Monday night’s episode of “How I Met Your Mother” was a textbook illustration of how television writers can revive a long-simmering — and, some would say, tired — romantic story just by changing the emotional stakes.
When Robin (Cobie Smulders) and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) hooked up at the end of last week’s episode, you could feel the eyes rolling of any “HIMYM” fan that’s not a hard-core ‘shipper. “This again?” is what they thought. Sure, NPH and Smulders have done a good job conveying how the characters feel for each other, even though their previous relationship flamed out in a fury of complacency. But, even with those emotions present, revisiting that relationship had a been there, done that feel that gave fans pause.
That all changed in the last moments of last night’s episode. Barney and Robin decided to tell their respective significant others that they cheated; Barney went through with it with Nora (Nazanin Boniadi), but Robin couldn’t do it with the oh-so-nice Kevin (Kal Penn). The moment at MacLaren’s where Barney, who did what he felt was the most mature thing he’s ever done in his life, realizes that Robin didn’t follow suit, was a punch-in-the-gut moment that had you intrigued in their relationship all over again, mainly because everyone has experienced such non-reciprocated feelings in their lives.
Harris and Smulders played the moment well; Harris had the bewildered, hurt look that anyone would have at that moment, and Smulders gave him that knowing but hurtful, “It’s just not our time” head shake that gave anyone who saw it that familiar moment of pain. Now, the stakes are real, with Barney realizing that hanging out with Robin is going to be too painful for him to bear. How this plays out in the coming weeks will be very interesting to watch.
Of course, we have to accept this emotional reality with the knowledge that Robin’s relationship with Kevin isn’t real and hasn’t been very believable (nothing against Penn, but seeing him as a romantic interloper is difficult… maybe we still see him as Kumar). But, at the very least, Carter Bays and Craig Thomas have given us a reason to care about Barney and Robin again, and that’s quite a feat for a show that’s gone to this well a number of times over the last few years.
Watch the latest episode of “How I Met Your Mother”: