Hey, it’s another one of How I Met Your Mother’s patented thesis episodes, where everything that happens to our core cast of characters has to tie into some grand overarching theme summed up in Ted’s narration -- or, in this case, the title of the episode itself. This particular installment is slugged “Mystery vs. History,” but don’t worry if you can’t remember it right away; that phrase will be repeated multiple times over the next half-hour. The basic premise here is that ready access to the Internet and its steady stream of relevant and irrelevant information has robbed this modern life of a certain degree of surprise and uncertainty. [But yet none of them ever thought to use Wikipedia or IMDB to look up Edward James Olmos last week. -- Angel] Or, as Ted puts it in his pithy summation of the episode’s premise, “Technology had taken a lot of the intrigue out of life…. Nothing was a mystery anymore.” Here’s one mystery: Has Future Ted been to the bathroom or taken a drink of water since starting this now-seven season yarn he’s still spinning for his kids? Here’s another: Bob Saget’s voice sounds nothing like Josh Radnor’s. Are we still certain they’re going to morph into the same person? Or is the series finale twist going to be that Future Ted killed and replaced Present Ted at some point in his past and our future? Guess we’ll find out in May 2013.
Anyway, having proposed this thesis, writer Chuck Tatham continues to follow conventional essay structure by arguing for it with several (manufactured) examples. Example No. 1 concerns the sex of Lily and Marshall’s unborn child, which they have written down on a piece of paper that they refuse to look at. “Lilypad and I are just going to wait til that baby pops out and enjoy the big surprise,” Marshall says, inordinately proud of their self-restraint. (You know, to each their own and everything, but that logic never made much sense to me. With both of our kids, my wife and I had the doctor tells us the gender as soon as it was readable on the ultrasound. Why wait and miss out on all of that valuable prep time?) Barney doesn’t understand their reasoning either and tries to get Kevin to back him up as the resident expert in distinguishing “healthy” from “unhealthy” behavior. But you don’t have to be a psychiatrist to know that judging your new girlfriend’s pals is a bad move so early in your relationship and Kev wisely demures. The conversation turns to gender roles and leads into a flashback of a thirteen-year-old Robin being dropped out of a helicopter in the Canadian wilderness by her father (the always wonderful Ray Wise… come back soon Ray!) for a crash-course in survival training. Did I mention that this is Daddy’s birthday present to his little girl? Those Canucks sure know how to do birthdays right.
So with Example No. 1 in the “Mystery vs. History” debate established, we move onto Example No. 2, which involves, as it so often does, Ted’s love life. Joining his friends at their usual table, he brags that he just asked Janet McIntyre out for a date. Surprised that she agreed to go out with Ted so quickly, Barney and Robin say in unison, “There’s something wrong with her,” and whip out their smartphones to do a little background research. Turns out they’ve been doing this for all of Ted’s recent girlfriends. (Not Zoey though -- too bad, they could have saved us all from a horrible season-long story arc.) Through their efforts, they’ve rescued Ted from a recovering overeater, a crystal meth addict who finds Annie Hall overrated (I agree with Ted -- that’s a crime) and a woman getting over a lengthy relationship with her mini fridge. This time around though Ted is determined to stick with the mystery half of the “Mystery vs. History” equation (like I said, the title comes up an awful lot) and even goes back over to Janet with a modest proposal: no online research before sitting down for their dinner date. “I’d love to get to know you in person, not on my computer,” Ted says, following his usual creepy, but sweet M.O.
Flash forward to Date Night and Robin and Barney are unwilling to surrender their laptops, even bringing them along to Lily and Marshall’s apartment where they’re supposed to be helping paint the baby’s room a neutral yellow. Not surprisingly, their version of “helping” involves lots of creative Googling of Janet McIntyre’s name while poor Kevin paints the walls for them. Barney starts in on the whole baby gender thing again, using a McG-directed slide show to convince them that knowing the sex ahead of time will yield better baby shower presents. (That slide show clearly isn’t McG’s handywork… not enough poorly choreographed action sequences that employ too much slow motion.) Meanwhile, Robin stumbles upon info about a “Janet McIntyre” that’s been widowed three times, obviously because she’s murdering her husbands. Realizing that Ted is six minutes into his date -- meaning that he’s “already told her that he loves her” (ha, nice one) -- Barney prepares to lead the charge to save Ted, but Kevin chooses this moment to assert his professional authority, telling the gang what we’ve always known: that they’re “the most co-dependent, incestuous, controlling group of people I’ve ever met.” Why? Because they talk to each other on their cell phones when they’re only inches apart; they text each other information on their bowel movements; and they get upset when one of them watches Survivor without the other. (Although, to be honest, this season has been eminently skippable so far.)
Over at the restaurant, Ted finds that going into a date information-starved makes small talk that much harder. Eventually, he’s reduced to describing the difference between Helvetica and Helvetica Bold. (Sounds like someone’s recently seen the excellent documentary Helvetica! Streaming now on Netflix.) Fortunately, Janet isn’t exactly a whiz at coming up with conversation topics either. They muddle their way along anyway and just as they’re beginning to bond, Ted’s phone buzzes with a text from Barney and Robin. They’ve discovered the “truth” about Janet and have enclosed a link for reference. Ted texts back that he won’t click on the link and Marshall and Lily back him up. “We don’t want to find out about Janet, just like we don’t want to find out about the baby.” But Barney does and Marshall agrees to let him and Robin sneak a peek at the gender written on the slip of paper. As soon as they know, Lily immediately feels the urge to find out too, but Barney first wants them to admit “that mystery is stupid” by looking at the Janet McIntyre link. So now Ted gets a frantic text from Lily and Marshall, which leads to all sorts of wild speculation as to what exactly is the matter with Janet.
The truth turns out be pretty banal (much like this episode), all things considered: apparently Janet is some kind of modern super-woman that’s donated a kidney, scaled Mount Everest and saved a baby from a creek among other achievements. Knowing her history leaves Ted intimidated and tongue-tied -- although one would think that would actually give him more things to talk about. (Ah, the fragile male ego!) So Ted’s chances with Janet are shot, but Marshall and Lily managed to keep the mystery alive by tossing the cursed piece of paper out the window. Then stupid Ted has to go and ruin it all by raising his foot and flashing said paper -- which got stuck on his shoe, dontcha know -- to the room and Marshall sees the word “Boy” written on it in big letters. And with that the mystery is solved! Everyone seems much happier, too. Suck it pre-Internet era with your mysteries and intrigue!