‘How I Met Your Mother’ – ‘The Drunk Train’: She’s the one?

Senior Television Writer
02.14.12 108 Comments


A review of tonight’s “How I Met Your Mother” coming up just as soon as I drop some sweet wordplay about logarithms…

“HIMYM” is a show I don’t usually see in advance, and also one I tend not to get around to watching until at least 8:30, if not later that evening. So by the time I sit down to watch it, my Twitter mentions column has filled up with comments from people who watched it live. And last night, the comments were overwhelmingly, almost enthusiastically negative, like “I’m expecting a scathing review of HIMYM” and “After years of trying, HIMYM finally did an episode that actually pissed me off.” When I tweeted that I hadn’t watched yet, people warned me, “Don’t bother watching. It will just make you angry” and “You are going to be very pissed off soon.”

And perhaps because my expectations had been so lowered by the warnings, or perhaps because I was bracing myself for something annoying and/or out-of-the-blue to come towards the end of the episode, I actually wasn’t that angry about what happened on the roof between Ted and Robin. I’m skeptical that they can do something that will be worth this detour in the search for the Mother, if only because the show has struggled at so many things lately. (Though last season’s emotional arcs with Marshall and Barney worked quite well.) But I don’t think on its face it’s a horrible idea, and here’s why:

As I’ve said many times, I think Ted should have met the Mother by now, not because I actually care who she is, but simply because her absence forces the show to drag its feet and to play various bits of narrative trickery that were fun once upon a time and have gotten incredibly annoying by now. That said, I got the sense from the Bays/Thomas interview at press tour that they intend to take the title literally and introduce the Mother either right at the end of the series, or very closely to the end. I think that would be a mistake, but it’s their show to do with as they want. And if that is, in fact, what they’re going to do, I just want them to tell good stories between now and when we get there.

I’ve never agreed with the idea that any story that has Ted dating a woman who’s not the Mother is a waste of our time. Ted with Victoria was great. Ted with Robin — whom we knew from the start of that relationship wasn’t going to be the Mother — was a big part of the show’s best season. Ted with Stella very early on was quite charming. My problem with Ted’s relationships from season 3 on has never been “I do not care about this because it doesn’t solve the show’s title” but “I do not care about this because these woman are being written to be very unlikable, and/or because Ted comes across as unlikable.”

The idea of a lonely, depressed Ted — who is keenly aware that it’s been nearly seven years removed from that moment where he decided he was ready to meet the woman of his dreams and settle down — turning back to the one relationship in his life where he was always happy, and where it ended on good terms, and where she’s very much been a part of his life ever since, is not a bad one on its face. It’s a dead end in terms of the show’s mythology, but it’s not necessarily a dead end in terms of doing something interesting with Ted, and also with Robin. If Ted is (for now) willing to give up on the idea of having kids, isn’t Robin the perfect match for him, and vice versa? Given Victoria’s warning at the end of “The Ducky Tie” — which foreshadowed this development enough that it didn’t feel like a complete WTF? moment — just how messy is this going to get for these two, and for Barney?

I think they can do something good with this. It’s not out of the blue, though they could have arguably foreshadowed it more in the last few weeks. Victoria warned us of this. We’ve had isolated moments here and there over the last few years where Ted and Robin were hanging out by themselves and it was clear there was still chemistry, and that there were still feelings. Maybe they screw it up and I come out the other side hating Robin as much as I hated Zooey or Stella by the end, and that would be terribly unfortunate. But maybe they get it right, and it says something interesting about who these two are five years after they split over their irreconcilable differences.

We’ll have to wait and see on that, of course. And I wasn’t, to be frank, a huge fan of “The Drunk Train” as a whole.

I liked the different beats in the end of Robin and Kevin’s relationship, and though Kal Penn never quite fit in perfectly, I was glad that the writers made much more of an effort with him than they ever have with any other outside boyfriend or girlfriend. That said, I didn’t laugh a whole lot at anything going on up in Vermont — though I did laugh (and wince) knowingly at the flash forward to Marshall and Lily fighting over who had gotten up with the baby more.

I’m also more skeptical at the moment of the Becki Newton story working out than I am about whatever’s going to happen with Ted and Robin. The idea of Barney being drawn to a woman who sees through all his games isn’t a bad one (though it’s somewhat similar to what they did with Nora), and I thought Newton was one of the best things about “Ugly Betty.” But the revelation in the tag that she only has this knowledge because she’s a stripper at the Lusty Leopard — and that Barney has somehow not recognized her despite all the time he spends at the place — seemed much sillier, and/or out of the blue, than what happened on the roof of Ted and Robin’s building.

Some other thoughts:

* Bad timing on using The Head and the Heart’s “Rivers and Roads” as the song over Ted’s declaration of love, as it comes a week or so after it was used so perfectly in the final scene of “Chuck,” which is what I’ll always associate it with now.

* I often cringe at the show’s take on New Jersey, the outer boroughs and Long Island, but I did chuckle a time or three at the various imitation JWoww’s on the drunk train, and it’s not like those characters do not exist when you head east or west from Manhattan. (For a good — and funny — real-life example,watch this “Daily Show” report from a couple of years ago on Long Island’s plans to secede from New York state.)

Based on the comments on Twitter (which have kept rolling in as I’m writing this), I may turn out to be in an extreme minority on this episode, so fire away. What did everybody else think? And if you’re wholly opposed to the idea of a Ted/Robin reconciliation, why?

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