“Happily Ever After”
November 3rd, 2008
After reading Alan Sepinwall’s impressions of Scrubs’ upcoming season on ABC (which are very positive, and might convince me to give the show another shot), I remembered something: I had once hoped, wished even, that Sarah Chalke could abandon that comedy for this one, a show where her character of Stella once felt like a breath of fresh air. But, there was no happily ever after for Ted and Stella: once their relationship left its romantic side behind in “Ten Sessions,” the original impact was wearing off and, by the time we got to Stella leaving Ted at the altar we were all ready to more or less throw Stella out the door.
And in one scene in “Happily Ever After,” we get that moment: Ted tears Stella apart for putting him through hell, and for making a huge mistake. It’s a scene that we needed to see, but it’s also a scene that wouldn’t have worked outside of its imaginary context: while we needed Stella to hear what Ted had to say, she has chosen a life that is reunites her daughter with her father, and the series is smart not to exist in a universe where Ted is that self-centered, especially since he has his issues with that as is.
Overall, this week’s episode is one that wasn’t quite as definitively strong as one might hope, using some oddly cliched constructs to eventually make this poignant realizations, complete with some enjoyable comedy from Robin’s Canadian roots along the way. The real question now is, with Stella out of the picture, where the show goes from here on the road to its own…well, you read the title, you know where that cliched transition sentence is going.
First and foremost, the funniest part of this episode was our interlude into Robin’s past, as she discusses how she would feel awkward about her father walking into the restaurant at that moment. There’s an attention to detail when it comes to Robin’s life, in particular her Canadian heritage, that really sets the show apart: in particular, one of the best gags in the entire episode was the subtle yet humorous choice to use “going north” as opposed to “going south” to describe a disintegration. Combine with the broader, but equally funny, normalcy with which Robin uses hockey terms to define sexual activity (“In the Crease speaks for itself”), and the great tongue-in-cheek performance by soap opera veteran Eric Braedan (The Young & the Restless – and yes, in case you were wondering, I didn’t have to fact check which soap opera it was), and you have one of HIMYM’s patented flashback narratives.
The one major problem with the episode was just how “sitcommy” the episode felt when the entire cast was hiding under a table and recounting old stories about their life. None of the stories were particularly bad, to be honest, even if most of them were unmemorable compared to Robin’s fairly extensive back story; it’s more an issue that it seems like what was once one of the show’s defining qualities has descended into a gimmick that feels like part of a tradition that the show once subverted at nearly every turn. I’ve heard that more “standalone” episodes are in order for the season, which I didn’t understand at the time and probably still don’t. But if they mean episodes like this one, or the episode full of flashbacks and interventions a few weeks ago, then I don’t know how I feel: the show runs the risk of, dangerously, developing its own cliches.
The episode gets the end right, though: after Stella causes Ted to map out plans of where he can and cannot go in New York so that he doesn’t run into her, and after some cliched time spent where Ted is non-responsive to the entire issue as a coping mechanism, that climactic taxi ride was one of the best things the show had done all season. It felt, for the first time in a while, like a defining moment for these characters, in particular Ted. Once it was clear that Stella wasn’t the mother (although I’ve felt this way ever since the proposal in Miracles, if not before), the entire Stella situation felt like we were killing time going down a dead end, and even when Ted was with Robin (who we knew wasn’t the Mother from the pilot) the show never felt quite as pointless. In the taxi, though, we got moments for these characters: Marshall blurting out the truth about Stella’s dislike of Star Wars and our imagined view of Ted’s putdown felt like we were finally getting some sort of payoff from what has seemed like a rushed series of events.
Of course, the show smartly stepped back from that and left us at a more poignant point as Ted reflects on the importance of finding his own path, and not necessarily destroying others in the process. It’s a good building block for where we go from here: after we saw a glimpse a year into the future, with someone still living in the apartment, and Lily not drinking her scotch (Alyson Hanigan’s pregnancy confirmation pretty much tells us where that’s going), we are perhaps finally getting out of this rut (albeit not an awful one) and preparing to enter the next stage of the show’s development.
- I don’t know who’s luckier: the kid who got to make out with Cobie Smulders as she was playing her teenaged, hockey playing self, or Cobie Smulders and Alyson Hannigan for still being able to play teenagers with some shread of believability.
- I actually don’t remember who the woman was who Barney was concerned over seeing walk into the restaurant, which tells you how uneven some of their storylines ended up being. However, I do remember that he used the phrase “people of the “Chicks I’ve Banged persuasion,” so he remains as quotable as ever.