How I Met Your Mother – “The Fight”

himymtitle

“The Fight”

December 8th, 2008

After a season that got off to a bit of a slow start figuring out how to balance the arrival of Stella, and that has been much better in the aftermath of the broken off wedding than leading up to it, “The Fight” continues to demonstrate that the show is back in its sweet spot. Like “The Naked Man” before it, this week’s episode was democractic and monumental: this felt like one of those memories that the group would keep, it involved all of our major characters in some capacity, and it really hit some intriguing comic notes throughout.

The show is still content to play lip service to recurring storylines as opposed to really digging into them, but this feels like the right note for a show reaching its midseason break and heading into the second round metaphorically floating like a butterfly.

I think it’s really interesting what the show has done with Robin Cherbotsky. She was maybe my favourite part of this episode (although Marshall comes close, as we’ll discuss in a minute). I was discussing tonight that Robin’s Canadian-ness is more pronounced now than in early seasons, and this was never more clear than her sexual fantasy about a roughed up hockey player. I can speak from experience that Canadians like their hockey, and their fights which take place within hockey, but Robin’s absolute powerlessness to her attraction to those with scars or without teeth was the thing that charmed me the most. She isn’t the female Barney, but she is more distinctly fitting into these types of storylines and patterns – Cobie Smulders is doing great work, she’s got some fun material, and she’s been the showstealer this season.

Here, though, Marshall came quite close. This is one episode where everyone got to have a piece of the pie, but we got to see Marshall perhaps a bit clearer than the others (with Ted’s perspective mostly through narration). After not being involved in the fight, Marshall has to deal with being heralded as a wussy (by Lily’s kindergarten class and by Doug (Guest Will Sasso)) and trying to maintain his masculinity in the face of his friends’ self-doubt. I just really like Jason Segel in this kind of situation, and his satisfaction at figuring them out and, eventually, unleashing his own inner Fight Club justice was a nice redemptive story for the character. Plus, while the show has gone to the well on numerous occasions, Marshall having to defend his weight and his wussiness to people, in particular kindergarteners, never gets old for me.

It was nice that Lily also had a bit to do here: no, it wasn’t ostensibly her story and she was definitely the most marginalized, but using her classroom as a setting for parts of the story made this feel really together. Much as last week brought everyone into the question of “The Naked Man” (Ted, Barney and Lily taking part, Robin as its victim, Marshall as its critic), this week gave everyone their role in dissecting the fight. Lily’s was small, mostly using the lessons Ted and Marshall learn/embody to get out of making a real lesson plan for her violence-driven class, but that setting was really fun to watch: the kid actors were charming, especially when the entire class erupted into applause when the fight started. This is a common occurence in juniour hockey, and so it fit into what my expectations would be.

I thought this was also a good episode for Ted, mainly because it didn’t feel like the Ted show. For someone who a bit too often seems to desire to be the center of attention, it was nice to see him actively trying to avoid being the pitiable guy who got left at the altar. He deserves to be emotional about it, but it makes sense that he wouldn’t want it to define him; I thought it was nice that it was eventually that which would drive him to get into his first (real) fight, although I do wonder how long they can go without giving Ted a new storyline. Regardless, I thought that the story was also smartly told with a good balance of action and narration: Bob Saget got a lot of work in this episode, but it kind of helped to bring the whole episode together and helped to let Ted’s story still stand out while giving everyone else some more screentime.

The show continues to do very little with Neil Patrick Harris in a broad sense, but there was some nice stuff here with Barney seeing the fight as an opportunity to reconnect with Robin. This is one story that the show has been actively avoiding, and I’m not sure exactly why; it plays well, and I like seeing Barney kind of out of sorts and unable to control his physical body from doing things like (literally) punching himself in the face to keep up the charade. No, the episode didn’t have much depth, but it used Barney’s interest in Robin and Ted’s relationship with Stella as nice footnotes to the comedy; that’s a trick that only a sitcom with a deep well of character emotions and experience can manage, which makes this week’s episode more distinctly HIMYM than much of the season.

The retconning of Will Sasso’s (MadTV) Doug into past scenes at McLarens was a bit clever, and I thought he fit into the role of the toupee-wearing bartender pretty well; more important, he didn’t take away from the real stars here. This was just a reall solidly executed episode of HIMYM, and when I’m laughing at the quickest throwaway jokes (Mahatma Panda killed me for some reason) and the big comedy moments (the sharp contrast between the two Erikson family fight scenes), the show is in good shape.

Cultural Observations

  • That final fight scene was great, for me, because of its pickup of the previous, idealistic scene’s use of cocoa. There was no timesies in the darker picture, but that nice callback made for a darn clever sequence.
  • Similarly, the coda (with Marshall carving the turkey with a lightsaber 3-5 years into the future) was a fun little piece, although we have to wonder if there was a kids’ table that we didn’t get to see thanks to the quick perspective of the sequence.
  • One thing I really liked about this episode was that there were only a handful of flashbacks: too often these episodes could feel like a constant jumping back into the past, which is an interesting tool for the show but one that can be easily overdone. These are actors good enough to sell stuff through their performances: there was no need to show us Robin’s past history with injured hockey players, for example, and I’m glad they held back from that and a few other opportunities.

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