‘How I Met Your Mother’ – ‘Landmarks’: How I hate your Zoey

Senior Television Writer
05.09.11 108 Comments

A review of tonight’s “How I Met Your Mother” coming up just as soon as I tell you what rhymes with “beck and call”…

I am torn. A part of me wants to dispense with my commentary on “Landmarks” as quickly as possible, as it was both the culmination of the worst story arc in the history of the series and pretty awful as an individual episode. (At one point, I was sorely tempted to rewind back to the writing credits to be sure I wasn’t imagining things when I saw this was a Bays/Thomas script.) But Zoey’s gone now, and I’m tempted to use Ted’s parting line – “Sometimes, things have to fall apart to make way for better things” – as a cleanser and just try to hope that next week’s finale is better, and that next season’s big story arc is vastly better and not just more wheel-spinning to justify the two-year renewal.

Another part of me, though, wants to write a very long and angry screed about why Zoey was such a gross miscalculation, and why even the episode that kicked her to the curb was pretty lousy.

The first part wants to win, simply because I have too much else I’d rather be doing than dwelling on this mess, but the second part feels like this shouldn’t stand without one final comment. So, in the spirit of reconciling my two parts, here’s an abbreviated screed:

I don’t care in the slightest that Zoey wasn’t the Mother. I care that she was both an unfunny character and a fairly unpleasant one, someone who was selfish and manipulative and completely destructive to the harmony of the group, and yet someone the show largely let off the hook for all of that. Even in this final episode, Robin had to couch her instructions to Ted with a “We love Zoey, but…”-style softpedal, which is nonsense. Zoey was horrible. Even her real reason for wanting to save the Arcadian was horrible, revealing her once again to be a hypocrite motivated not by ideals but purely self-serving motives.

I’d have been okay with it if Bays and Thomas had decided to take the characters to a place where Zoey had the group on the verge of splintering – where somehow it was okay for Marshall to betray Ted, and then for Ted to betray Barney, and everyone to hate each other – only for Robin or Lily to stand up and say, “You know what, Ted? I was gonna let this thing with Zoey go. I didn’t like her and I think she was completely wrong for you and would make you unhappy, but I wasn’t going to interfere because it’s not my place to do so” – okay, maybe Lily wouldn’t have said that last part – “but now she’s going to ruin all of us, and she is so not worth that.” It still wouldn’t have rendered the previous umpteen Zoey episodes palatable, but it at least could have been an interesting, emotionally-satisfying end. Instead, Zoey was largely forgiven her transgressions, even as she busted out the tape she made of Ted in the museum episode. Blech.

Of course, such a speech also wouldn’t have worked because Bays and Thomas seemed so weirdly afraid of the emotions of their own story, consistently undercutting what should have been big moments with jokes – and really lame jokes, at that. Robin trying to make a big point to Ted while admitting that she neither plays chess in the park, nor online, nor can even figure out how to download Angry Birds? What the hell was that? Or Barney and Arthur both cursing themselves as they remembered their ironic promises in the flashback? Gah. As we’ve seen a number of times this season alone, this is a show that usually has no problem turning off the laughtrack machine for the sake of a beat about the characters. Here, though, it was like everyone realized at the last minute how much the audience had grown to hate Zoey, and so they hastily threw in whatever punchlines they could think of to work within those scenes.

I’m just not sure what the thinking behind any of this was. These guys have not completely lost their fastball; the arcs involving Marshall and Barney’s dads was a reminder of that. But Zoey was just wrong-headed from start (Ted getting in the middle of an unhappy marriage) to finish (this). And if this is what every non-Mother relationship Ted has from now until the time Bays and Thomas either commit to an endgame or accept that the show can function just fine with the Mother as an ongoing part of the show, then I’d rather the guy check into a monastery between now and then.

I’ve seen shows even this season redeem a lousy season with a great finale (hi, “Sons of Anarchy”!), so the naive optimist in me wants to think that we’ll come back next week and we’ll maybe deal with the wedding, Ted will maybe meet the Mother (even if he doesn’t realize that’s who she is yet) and the show will finally evolve after a couple of very problematic seasons. Right now, though, I’m both angry and mystified.

What the hell was that? And how did they not only think this was a good idea at the start of the season, but as it became clear early and often how much it wasn’t working? Even if they had Jennifer Morrison under contract for more episodes than the character wound up being worth, they could have pivoted and made lemonade out of this – turned Zoey into an outright villain or something to keep her around while embracing the loathsomeness of the character. Instead, they just kept scrambling and scrambling and scrambling to make it work, and even the promise of an epic break-up didn’t really come to pass, as things closed with a whimper.

Mini-screed over. (And it wound up being longer than I had planned.) Bad bad bad bad bad.

What did everybody else think?

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