Symphony of Illumination…..Indeed

As Alan Sepinwall tweeted today, last night’s episode of How I Met Your Mother turned out to be a very polarizing episode, one that I have yet to sort out my feelings about. Initially, I completely agreed with Alan’s review: pulling the rug out from under us viewers should have been expected, but was infuriating nonetheless. I keep expecting the show to do something radical; to make all of the beating around the bush worth it. Don’t get me wrong; I love Ted, Barney, Lily, Marshall, and Robin. I even understand that, given the show’s increasing popularity, the creators may be prolonging the reveal of the mother (although couldn’t they eke out endless seasons on dating the mother/drama? Cue the “It isn’t called “How I Met Your Mother…and Then This Happened” naysayers). The show only feels like its dragging its feet when it churns out less than stellar episodes (like the majority of last season).

Last night’s episode, for me, was a thought provoker instantaneously; by that I mean the plot got the wheels in my head going, thinking about all the different avenues they were opening up to take the rest of the season and move forward with the show.

I felt the force of the opening scene like a bomb: the show, seemingly, nonchalantly revealed that Barney and Robin would be raising two kids in the future. I did grow suspicious after the initial shock, since Future Ted has revealed that Robin never had children of her own. I used that emphasis to justify that if Robin cannot have children of her own then surely she may end up adopting in the future. So with that thought, I figured this episode was showing me that Barney and Robin end up together and, one way or another, Robin raises two children with him, biological or no. (While apparently, all of the viewers who staunchly support Robin’s decision to never have kids were letting out a collective “NOOOO”). So, I figured (even with Becki Newton coming in as a love interest for Barney) we would spend the rest of the season finding out what happens to get Robin down the aisle to Barney.

The kids that never were…and never would be.

Then the show put the kibosh on that. The children Robin was playing “How I Ended up Raising You” with were fragments of a life that no longer existed for Robin. And in that moment I felt my hope for this show go out the window. What a teaser with no payoff (other than an amazing performance by Cobie Smulders). I felt like once again, the show made me feel like something monumental happened in the series, when really it was only reinforcing the idea that Robin will never have kids. I wanted to write an angry letter; I wanted to say, “You think you can arbitrarily mess with the viewer experience and it will have no impact? I have been getting to know these characters for 7 years, I care for them. And I feel like that isn’t acknowledged by you.” And because I care, I am going to keep watching no matter how much I feel jerked around. And the episode where Robin decided to stick with Kevin over Barney was already a struggle for me this season; another example of the show presenting an opportunity to change the formula but lacking follow through. Alan Sepinwall’s review echoed my sentiments and of course I took to the comments section to see other reactions. While some comments defending the episode failed to sway me, others did make me lean more towards the idea that the show was effective in making a statement, transcending the necessary role of the sitcom to make us laugh. I understand that we are supposed to see Robin’s total despair in imagining kids that for her will never ever exist. And Cobie did a great job. I truly felt that a woman like Robin, who was adamant against having kids, would feel utterly different if she realized her choice wasn’t a choice at all, but a twisted turn of biology. And I think I have to applaud the show for demonstrating her heartbreak in this manner.

I think the best solution to avoid this backlash would have been to show Robin having a thought experiment at the very beginning of the episode while she stressed out in the bathroom: what if I had to tell this story to my kids in the future? Therefore, the structure would already be slightly different from normal; we wouldn’t be surprised by the same narrative structure used by Future Ted being used by Robin (I mean, what are the odds that Present Robin would employ in her fantasy the same formula of Future Ted?). As Robin found out she wasn’t pregnant and eventually, unable to have kids, of course her fantasy would change in her head. After she discovered she wasn’t pregnant the “sorry” to the kids could have been merely, “Sorry that this story makes it sound like I didn’t want you.” Thus the kids fading at the end would still be sad, but not as shocking. I suppose the writers were looking for the emotional impact; I understand.

The issue: people (me) who are invested in the Robin/Barney relationship were easily led astray by the beginning. We focused much less on the idea of Robin having kids and much more on the idea that Robin’s raising kids with Barney in the future. Our minds churned with the implications. And when the kids faded, so did our dream of that future. We were back to reality, where not only was Robin still with Kevin, but she had also just rejected Barney and found out she can’t have kids. Dark.

Robin’s brief moment of happiness

I think I am sad because the storytelling and the character development was so, so good; but the structure of the episode made me concentrate on other things that cheapened what the creators were trying to convey…

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About Staciellyn Chapman

Grad student at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. This blog is an attempt to condense the craziness that is my TV viewing habits (with the occasional aside into film, music, and general life).

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