel about Cleveland?” before doubling back: “Nope, Ted’s mom”) is also a Tootsie reference.
- This is a showcase for stellar, robust comedy by the male members of the ensemble, with Harris, Segel, and Radnor all getting juicy parts to play and all leaving the scenary largely unchewed while still getting big laughs.
- Lily appears in increasingly artsy outfits throughout the episode, winding up in a feathered chapeau and cape at the open house. When she comes back to the apartment after an opening in huge round glasses, she complains, “I ate a ton of caviar, but it didn’t soak up any of the champagne.” “Mondays, right?” sympathizes Ted.
- Wendy’s really did have a Spicy Baconator at one point last year, and judging by the product placement, I presume they soon will again.
- “I am way too upset right now to point out how many women have seen some beautiful woodwork in there.”