Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

How I Met Your Mother: "Unfinished"

Illustration for article titled How I Met Your Mother: "Unfinished"
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

HIMYM often reaches for insight into near-universal human experiences, or at least the ones that affect the thirty-something urban barflies that are its main characters.  Tonight, the condition is the search for closure.  What do we do with the relationships and the dreams that we’ve left behind, or that have left us?  It’s not as easy to let them go as the self-help cliches would have it.  When ends are left dangling, whether by our choice or against our will, it takes a long time to stop wondering what might have been.  And in its zippy, flashback-a-riffic way, “Unfinished” really gets to the heart of this issue.  Whether we’re clinging to the selves we might have been (had we taken more than one introductory karate class or played more than the one gig four years ago), repeatedly making contact with the person who closed off contact with us, or debating whether to take an unexpected second chance at a dream that got dashed the first time, we can’t just will ourselves into being okay with who were are now.

Back in season 4, Goliath National Bank decided not to employ Ted to design its new skyscraper headquarters.  Now the project is back on, but Ted’s not back on board, citing the evilness of the corporation and the pain they put him through.  Barney, though, who wants to be bro-workers with Ted again, has a plan to change that — the same plan he uses to “get the yes” from the girls he pursues.  First ignore.  Then the backhanded compliment to lower self-esteem (“I admire your loyalty to that hairstyle. You don’t care that it’s out of fashion, or that it’s been co-opted by the lesbian community…”)  Then bragging on himself in the form of a complaint (“The courtside Knicks seats that are available to all GNB employees are too close to the action — it sucks!”).  Then intense eye contact and establishing intimacy through physical contact (the latter when Ted is trying to explain cream cheese’s role as the key ingredient in jalepeno poppers).  And finally, telling Ted that the job’s been given to someone else and having Marshall back him up wingman style by confirming the story.

Robin, meanwhile, has run across Don Frank on a stray Chicago newscast from her satellite service, and has left several drunk and threatening voicemails.  Lily has the answer: Delete Don’s contact from her phone.  But it’s not that simple.  First the phone asks Robin if she’s sure she wants to delete, and she’s not sure (“I can’t lie to my phone!”).  Then Robin shows Lily and Marshall that they, too, have contacts they will never use but are hanging onto as psychological escape hatches — classic Sartrean bad faith.  And then when she does delete the contact, she finds she’s memorized the number.

We all have to ask ourselves, as we commit more or less irrevocably to versions of ourselves that lead in certain directions, whether we are finished with the past or whether we are so haunted by its unfinished quality that we have to revisit it.  “Unfinished” gives us both versions, in a coda that strikes just the right note of self-realization.  Robin forgets the number, and realizes she must be done with Don.  And Ted fulfills his professorial dream — giving a lecture that changes someone’s life — by applying his comments to the class on Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia to himself.  What was standing in the way of his fulfilling his dream was pride and fear.  So he’s back in, and GNB headquarters is back on.  It’s a step forward for both of them, even though one ties off the thread and one picks it back up.

Stray observations:

  • Marshall has two dreams in the episode: being Barney’s wingman (ruined by his announcing the role to the girl when introduced and making meaningful gestures with his head toward Barney during the ensuing conversation), and playing another gig with his all-lawyer funk band, The Funk The Whole Funk and Nothing But the Funk.  Sample lyric: “Your witness lies, so your case is sunk/I sentence you to a life of funk!”
  • The less said about Lily’s “where’s the poop?” catch phrase, the better.  I think the script overdid it with the poop, but you can’t deny that Hannigan sold it every time.
  • Should Ted work for Goliath National Bank even though they are the Empire in Star Wars?  Marshall says yes: “The Death Star’s gonna get built either way, and don’t you think the architect is pretty psyched to have that on his space resume?  Yes, his design was flawed, in the sense that a single bullet fired into a particular vent would explode the whole thing …”  Ted says not so fast: “For all we know, that was the contractor’s fault.”
  • Marshall stipulates that when Ted builds the GNB Death Star, he will make sure that there are clearly marked emergency stops in all trash compactors on the detention level.
  • In fact, what a great Marshall episode after some marginalization of the character — there’s also his vehement “Boooo!” after each time Robin comes back into contact with Don.
  • “I’ll do stuff they would never do.  Lobby stuff.”