21
Feb
2011
How I Met Your Mother: Season 6, Episode 17
Garbage Island
Jordan
I love How I Met Your Mother flashforwards. In the show's prime, a flashforward meant foreshadowing about future developments. It meant hints about the mother. It meant a clever reminder of this show's frame tale premise that allowed for non-linear steps that kept the story interesting. So when "Garbage Island" opened with a flashforward to Hong Kong in 2021, I got really excited really fast. What would be happening in the lives of the characters then, and how would that give us some foreshadowing about what was to come? My feelings about this episode, and my worries about this show when it has an off week can all be summed up in what that flashforward does, and more importantly what it doesn't do.

What do we learn about our characters from the flashforward? We find out that Ted is married with two kids in 2021. Which, from the age of his children in 2030, WE'VE KNOWN SINCE THE PILOT. We learned that Zoey isn't the mother. Which we've known since we met her, when we weren't introduced to her at a wedding at which Ted was the best man. So we learned nothing of substance about our characters or where they're headed. Unless you're really invested in Wendy the Waitress and her happiness, this flashforward did nothing for you. Which is a continuous problem for How I Met Your Mother these days. The show, at its worst, is all about wheel spinning and stall tactics. In a way, it always has been. The show has to put off Ted meeting the mother until its entering the endgame, because it can't run too long after she's introduced (though I think they could do around two seasons with her personally, to match the length we spent on the Ted-Robin saga). I understand that. But at the same time, most of the previous stalling has made sense from a character development perspective. Robin showed Ted he was ready to get serious. Stella showed Ted he was ready to get married. What Zoey will show Ted I'm not really sure. And while it may be something (it may even be the lesson she started teaching us tonight), I'm not sure how much farther Ted realistically needs to go before he gets married.

I've said it before, but high concept shows need to be cognisant of the fact that they can't run forever. Weeds went on too long and completely fell apart (I hear it got a bit better this last season, but personally I stopped watching about halfway through season four, after the show left Agrestic). Dexter has been spinning wheels for seasons now. Breaking Bad has been phenomenal so far, and gotten better every season, but I constantly worry it will run too long and fall apart. Similarly, How I Met Your Mother is a show with a lifespan. Honestly, as I've previously mentioned, I think the show probably should have ended after season five, allowing that season to introduce us to and get us to fall in love with the mother. It didn't though, and at this point all I can hope for is that it enter the endgame soon, before it truly tarnishes its legacy beyond repair.

Last week I talked about how difficult it is to analyze the quality of a season midstream, and this is a perfect example of that: the last several weeks have been pretty solid, but this week didn't really work, and that's because it all felt like wheel spinning. The A-plot had Ted coming into contact with The Captain, which was nice since Kyle Machlachlan is always excellent on this show. It also had Ted learning that when a relationship is formed, there is often someone who is hurt by that. In this case, its The Captain, and from one perspective, Ted really is the bad guy. He stole another man's wife, and he hurt that man in the process. But Zoey was looking to be stolen, and if the two of them ended up happy together, wouldn't it be worth the pain in the end? We know they won't, so that's a little bit moot, but its a nice idea anyway.

In a subplot, Marshall is still dealing with the loss of his father and having the same career crisis he's been having since season one's "Life Among the Gorillas" (one of my least favorite early episodes of the show, by the way). He really wants to save the planet, but he also wants to make enough money to support the family he's about to have. This crisis is realistic enough I guess, but we've done it before and at this point (or at least, as executed here) it just felt like wheel spinning to keep Lily from getting pregnant too soon. Meanwhile, Barney is smitten with Nora, which is sweet and all, but probably ultimately meaningless, at least if you still hold out hope for Barney and Robin (which, sadly, I do, even after the catastrophe that was their first coupling). Nora may actually help Barney to become comfortable with intimacy, which would be real character development, but she also feels like wheel spinning before Barney and Robin finally get together and have it handled correctly.

This episode wasn't bad, not really. I laughed several times, and none of the plotlines were complete duds. But it did remind me of my consistent worry at this point in the show: that its just spinning its wheels and trying to run as long as it possibly can. I don't mind this show stalling with purpose, like it used to. If Ted really needed more development before he met the mother, I would buy it. But the show hasn't given me a reason to think he does. I don't want Marshall and Lily to have a kid because I think babies can kill a sitcom dead, but I also don't want the show to stall as obviously as it has been this season. It seems like every few weeks there's a new, minor setback to the couple getting pregnant, just to stretch this story out to season-length, and that's as lazy as it is boring and repetitive. And Barney has gone through fitful movements toward an actual relationship before, only to reset, because the show is afraid to change its breakout character. It either needs to man up and let Barney develop or stop flirting with the idea and then jumping back. I'm ok with a Nora relationship as a stall tactic before Barney and Robin get together, but only if she's a real girlfriend to Barney. If he dates her for a few weeks then breaks up with her because of his intimacy fears, well, it'll just feel like a cheap rehash of the Robin story. So this episode wasn't bad, but it did remind me of my worries about the show. How I Met Your Mother needs to move forward. If it stalls in place like this for too long, it will tarnish its legacy and will ultimately be a worse show in total than it should be. This show shouldn't run much longer (and I say this as a die hard fan), but as long as it is on it needs to make a better effort to keep things moving.

Grade: B-

Notes:

-"You should work at a carnival." "I try, but they're pretty strict with backgrounds."

-"We're exes. We're probably due for a backslide. Or we could just do it the normal way."

-"But L'amour means love, they're going to the cafe of love!"

-I really didn't know about garbage island until tonight. Nor did I know it was actually twice the size of Texas. Holy shit. I wish I cared enough to actually do something.

-"I'm Barney Stinson. I don't get smitten. I smite!"

-"With great penis comes great responsibility."

-"Damn good brandy." A Twin Peaks joke in a scene with Kyle Machlachlan. Huzzah!

-"Maritime justice demands physical retribution! Who is this flower child and what has he done with my friend Ted Mosby?"

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Tags: How I Met Your Mother
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