I take it all back.
Actually, I don’t have anything to take back. Last week I made some critical observations about the downside of this three-day-weekend, hour-by-hour season. I didn’t even think that the episode itself last week was all that problematic—just ordinary, with some of the seams showing. A little threadbare in the context of the season-long arc, which is bound to have its ups and downs. And then some of us looked ahead to the synopsis for this week’s episode (usually a mistake), and scoffed. A week devoted to Robin and Loretta butting heads over scrambled eggs? Sounds like a textbook illustration of the pacing and vamping problems I discussed in last week’s recap.
Listen, folks. This is episodic television. It has a premise, and it has momentum, and that’s what makes us think we can discern where it’s going. But at its best, it also has some terrifically creative people behind it. Our guesses and trendspotting and insta-reactions can lead us in the wrong direction. That’s only a problem if we get so attached to the narrative of our responses that we forget to be open to what actually transpires. But we should remember to be appropriately delighted and a little bit humbled when it turns out that nothing is really fundamentally wrong, and that many moments yet to come will probably be truly great.
“The Lighthouse” is like a fresh start, and maybe that makes sense; we’ve jumped forward in time several hours, skipping the overnight, starting a new day. Everyone is still dealing with the consequences of the previous evening: Ted needs a date for the romantic lighthouse and has no one to turn to but “you chose… poorly” Cassie; Lily is so furious about Marshall’s judgeship revelation that she shatters drink glasses if anyone mentions courts, judges, or gravel (sounds too much like gavel); Marshall and Daphne are feuding over control of their road trip; and Robin is milking her victory over Barney’s mom by wearing the sequined shirt and insulting her cooking.
And with the return of “Thank you, Linus,” all the promising features of the first couple of episodes of the season seem to be back. Ted’s despair over his romantic prospects hit a new low as he contemplates settling for a girl who happens to be there rather than holding out for his dream, and he’s forced to confront the bleakness of this approach when the clerk won’t let him visit the lighthouse without a date and Lily blasts him for holding Cassie to the unreachable Mosby standard. (It would be nice if she shared his love for coins, so he wouldn’t have to go stag to CoinCon, but that’s the kind of thing Lily won’t stand for: “Take this normal size chick up to the lighthouse and fall in love with her and quit bothering us with your dumb love life stuff.”) And it’s not like the universe was telling Ted they shouldn’t be together, unless you count her slipping on that toy car the kid left on the stairs last episode and having to be carried all the way up the lighthouse stairs. Oh, and her favorite music is “nothing.”
The way everyone pitches in to the Robin-Loretta conflict is equally inspiring. When Robin claims her mom makes the best scrambled eggs, Barney reveals that Loretta’s groupie-era eggs were legends of the Madison Square Garden loading dock. (Such songs as “(Sc)ramble On” and “The Yolker” were originally written about her eggs.) When she commandeers the omelet station for a demonstration, the result sends Barney back to the day he peed himself in front of the three hundred Weebelos at the Pinewood Derby finals in Wheeling, West Virginia, and Lily proclaims the eggs even more delicious than finding out Barney once peed himself at the Pinewood Derby in Wheeling, West Virginia. The rest of the hotel guests demand their own servings with an energetic chat of “Eggs! Eggs! Eggs!” and the waiter announces a scramble-off to the death and rushes out to watch for the cops.
Even Marshall and Daphne’s storyline gets an infusion of energy from the return of Ted’s stepfather Clint, who demands that the two feuding carmates submit to some conflict resolution through song (“Gonna make a deeper understanding through mediation! Gonna end this conflict between Marshall and his mistress!”). Marshall and Daphne find common ground in their hatred of his interference, and Daphne finally tells Marshall that he needs to stop worrying about making everything work for other people and start taking care of himself. Meaning he gets to choose the music: “500 Miles” by the Proclaimers, of course. “I hate this song,” Daphne whines; “Give it time,” Marshall demands.
And nothing is wasted. Robin’s inability to cook eggs leads to Loretta finding out that she’s not getting any grandchildren from her new daughter-in-law. We flash back to Barney spontaneously, compassionately embracing Robin a year ago when she mentioned she couldn’t have kids. Robin finds out that her mom, about whom the gang has been hoarding the few facts Robin has let slip in eight years, isn’t coming to the wedding. Barney’s explanation to Loretta leads to Robin getting that same hug from her new mom, and accepting that she needs that support more than she needs a rival for Barney’s affection. And Ted’s horrible trip to the lighthouse with Cassie, mourning that the beautiful vista is wasted on a moment with the wrong girl, leads to a flash-forward to two years later when Ted brings the Mother back there to propose.
After the season premiere, I applauded the innovative and beautiful idea of having Ted’s friends fall in love with the Mother before he does. “The Lighthouse” reveals another dimension to the Mother’s presence this season: We’re probably going to get the key moments in their life together, parceled out as flash-forwards, while the future and past converge on the series-ending meeting. That’s something I never would have pictured, certainly not in the beautiful form that this episode reveals and foreshadows. It’s great to be reminded that this season is going to build to something that is almost sure to move me deeply and that it’s vanishingly rare to be able to look forward to something like that from a sitcom. Up or down, slow or fast, stumble or soar, I’m just happy to be a fan as this pretty remarkable ride nears its conclusion.
- In Ted’s mind, the highway into Cleveland is graced with the sign “Welcome To Cleveland, Birthplace of Ted Mosby.”
- Clint is an “almost-graduate” of the conflict management program “over at Tri-C” (Cleveland Community College?) who frequently hears such criticisms at the workplace as “You still have to wear pants on casual Friday, Clint!” and “We didn’t hire you, Clint!” One of his favorite games is “When you/I feel,” as in “When you don’t do trust falls, I feel like you should do trust falls, so just do the damn trust falls!” He is determined to resolve the conflict between Marshall and Daphne: “I will not go back to coaching the Browns!”
- What we know about Robin’s mom: terrified of flying, got stung by a jellyfish, makes the best scrambled eggs, drives a pickup truck, takes baths, may be too fat for conventional bathtub, won’t be at her daughter’s wedding.
- Beautiful wardrobe on Alyson Hannigan in this episode; that gray dress is a stunner. Makes you realize how frumpily she’s been dressed for so long.
- Robin means more to Barney than kids or his career or the Lamborguzzi (patent pending).
- “His best friend was a balloon.”