The How I Met Your Mother Shame Index: Season Finale

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May 25 2010 7:17 AM

The How I Met Your Mother Shame Index: Season Finale

The Shame Index didn't want it to end this way. But perhaps it's fitting. This has been a trying season of  How I Met Your Mother , and last night's season finale was typical: It strained for its laughs and for its moral. And it left the Index fatigued at watching all that effort.
 
Shameful :

Marshall and Lily deciding to have their first child upon seeing the fifth doppelganger. The Index can see different viewers having different opinions on this absurd notion.  Alan Sepinwall liked it , arguing that it was absurdity well-handled. But the Index felt it went too far.  HIMYM , at its best, strikes a balance between loopy hijinks and smart observations about the lives of its ambitious young characters. The Index finds it baffling that the writers would throw away the opportunity to explore, with a modicum of seriousness, the momentous decisions about when to conceive a child and how to balance two careers against the desire to start a family (in New York City no less). By tying the decision to the doppelganger sighting, the series essentially punted on the issue. The writers tried to paper over their cop-out by adding the wrinkle that Lily didn't think Cabbie Barney looked like Barney. But the logic here is fuzzy at best. Despite thinking that Cabbie Barney looked like a pot-bellied Asian man, Lily was ready to conceive the child it was only Marshall's cold feet that prevented him from sticking her real good. (Sidenote: Ew.) Later, when she mistakes the pretzel vendor for a Barney lookalike, it's offered up as evidence of Ted's dubious observation that "we only see what we want to see when we want to see it." But again, Lily seemed perfectly willing to accept the original Cabbie Barney sighting as evidence of the universe weighing in on her reproductive future. Based on what the Index observed in this episode, it seemed less likely that we see what we want to see and more likely that Lily needs to visit an optometrist. 

A minor point, but: The fact that when Marshall calls Barney to verify that he is at the office and not driving the cab, we, the audience, see Barney at the office. It was a cheap move. If he's not actually there, don't show us footage of Barney stapling and shredding. Dream up some clever,  Sixth Sense -ish way of faking the viewer out. Don't expect us to shrug it off when Barney reveals Marshall had been talking to a recording. (Perhaps we were supposed to think that was Marshall imagining what Barney looked like at his desk, but that's pushing it.)

Ted's doppelganger speech. Of all the lame things Ted has said over the course of five seasons, this has to be one of the lamest, and strangest: "Eventually, over time, we all become our own doppelgangers, these completely different people who just happen to look like us." That's a rather terrifying thought, isn't it? We change so fundamentally, and so quickly, that over the course of five years we can become completely different people? Does Ted really believe that? In what way is he a different person than the guy who was "chasing after some girl he was convinced was the one" five years ago? In what way are Marshall and Lily  completely  different? Yes, they're now married and contemplating children. Does anyone feel that these facts render them new people who just happen to look like their former selves? (If anything, the most arresting difference in the characters are the physical ones.) The one attempt  HIMYM   has  made at character evolution the abortive attempt to give Barney a heart by having him fall for Robin was the defining failure of Season 5, a point Ted's inane speech served to highlight.

Of course it fell to Robin to receive a crushing emotional blow in the finale of a season in which she has suffered indignity after indignity. She was forced to endure the break-up with Barney, his subsequent misbehavior (egregious even by his louche standards), and now, when she chooses love over her career, she finds herself trounced by Don. (Don, whom we were led to believe was a pants-eschewing buffoon, who then suddenly transformed into a thoughtful, mature, caring boyfriend, and who now summarily chooses to abandon the woman he's supposedly in love with to revive a career he had deep disdain for not months ago this is the guy Ted wants to be citing as evidence of his doppelganger theory.) The Index has asked it before and feels obliged to ask it again: Do the creators of HIMYM have something against Robin? The Index found himself sitting on his couch rooting for Robin to take the job at the Midwestern news show. To choose her career over romance. It's time you started living, Robin. It's time you let someone else do some giving.  You might just make it after all ! But it wasn't to be.

Instead we got ... the almost-kiss between Ted and Robin. Yes, Robin was drunk and brokenhearted. But what about all that talk two weeks ago about not wanting to be in a group of friends with two ex-boyfriends? Now she's moving back in with Ted? And almost making out with him?

The Estonian sword-swallower. Call the Index a prude, but that was a little much.
 
Awesome :

"Let's just say there were a few senior citizens who pretended to drown on my watch. And sadly, one who did." 

The first round of friend telepathy, with Ted debating his interest in nachos while his friends schemed to get him to dye his hair. Probably would have been best to go down the telepathy road only once, but the first trip, at least, was HIMYM doing absurdity right.

"You're doing surprisingly well in the Baltics."

Ted's familiarity with the women in his salon (Helen, Flo). 

The Index didn't love Barney's Borat-lite routine, but he does enjoy it when Barney talks about his blog. His protestations in this episode that the blog has improved were amusing. (Has it actually improved? The Index couldn't be bothered to investigate .)

The Index would like to take this moment to thank the other members of the HIMYM commentariat : Alan Sepinwall,  James Poniewozik at  Time Amos Barshad at Vulture Donna Bowman at the AV Club . It's been great fun reading your work and seeing each week what you all have made of the latest HIMYM offering. Not sure about you guys, but the Index is going to have to do some serious thinking in the off-season about whether he'll continue to follow this series next year. This season had some great moments (Willem ... D a foe !), and the Index still has an abiding affection for these characters (yes, even Ted), but more often than not, HIMYM was a disappointment this year. The Index found his eye wandering to other slightly shameful but funny series, like Big Bang Theory , a show that lacks HIMYM 's heart it's not clear its core group of friends actually like one another but is clearly in its prime. HIMYM , sadly, is not. It called in guest-star reinforcements early and often this season, badly botched the relationship between Barney and Robin (damaging both characters in the process), and too often failed in its attempts to  say something real  about coming of age in 21st-century New York. (Yes, the Index is still stewing over the sexless innkeeper .) The Index hasn't quite given up on the series, but it's lost that appointment TV feeling. Season 6? The Index might ... wait for it ... to come out on DVD.

What did you all make of the finale? Share your thoughts on the episode, your postmortems on the season, and your stories of sexless innkeeping, in the comments.

Previous Shame Indices: Episode  1 2 3 4 5 ,   6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 ,   14 ,   15 ,   16 ,   17 ,   18 , 19 ,   20 , 21 , 22 , 23

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

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