Longtime fans of “How I Met Your Mother” know that the show has more of a photographic institutional memory than most sitcoms. In fact, we’d dare say that the show has a canon, not unlike serialized dramas like “Lost” or sci fi dramas like “Star Trek.”
Which is why last night’s episode leaves us a bit confused. We start the episode where we left off last week, just after Robin (Cobie Smulders) dropped the bombshell to Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) that she’s pregnant. Then we get the additional info that she knows Barney is the father because she hasn’t had sex with her boyfriend Kevin (Kal Penn) yet. But the time the episode is over, not only do we know that Robin isn’t pregnant, we find out that she’s physically unable to bear kids, leaving her sobbing and in the arms of Ted (Josh Radnor).
So, did Carter Bays and Craig Thomas pull a fast one on viewers, getting them all worked up over and talking about the Robin pregnancy and what it means for the show? Well, yes and no. They may have dropped the pregnancy bomb last week hoping that the vast majority of fans (like us) didn’t remember the show’s history and start talking about it, but a closer look reveals that, for those who did remember, the show is just following the storyline it set for itself.
A clue for the clueless was revealed when Vulture published an interview with Smulders yesterday; when editor Patti Greco mentioned to Smulders that a long-ago Ted voice over revealed that Robin never had kids, she paused for a few beats and said, “I can’t tell you anything! Um, I think that this coming episode takes a turn, and it sort of clarifies that whole point.”
Reading that definitely made the episode make more sense, as Robin took over the voice over for an episode, talking to two kids about “their father”, Barney, and the whole adventure of how they both figured out they didn’t want kids right now. But then the kids disappeared, leaving us to think Robin was saying this narrative in her head while sitting in the park and glugging egg nog directly from the carton.
Watch “Symphony of Illumination”:
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A bit of suspension of disbelief was needed to make that aspect of the episode work, and we’re pretty sure Bays and Thomas’ intention was for the ending to be more shocking, as if we’re learning about Robin’s kidless history for the first time ever. But what would have happened if we didn’t know the history would that we would have felt snookered. So their plan to tease out the pregnancy backfired on them a bit.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that Robin’s angst over the fact that she can never have kids (or, as she tried to clumsily cover it to the gang, never be a pole vaulter) wasn’t poignant and well-executed. Smulders did a great job of balancing the conflicting emotions of being told you can’t have something you never wanted in the first place. And the fact that Ted made her feel better with his “Highway to Hell”-themed Christmas lights, even if she didn’t want to tell him what was troubling her, was a touching moment that will lead to some interesting Ted-Robin moments soon.
The rest of the episode was fun, if a bit light story-wise, with Marshall (Jason Segel) being had by a neighbor kid as he tried to decorate his new suburban home. The funniest moment there was when he saw the kid walk into the house eating a sandwich — knowing what sandwiches represent in “HIMYM” world makes it funny, of course. And then there was Barney seeing how having kids affected one of his old bro-mates; does that mean that Barney will never have kids? And if Robin’s out of the picture, who is the bride we’re going to meet at the end of the season, when Ted is at Barney’s wedding?
Then again, given everything that’s gone on this year, maybe we saw someone else’s wedding at the beginning of the season. At this point, all bets are off.