At the dawn of a marriage, the notion of family begins to blur. Even longtime couples experience a transition when they finally tie the knot; “his” family and “her” family suddenly becomes “our” family. That ring can divide loyalties in ways a bride/groom never imagined.
Rings are the impetus for HIMYM’s latest hiccup on the road to Barney and Robin’s nuptials. James (Wayne Brady!) is starting to come apart at the seams. In the wake of his own shattered marriage, all he can feel for his brother is the panic and heartbreak he feels now being newly single, which means he’s passing not-so-subtle hints that Barney shouldn’t be getting married. And those hints are beginning to wear on Robin.
James’ divorce continues to be a complicated choice for the character. On the one hand, the new direction feels a little obvious as a point of juxtaposition for the season-long wedding, and an easy source of tension. But the show hasn’t resolved the issue with a sappy speech or a faux-heartwarming conversation between the two brothers. One of the aspects of HIMYM that makes it stand out is its willingness to let tensions remain unresolved; problems stay problems from week to week without easy solutions, and sometimes without any solution at all (RE: Ted’s enduring feelings for Robin). The divorce itself feels somewhat out of left field compared to the glimpses we’ve seen of James and Tom together in past seasons, but that doesn’t invalidate the divorce. Marital problems can be hard enough to spot when you’re in the trenches, let alone when you’re a friend or sibling on the outside. That’s the scariest part of it for Robin: she never saw the cracks in James’ relationship, which makes her wonder if she’ll see the problems coming in her own marriage.
All of that tension plays out underneath a pretty hilarious poker game. NPH works hard for some great laughs—spraying cards from his sleeves, politely pretending to listen to Lily, and coming home from Belize with a fierce tan and cornrows—but Wayne Brady brings home the biggest laugh of the night with his pouting scowl when he fetches his mother to scold Robin for taking his ring. The ensuing battle of Robin vs. Loretta was fantastic, everything you’d expect from two strong women butting heads over the man they both love equally, albeit in different ways (although Loretta shouldn’t play strip poker around Barney because it really confuses him). All Robin wants is for Barney to have her back, but Barney’s more interested in keeping the peace…at least until he hears some of the tensions that drove James and Tom apart, and realizes that maybe James was just a lousy husband. With that knowledge in hand, he overzealously falls into Robin’s camp, cutting emotional ties with his family in order to devote himself wholly to his marriage.
There’s no chance that Barney’s recounting of his scathing rebuke of James and Loretta was the whole truth. Longtime fans of the show know that whenever a story is told via flashbacks or cutaways, there’s always more to it. We can’t even be certain that Barney talked to his family at all, and could just be lying to Robin to smooth things over (and perhaps score some embarrassment sex). But whatever he really said to them, Loretta is still pissed and still ready to fight for her little boy. So until we find out the truth, it’s “game on, bitch.”
The B-plot of the episode played light and loose with continuity for a fun, if forgettable, argument between Marshall and Ted over a 6-year-overdue wedding present. Lily bounced in and out of the argument, but Marshall seemed to be the one more invested in contention, perhaps to compensate for his absence. I think I like Marshall on the phone better than via Marshpillow 2.0 because it keeps to the more familiar beats of the show’s patter (and because that pillow/iPad freaks me out), and his storyline here recalls Marshall’s teleconferencing detective work from Season 6’s “Oh Honey”: Marshall’s peeved because Ted never got them a wedding present, and Ted’s miffed because he did and never received a thank-you note. The six-year-long war of passive-aggression that follows gives the show plenty of opportunities to delve into its own continuity via flashback, culminating with some great costumes at the annual rooftop Halloween party (featuring the return of the Slutty Pumpkin!). It turns out that Stewart is the culprit all along, weaseling his name onto Ted’s gift and thereby inadvertently saving his marriage. There isn’t much weight to the storyline, and I didn’t pay it much mind, but in retrospect I think I like it better now: as the show winds down, its characters are airing all their dirty laundry, including petty crap like gifts and thank-you notes. It maintains a note of genuineness to the characters, who might still irritate each other after so many years, but who still love each other through it all.
- Gazzola’s makes its grand reappearance. Marshall tries to get Daphne to stop for a slice, summoning the same eloquence he used to describe the perfect burger from Season Four’s “The Best Burger in New York.” Too bad the rats are a deal-breaker.
- Lily’s “No Teen Wolfing Now That Marshal’s a Dad” rule is probably wise, given his penchant for jumping off roofs and his love for Evel Knievel.
- “Robin, when I said ‘be honest and say what’s bothering you,’ I meant ‘stuff it down and never do anything about it!’ How did you not get that?!”
- “I drank so much coffee that year hoping you would take the hint, my resting pulse was like the drum solo from Wipeout!”
- Ted took a year off from being a Hanging Chad to play mind games with Marshall. Maybe that’s why the Slutty Pumpkin didn’t recognize him.
- “Lick it before you stick it” and “wrap it before you tap it” are both terrible family credos.
- Stewart and Claudia make their return to the series. They’re two of my favorite recurring characters, mostly because they’re usually not at the center of some insane subplot (like your typical Brads or Megs). Instead, they’re just the married couple that kind of lost interest in their single friends.
- “Mmm, I could use a bluffberry muffin. A blueberry bluffin. Sorry, a bluebluffy muffbluff. All in!”
- Billy Zabka and Ranjit are both surprisingly quick on their feet when it comes to eavesdropping.
- Claudia has a horrible process for leaving a husband: “Bags packed. Plane ticket purchased. Topless pics sent to your brother.”
- “And kids? I got that thank-you note four months later. Four. Months.”