Episode 12 - Symphony of Illumination
6 December 2011
Synopsis: Barney is pleased to hear that Robin might be pregnant because he can now be a dad. Marshall is enjoying the thought of Fatherhood too as he sets up Christmas lights on his new Long Island home with the help of a neighbours' son Scott. Barney soon changes his mind and he and Robin are thrilled to hear that she isn't pregnant. However Robin also learns that she can't have children and decides not to share the news with the rest of the gang.
The Good: This was a surprisingly memorable and effective episode.
The focus on Robin really aloud her character to get the kind of attention she has been missing for many a season. Part of what made her story so good was that it didn't reach a conclusion. By not telling her friends what was really going on and suffering in silence Robin's inability to have children was actually far more touching and certainly felt more real than the majority of HIMYM storylines.
The use of the future storytelling device worked beautifully as misdirection. Although I wasn't sure whether what we were seeing was true I did follow the narrative as if Robin really did have children with Barney. By pulling that rug out at the end of the episode it suddenly gave the sadness she was feeling a greater sense of permanence and consequence. Instead of a twist which ended her sadness, it underlined it which was clever writing.
I also thought the actual ending with Ted trying to cheer her up was good too. I think if the episode had ended on a sad note it would have felt like a cliff hanger. My assumption then would have been that next episode there might be follow up that would provide the happy ending. Instead we got the happy ending of Ted's comfort which neatly gave her story some warmth without removing the sadness at its core. Perhaps it goes without saying that Ted being a lovely friend was nice to see as well.
Ted and particularly Robin nailed the dramatic acting as they always have. It's their skill at being serious that irks me so much when they constantly have to deliver jokes that have no basis in reality. See the "Comic Highlight" for a perfect example of how to write an entirely reality based joke that works. The writers did well to give Barney an episode last week where he was all baby crazy so that his reaction here seemed fitting and yet took Robin by surprise.
The Marshall plot also worked out nicely. Again it felt a bit different to what the show usually does as Marshall was static for the episode instead of jumping about in time and space as most plots do. It fit Marshall ideally to both want to do something suburban for Christmas (now that he has the house) and to take joy in playing a Dad. Scott was a little cartoony at times but his manipulation of Marshall made sense and allowed for the really fun idea that he would text Lily asking to see her boobs and she would see it as a sign of her husband's evergreen affection for her.
The Bad: The way Barney fell out of love with the idea of being a father was dull and predictable. I wasn't very pleased to see him joke around with Robin after things were "back to normal" as if he wasn't still in to her but I suppose that was his brave face. I did wonder where Kevin was during all this. I also wondered how on earth Ted became so proficient at arranging Christmas lights but I will let that one go.
I actually liked Robin's imagination of how each of her friends would react to her news. What annoyed me was that the writers then had each character react in the same exaggerated manner when Robin lied and said she wouldn't be able to pole vault at the Olympic level. For a start the reactions she imagined were exaggerations for comic effect. By having the characters literally react that frenetically in real life ruined the scene for me because none of them would respond in exactly that way. But worse than that why would any of them believe Robin was genuinely upset about not making an Olympic team? A few scenes later Lily clearly knows that that isn't something Robin was ever really interested in, nor at 30 something years old should any of them believed she meant a word of it. I hope readers can see why jokes like that irritate me so much. I can easily understand how another viewer would shrug and ignore a bit of silly scripting but for me it slaps me across the face with its nonsense saying "Hey! You are watching a TV show, stop suspending your disbelief and remember how we don't understand how comedy works." Oh and please stop asking Alyson Hannigan to cry, it's one of the least convincing sights on TV.
Comic Highlight: Ted, Lily and Barney begin theorising on why Robin is so upset. Ted suggests that maybe Kevin cheated on her. Lily immediately responds "No way, Kevin's an honest decent guy who never on his best day could pull a hotter chick than Robin." I thought that was really funny as it came initially from a friendly place and then slipped unbeknownst into judgmental.
How I rate your episode: It's not often that an episode of How I Met Your Mother is memorable. The stories all tend to blend into one because of all the monkeying around with the narrative that the writers do. However this was and it told a genuinely emotive story in a straightforward and convincing way. To give the writers some extra credit I do get the sense that each of the main characters is on a journey this season. They are all moving toward marriage and children at different paces but the continuity is better than it has been the past few seasons.
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