Once upon a time (like say six seasons ago) the idea of an hour-long How I Met Your Mother would probably have filled the majority of us with glee rather than dread. Sadly, those days are lost of the sands of time and I, for one, went into “The Final Page Part 1 and 2” steeling myself for roughly 45 minutes (plus commercials) of the painfully broad, rancidly sour comedy that HIMYM has become. But credit where credit’s due -- this two-parter isn’t the epic botch I expected/dreaded. It’s still not good mind you… the series and these characters have taken too many body shots to ever be back in top shape. But there were flashes here of the show HIMYM used to be before it entered its long, dark winter of discontent. And, based on the closing moments, we finally seem to be done with the painfully drawn-out Barney and Robin reunion. When we come back from the holiday hiatus, let’s just fast-forward to the wedding day we saw in the premiere, mmmkay?
Anyway, with that blanket assessment as a prelude, let’s dive into the first installment. On the upside, it features Peter Gallagher and Seth Green in cameo roles and keeps Barney mute for much of its running time. On the downside, it unsuccessfully employs a Silence of the Lambs motif as both a comic and dramatic device and tries to make us care about Ted’s so-boring-even-the-writers-don’t-care-anymore architecture career. But hey, I’ll take a win-win/lose-lose over lose-lose-lose-lose. The impetus for Barney’s muteness is revealed in the cold open, where he gets slammed with an old-fashioned jinx for ordering the same drink as Marshall at the exact same time. Time was that Barney didn’t abide by this childhood hex, but five years ago he pooh-poohed a Van Helsing-related jinx (the movie, not the original Bram Stoker character) and spoke up before being freed from the curse. Needless to say, he ended up in a full body cast. Since then, he’s been extra careful to be the jinxer rather than the jinxee, but in this case, his desire for alcohol got the better of him. Thrilled at their good fortune, the gang makes a vow to not utter his name, effectively leaving the poor guy without a voice. Of course, considering he hasn’t said anything worth a damn in almost two full seasons, that’s more like a reward (certainly for us and, in a way, Neil Patrick Harris as well) than a punishment.
Over a shot of the New York City skyline, Ted reminds us via voiceover that, yes, he’s still an architect and, in fact, that building he’s totally been working on (even though we’ve heard boo about it for some time) is about to open to the world. This momentous occasion causes him to flashback to his salad days as a starry-eyed Wesleyan student, in thrall to his favorite learned man of architecture -- Professor
Sandy Cohen Eyebrows Dude Vinick (good ol’ Gallagher). He’s invited his former prof to the opening, but the guy RSVPs with a respectful “No” and then adds a note suggesting that he never taught a Ted Mosby. (Totally understandable… if I were in Vinick’s place, I wouldn’t want to take the blame for teaching Ted anything either.) This gets Ted’s dander up, so he decides to drive back to Wesleyan and rub his success right in Vinick’s face. Barney decides to tag along because he’s hoping Ted will be dumb enough to break the jinx (he’s right, although it takes a little while) and Marshall and Lily also grab a ride because… well, apparently because they’re not overly concerned about their jobs and/or new baby. And he feels the same way about them, I’m sure. Young Marvin seems like the kind of kid who would appreciate the Ray Bradbury story, “The Small Assassin.”
Anyway, back at Wesleyan, Ted goes through with his plan to confront Vinick, and receives a double whammy to his ego, first when his former professor still professes not to remember him and again when he takes one look at the schematics for Ted’s building and dismisses it as awful. So Ted slinks away in defeat and goes off to build a 3D model in the hopes that he’ll finally receive the fatherly affirmation he so nakedly craves. In the meantime, Lily and Marshall have crossed paths with a creepy old college pseudo-friend, Daryl (the aforementioned Seth Green, the latest in a string of cameos from Alyson Hannigan’s old Buffy co-stars. Any chance that Amber Benson might finally pop up and give Lily that lesbian fling she’s been craving?) a hacky sack fanatic who has turned his pastime into a business by opening up an on-campus kiosk for high-quality ‘sacks. Creepy Daryl invites them all back to his basement for an unspecified surprise that turns out to be a $100,000 check for giving him the idea for starting his company -- a reward that the two wind up missing out on because they mistakenly accuse Creepy Daryl of wanting to murder them. Rather than actually murder them for this insult, Creepy Daryl just tears up their check, an action that -- when relayed to Ted second hand -- teaches him the value of not needing validation from other people for your own accomplishments … or something like that. Either way, this storyline is now over and we bid farewell to Wesleyan and Professor Eyebrows, whose specific objections to Ted’s building are kept in the dark, but it’s strongly implied that he’s a know-nothing dilettante unhappy with his own lack of real-world success. I, on the other hand, choose to believe he’s just smarter than everyone else and recognizes a crap building when sees it.
With all that obvious, but not entirely unenjoyable filler out of the way, we arrive at the scene that sets up the major story thread of the second half-hour: a newly jinx-ridden Barney (courtesy of Ted, natch) reveals that he’s planning to propose to Robin’s nemesis Patrice on the night Ted’s building opens to the public. Adding insult to injury, he’s not even going to propose at Ted’s building, but on the rooftop of Robin’s workplace instead. Having turned the jinx around on Ted, he swears him to secrecy, with a wiffle bat to groin being the price of shooting off his mouth. And if this whole scene wasn’t a clear sign to you that some kind of long con is going on, you obviously need to spend more time watching old episodes of Hustle and/or Leverage. Or, hell, any one of the Ocean's trilogy. They’re on cable all the freaking time.
Against the odds, Ted does keep his promise to Barney… until the day of the opening/proposal when, unable to stand it any longer, he unloads his secret on Marshall who advises him to not tell Robin and instead, make another play for her heart himself. Of course, Marshall isn’t exactly in the most stable state of mind, as he and Lily are preparing to spend their first night away from Marvin (a present courtesy of Grandpa Mickey, who probably feels compelled to protect the kid from his parents as much as possible) and that initial enthusiasm about being away from their kid is curdling into panic and worry. Ted has already invited Robin along as his date to the grand opening, so he’s in a perfect position to make a move. But when he sees her all decked out in her finest, he realizes once and for all that she needs to be the one at Barney’s side and all but forces her to put a stop to the Patrice Proposal. Gee, remember when Robin was presented as a grown-ass woman who could make her own decisions in both life and matters of the heart? Yeah, I miss those days too.
So Robin makes her way to the rooftop of the World Wide News building and to the surprise of nobody except herself discovers that she’s walking into the final play from Barney’s now-defunct playbook. In a nicely edited montage, we revisit key sequences from the most recent run of episodes that depict how exactly Barney pulled this con off, a plan that involved, among other things, hidden cameras in both his apartment (which is expected) as well as Marshall and Lily’s pad (which is legally actionable). After letting Robin vent her justifiable anger at having been duped, Barney then drops to one knee and hauls out his engagement ring. Again to nobody’s surprise besides Robin’s, she says yes. I’m not entirely made of stone, people -- it’s a sweet moment. I hate the way that the writers spent a half-season transforming Robin into a shrill harridan with no agency of her own in order to bring it about, but I can’t deny that I still have some lingering affection for these two crazy kids. Or maybe it’s simply relief that we’re through with stalling for time on this particular storyline anyway. Now how about that mother…?
One other piece of good news: because this was a two-parter, that brings our episode countdown clock to 12 episodes down and only 12 more to go. That’s what I call a Christmas miracle.