28
Feb
2011
How I Met Your Mother: Season 6, Episode 18
A Change of Heart
Jordan
For the second time this season, How I Met Your Mother pulled out a ridiculous gimmick to help guide the way to a dramatic story point. And, for the second time this season, it ended up undercutting the drama and making a potentially excellent storyline seem somehow trivialized and over-the-top at the same time. In "Bad News" the giant countdown distracted me throughout the episode and didn't lend any additional weight to the news that Marshall's father had died. This time around, the "hear monitor" gimmick fell completely flat, actually making the moment that Barney realized he wants something more from life seem cloying and grating when it should have been romantic and winning.

That Barney really is a softy deep down and will grow by series' end into a functional adult ready for a long term relationship has been pretty clear from Day One. As much as the show likes to play Barney as a heartless horn dog 9 episodes out of 10, we've known since "Game Night" way back in season one that he is actually a wounded romantic, a guy who got his heart broken at a young age and has decided to avoid intimacy because he associates it with that traumatic pain (and also, probably, because of his crippling daddy issues). I like this about his character, and I like a plotline that lets him grow a little bit. The "player" Barney is ultimately not all that ineresting unless the real Barney emerges every once in a while. Unfortunately, I know the show can't let Barney grow too much until its in the home stretch. HIMYM relies far too much on Barney's sexual shenanigans and slutty entendres to really let him mature too much, and the writers already proved that they aren't particularly good at writing a mature Barney in a relationship with the Robin debacle last season(though I do still hold out hope of him being with Robin at the end of the day).

So while I appreciate that this episode let us know that Barney truly does want to settle down someday, I already knew that. And while I'm glad to see a tentative step forward for the character, its clear this is a very small step forward that will likely be forgotten entirely by the next episode. Also, though, I really, really, really hated the heart monitor gimmick. First and foremost, the human heart doesn't work the way the show needed it to tonight, and that means that Barney (and by extension the rest of the gang) was either at a terrible cardiologist, or has serious heart problems. Your heart shouldn't actually skip a beat when you see a girl you like. THAT'S AN EXPRESSION. And if Lily punching Barney actually sent him into cardiac arrest, that means he had a fucking heart attack at the booth and no one did anything about it. Perhaps I should suspend my disbelief for the jokes and the romance the show is going for here, but since the jokes fell flat and the heart monitor actually undercut the cuteness, I can't really give it any credit here. The episode's central gimmick actively took away from the effectiveness of a moment that should have made a softy like me say "aww" instead of "ugh" and that makes the episode a failure, to a certain extent. Which is a shame, seeing as it was written by Matt Kuhn, the author of the Barney-authored books the show has put out and the writer behind some real How I Met Your Mother classics, like "Three Days of Snow," a definite "aww" episode, and Barney-centric episodes like "The Playbook," which was one of the stronger episodes last season.

A weak central story can always be saved by a great subplot, but sadly this episode had a dud for a B-plot too. Robin wants to get a dog, but instead starts dating a guy who, wait for it, ACTS LIKE A DOG. This storyline, like the A-plot, could have been handled well and ended up being very funny, but unfortunately it went way over the top. I always enjoy when the gang sits at the bar trying to one-up each other, both because its usually funny and because it feels like something cool, smart, funny people do while hanging out together bagging on their friends. and I enjoyed the moment when the gang was getting as many dog puns as possible into conversation with Scooby, but let's pause for a moment (eh? eh?) to look at the guy Robin is dating. She throws her keys and he fetches them. He gets outside and just pees on a fire hydrant (in his defense, he did eat A LOT of sandwich brownies). These are not behaviors of a normal human being. These are things he did only because they are dog-like behaviors. Again, I probably would have let this go entirely if I laughed at the subplot, but as Sam quipped, I mostly just wished they would put this plot down.

Any time the show goes to the "Barney has a heart" well, it should at least resonate emotionally. And any time the show brings the sandwich gag back, it should be as hysterical as it was the first time. Both of these were wasted tonight, which is a real travesty because I can see a great episode buried beneath this mediocrity. The Barney story here has all the makings of a great plot, and Robin dating a guy that acts like a dog could have been done really well. Instead, though, two solid story ideas were squandered in an era when this show can probably use every strong idea it can get its hands on. How I Met Your Mother was chasing a good tale tonight, but where it should have caught the frisbee in its mouth, it instead had a pretty rough time. See, I can make dog puns too.

Grade: C+

Notes:

-I thought about giving this episode a straight C, but there were a lot of good ideas here. None of them were executed well, but there was enough potential that I'll give it the C+.

-"Wow. She nursed you back to health?" "No! I didn;t even see her boobs."

-Barney's dirt on the gang: My. Buttons the class hamster (Lily), the calzone (Marshall), the Mr. T dream (Robin), and the ballet class, N'Sync concert, and really, the thermos (Ted).

-I really enjoyed Lily consulting with Marshall and then leaning in, speaking into her wine glass and saying "I do not recall" while being questioned by Norah.

-Again, I just want to stress how ridiculous it is that Barney's heart skipped a beat, and that he went into cardiac arrest from being punched. Just poor, poor writing there.

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Tags: How I Met Your Mother
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