How I Met Your Mother – “The Mermaid Theory”

“The Mermaid Theory”

December 6th, 2010

“The Mermaid Theory” is interesting in two ways. And since they’re not particularly substantial ways, I’m just going to cut the introduction off here and we can get into the meat of it.

The first is that it speaks directly to the fallibility of Ted as narrator, as he completely misremembers a story between Barney and Lily to the point of at one point abandoning the story entirely. It’s a bit awkward at first: we know that the kids are stock footage, and that Saget’s voiceover is thus doing all of the work, and the moment when Barney and Lily actually look at the camera in confusion suggests a relationship between the narrator and the audience which is something different than we’ve seen before. We’ve seen confused versions of stories, and moments like “Blah Blah” which run through different episodes, but the narrative panic we see here is decidedly new.

It ends up working for two reasons. The first is that the confusion ends up being logical: in telling a story which intersected with the notion of the Mermaid Theory, Ted’s memory found a story which took place later but which related to the same principle. While it is a gimmick of sorts for the show to play with this, that there ended up being a reason for Ted’s shifting memory ends up making the story that much more effective. There is always something about seeing a plan come together, so to see what seemed like a diversion end up being connected to the episode’s addition to the HIMYM lexicon was a fine way to justify the time spent.

As for the rest of “The Mermaid Theory,” I thought the way it came together justified some of its weaker points. The “Captain wants to Kill Ted” stuff seemed a lot far-fetched when it got to the boat section of things, but the blown up image of Kyle MacLachlan made me laugh a great deal. And while I remain perplexed at how the formative “Little Minnesota” doesn’t count as Marshall and Robin hanging out together (more on that in the bullets), and thought the awkward silences at dinner were pretty dull, Cobie Smulders in the manatee suit was a whole lot of fun, and the idea of the Mermaid Theory was…okay. It isn’t perhaps as novel as the show thinks it is, and perhaps the biggest problem is that it follows the formula (Barney introduces the theory, humorous visual is associated with theory, flashback to historical example of theory adds extra layer of humor) without really delivering anything novel; I didn’t think it was awful, but it didn’t have the elegance Barney’s terms often achieve.

As for the conclusions the episode reaches, that Lily will be pregnant at an undetermined date in the near future (truly shocking, right?) and that Zoey and Ted are (shockingly!) on the mermaid clock as it were, I’m ambivalent. While I like Morrison more than most, and sort of appreciate the show coming right out and saying it without actually coming right out and saying it, the fact is that any attractive female character introduced in any sort of relationship to Ted who is instantly recognizable is going to become a love interest, and so the machinations necessary to get them there aren’t really of much interest to me.

In the end, it’s very much a case of HIMYM simulacra – it looks like HIMYM, it talks like HIMYM, and it even screws around with the narrative like HIMYM. However, other than a couple of highlights, “The Mermaid Theory” was more out to sea than on dry land.

Cultural Observations

  • Okay, so the “Little Minnesota” thing confounds me. That episode is all about Robin and Marshall’s relationship, and the ways in which their shared experience in cold climates is something which might bring them together. It was the first introduction of the Hoser Hut, and a really strong moment for Robin as a character, so its absence here is so very, very strange. I get that they don’t have a pattern of hanging out one-on-one, and that they were in more of a bar atmosphere in that episode which meant that they weren’t just having a quiet intimate dinner, but still – seems like a silly generalization to make considering how strong that episode was and how it has resonated with the Hoser Hut’s ongoing appearances.
  • I wish I had been there when the writers informed Kyle MacLachlan of their plans for this episode – he apparently didn’t get Tyra’s “smizing” memo.
  • Saw some Twitter comments that Future Ted didn’t sound like Bob Saget – didn’t notice it myself, but I’ll take another listen.
  • One more new episode before the Christmas break next week – might check in on it depending on the amount of grading I get done, but don’t count on it.


Filed under How I Met Your Mother

5 responses to “How I Met Your Mother – “The Mermaid Theory”

  1. Pingback: How I Met Your Mother – “The Mermaid Theory” » Monsters of Television

  2. It was definitely Saget, but I saw the same tweets.

    I like your take on the narration technique used. I know we’ve seen it before (bla bla, the goat, etc) but to see them look confused. Nice, I just hope it stops with minor details and doesn’t get into more “critical” matters.

    The other tweet I saw a lot was the mermaid clock ticking. Some feel it points to Zoey as the mom still. I personally think there is way to much evidence against. She may be a stepping stone or a connection, but not the mother IMHO.

  3. Mel

    I thought the theory itself was pretty lackluster and was equally perplexed by the writers ignoring “Little Minnesota” but overall I did a lot of cackling at this episode. The Captain on the boat, while ridiculously far-fetched, totally worked for me despite the fact that every time Ted said he was going to die I told the tv “uh, dude, obviously you didn’t) and I LOVED the big blow up of MacLachlan, but I was also pretty crazy about the line “yeah, he gets a little murdery”

  4. Tausif Khan

    I think the forgetting of the Barney and Lily story is a reference to Twin Peaks (I have not seen the show). Twin Peaks starts with a murder in a small town and as the viewer investigates the murder the seedy underbelly of the seemingly perfect town becomes ever more exposed. The big conceit of the show which Lynch revealed was that he never intended to reveal the murderer and that the mystery would have been forgotten altogether (very existentially and like Antonioni’s L’Avventura).

  5. Do we know how long Zoe and the Captain have been married? Because we do know (or at least we think we know) that the mother was Cindy’s (Rachel Bilson) roommate. And I may be a little unclear on where we are in the timeline, but it seems unlikely that Zoe would have gone from rooming with a grad student at Columbia to married to the Captain in such a short amount of time. Although I’m certainly wouldn’t be surprised if she did serve as some sort of stepping stone to meeting the mother.

Leave a Reply to Tausif Khan Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s