May 3rd, 2010
When you create love connections between cast members on a long-running sitcom, those lingering emotional feelings are always part of the deal. In the case of How I Met Your Mother, Ted and Robin’s relationship ended almost three years ago, and since that point the show has played out their relationship (the “friends with benefits” stage, for example) in ways which demonstrate that remind us of that past without making it the focus of the show.
However, Barney and Robin’s relationship wasn’t given the same treatment: while Ted and Robin were never really “just” friends, Barney and Robin had a normal relationship, and since the show was so committed to forcing Barney back to his “normal” behaviour after the breakup Robin just sort of had to revert to her old self as well. And so the show never really looked at how Robin and Barney would be able to remain “just friends” after their breakup, nor was it something that the show seemed interested in doing at any length due to the necessity of Barney appearing as a human being for more than a few episodes.
“Twin Beds” is the furthest the show has gone towards suggesting that Barney can remain both a boobs-obsessed playboy and in love with Robin, something that I think the show should have dealt with sooner, but it also makes the bizarre decision to return Ted and Robin’s relationship to the forefront. On the one hand you have a story I think has been underserved by the show, and in the other you have something I think would easily classify as played out.
Throw in a silly little Lily and Marshall story, and you have an important (but not particularly spectacular) episode of the show.
I really like the idea of Ted’s letter to his future self in regards to his current breakups in theory: it rings true to the character, and it’s a good way for the show to revisit the past. This is a show where history has always meant a great deal (especially since it’s a story in and of itself), so anything which forces us to consider where these characters are coming from is important. So when Ted revisits letters from past relationships, the show is offering a glimpse into that past for the audience as well. The device eventually becomes the key factor in rekindling Ted’s love for Robin, and at the very least we can understand why it would happen: the letter taps into Ted at his most romantic, reminding him that he broke up with Robin because she wasn’t where he needed her to be, not because she wasn’t who he wanted to be with.
The problem is that the show is revisiting something that the show has already went through, and there sadly wasn’t a letter for that: the episode simplifies the nature of their relationship, and without any real logic sends Ted back into his Season 2 posture. I know that Ted is still a hopeless romantic, but I don’t think the show actually provided any dramatic reason for Ted to be so hopelessly in love with Robin all of a sudden except to fabricate a conflict with Barney. They could have talked about how buying a house made him worry about settling down, or shown how he was struggling to get back into the dating field and panicked, but instead the show throws out a piece of its history and sends Ted back in time. It’s one thing to tap into history through this device, but it’s another to not bother to provide any reason why he responds the way he does.
It’s a problem because Barney has no such history, and his letter lacks any connection to any sort of emotions or dramatic reasoning. I thought the episode was finally going to get Barney in touch with his feelings, but instead he just wants to have sex with her again – the show doesn’t go so far as to have Barney’s baby talk “I want it” be his actual emotional state, but it’s a very base instincts sort of notion of love, and it means that his fight with Ted is about sex (specifically boobs) rather than any sort of feelings he has for her. The scene had two characters fighting over someone who an episode ago they wanted nothing to do with for reasons that were either seasons old or dangerously shallow – while I’m glad that we’re no longer pretending that Barney wouldn’t still have feelings for Robin, they seemed like they were reduced just to get the Point B.
The thing is, I’m actually a fan of Point B – I like the idea that Don isn’t comfortable with Robin being around two of her ex-boyfriends, and I also quite like the ramifications of Robin deciding to stop hanging out with the group for a while to pull things together. But in order to get to that point, the show threw the two characters into an epic, alcohol-fueled struggle that made me laugh but which never felt like it was building to any sort of emotional moment. Just as Ted’s motivation relies exclusively on the past, that final scene seems like it’s trying to make us think that Barney and Ted are acting in a genuine fashion, but the show can’t just pretend: they need to actually show us why something is meaningful, not just create consequences and go from there. I think the story has potential, but they needed to do more to contextualize Ted’s feelings, just as they needed to be doing more all season in order to give us some sense of Barney’s emotional state regarding Robin.
The show doesn’t always need to be so concerned about these things: I thought the Lily and Marshall story was simple sitcom fare that offered some fun moments with the characters that was allowed to be fun and light without feeling too bogged down. Sometimes the show isn’t aiming for something big, so I don’t really mind if there’s no real reason for Marshall and Lily to get twin beds other than to create this story opportunity. However, other times the show is trying for something big, and so we notice when characters conveniently switch to different emotional states that serve their purposes.
There was a time when these kinds of stories were built over time, gradually developing over the course of the season: this year, there has been too much reactionary storytelling, resulting in episodes like “Twin Beds” which feel like the show shifting gears without a clutch. I like where this is going, but there is an elegance missing from the storytelling which defined the show in earlier seasons.
- I really like Ben Koldyke, but I think that Don has been criminally underwritten as a character – I think the problem right now is that he is very clearly not going to be a part of this group anytime soon, which I was glad the episode at least brought up at the end of the episode but which ultimately makes him a transient figure (even more than Stella).
- The ongoing gag about Don believing Ted to be gay wasn’t really funny enough to justify its length, but I’m with Noel in that it totally made me think of Scrubs’ J.D. (especially the Appletini, which seemed like a direct shout out).
- I may not have bought all of Ted and Barney’s emotions, but the resulting behaviour (the tackles, the drunk dials, the letters) all worked pretty well – however, when the point of a story isn’t the funny, I’m forced to judge it a bit more harshly on its other merits or lack thereof.
- “For My Biographer,” however, was fantastic.
- If you had “first episode of HIMYM after watching Season 2” in the “At what point is Myles going to start finding the whole Willow/Lily/Hannigan thing a bit uncanny” pool, congratulations.