If you are one of those HIMYM viewers who thinks all the Barney-Robin back-and-forth this season is a waste of time, you might want to stop reading right now and go post your angry screed in the comments. Because it’s not about getting the two together so that we can have the wedding so that Ted can meet the mother and finally we can get on with our lives. The journey is the reward. And here’s a big part of the journey: recognizing that just because something is, that doesn’t mean it’s right. Having the courage to change when you know you should, even when that change is difficult.
I was moved by Barney’s courage in facing up to that reality. For him the cost was confirming Nora’s opinion of him, the opinion he had worked so hard to turn around, and losing something that was working just fine. And then when Robin didn’t have that same courage, my heart was broken. We’ve all been there, on one side or the other, the one who couldn’t convince the other person to do what you knew they should, or the one that couldn’t take the leap. It feels like being the victim of bad timing, in an area of life when timing isn’t supposed to matter because it’s about forever and ever after.
The Groovapalooza plot was about timing, too, though in a far goofier way. Ted and Marshall are worried that their youth is passing them by, that Lily’s pregnancy means their irresponsible sandwich-eating, concert-going days are long gone, and that in the blink of an eye they’ll be old. In two steak-submarine-lengthened minutes, they undergo what feels like hours of wandering around the arena corridors looking for nachos, standing in line mistakenly for the women’s restroom, and being terrorized by a guitarist in black. I like the sandwich joke, generally (especially when it’s underplayed, like with the concertgoers behind our heroes passing a sandwich back and forth), but watching people pretend to be high isn’t my idea of awesome television. I did laugh when it turned out that “It’s a sign, bro!” uttered by a friendly passerby actually referred to the guitarist standee rather than to the nachos that Ted believed the guitarist had just given him. And also when Long-Goatee Guy agrees with Lily’s estimation that not being able to get nachos means she can’t trust Marshall as a father: “You can’t, bro; you can’t!”
But the life lesson of time with friends being more important that the endless slippage of time into the future pales in comparison to the experience of time in Barney and Robin’s story. At first they believe they can last the three-hour Sandy Rivers celebratory booze cruise (“Magnanimously, Sandy Rivers” as the banner proclaims) without revealing that they just cheated on their respective girlfriend and boyfriend. Then, unable to stand it anymore, they resolve to tell, only to have sudden emergencies ruin their chances (Kevin: Coconut-jalepeno vodka in the eyes; Nora: tiny spot of wine on her sleeve). Then they agree that the right time is after the cruise, only to be foiled by Nora’s parents arriving on the one hand, and Kevin breaking out the “I love you” on the other.
Kevin should know better. It’s always a folly to try pulling someone along into a relationship when it’s clear you love them more than they love you. He talks a good game about helping Robin to see herself the way he sees her, as funny and beautiful rather than a mess, but in the end their emotional connection is lopsided. She wants to believe in his vision, but wishing things were different is no basis for lasting commitment.
But it’s Barney’s emotions I recognize most, and which resonate with the most pathos. Being the one who takes the chance of honesty and the risk of going out on a limb, only to be find you’re all alone: That’s awful, and admirable. What concerns me is that the awful will outweigh the admirable. Will it hurt so much to pick up those rose petals and blow out those candles that Barney will give up? He’s come a long way toward caring about being the kind of man someone could love. Can he maintain the belief that it’s all worth it, even when you’re turned down?
- That’s Crooked Fingers’ “Heavy Hours” in the background of that devastating final scene (in which Ted finds out about Robin and Barney just as Robin-and-Barney ceases to be a going concern).
- Ted is excited about Groovapalooza because it’s “all the smug hippie bands from the '90s in one big concert. Even the tickets smell like cloves and mediocrity.”
- Marshall decides to eat the “mar… inated steak sub” because Ted tells him he’s not getting his 60 bucks back.
- During the brief period where Robin and Barney intended to bluff their way past their sexual lapse, Barney’s plan included “destroy the tape of us doing it,” to which Robin interjects, “There’s a tape of us doing it?”
- The song to which the couples dance on the boat includes the lyrics “you’re like scum on the edge of a toilet bowl/what the hell is in the place where you should have a soul?” and is directed at “yes, you in the suit.”
- Barney gets almost all the good moments in this one: “And I thought we’d be cuckold!” “Suits, laser tag, I say wait for it a lot.” “What if it’s actually the story of how we got back together?”
- “Who cares about nachos?” Ted demands angrily. From the background: “I do!” and “I love nachos, man!”