'How I Met Your Mother' Review: 'The Poker Game'
Barney's a mama's boy, and a loving brother, and so he's forced to figure out a conflict between his family and the woman he's going to spend the rest of his life with. Robin wants to be Barney's first concern. Barney's first concern is his family: his mother and his brother. The nonsense begins when James incessantly makes negative remarks about marriage. Robin's annoyed by the remarks. Barney, since he's the bride-groom, must also feel bothered. Robin's worried James' remarks may influence Barney. Anyway, Robin wins James' wedding ring in a poker game. Robin assumes he won't miss the ring, but she's also proving a point to him about what marriage meant to him. James' reluctance to part with the ring is superficial. The narrative doesn't suggest that it is anything more than a plot device for Barney to learn yet another lesson about becoming domesticated.
Barney's mother comes to the aid of James, creating more of a conflict for Barney. Barney repeats that he doesn't want to be in the middle of the conflict. Barney, however, represents the resolution, as well as progress. HIMYM's writers keep telling variations of this type of Barney and Robin story. Two days before the wedding, Barney and Robin haven't figured it out. Robin can't be sure of Barney's devotion and love. Barney's torn between romantic love and familial love. I'm sure this story won't be the last of Barney and Robin doubting their 'rightness' for each other. Weddings in sitcoms are mined for drama wherever drama can be mined: the wrong wedding band shows up; cold feet; the groom gets caught in a tree in tomato land; a demon shows the groom a vision of what married life could be; the caterers brought too little food; etc. The Barney-Robin dramatic A story reflects their relationship: forced, lazy, unimaginative.
The resolution of the story has a sociopathic bent. Barney-as-sociopath is played for laughs in the show and has been for its entire run. As a secondary sitcom character, with nothing more than a catchphrase, works as a comical sociopath since the audience doesn't relate with the character as human-to-human; but, rather, as something foreign, absurd, and humorous. I wouldn't want Barney as a friend in real life. The A story didn't work in the first act and it didn't work in the third. Barney, of course, needs to learn a lesson. Robin's in the right; his family is not. In the simplistic world of HIMYM, it's either/or. Barney can either reject his family or reject Robin. That's it. Barney initially moves to return the wing to James, but upon learning the truth about James-as-spouse, Barney changes his mind. James is not worthy of the ring, Barney learns, which would make Dustin Kensrue proud. Since Barney's an insane man, he tells his brother and mother off in the most Dawson way. Barney tells them they aren't needed once he marries Robin. The fake audience laughs. Robin worries about the fall-out. Barney doesn't. Barney's Dawson-like bit of honesty won't matter. The tag of the episode promises the continuation of the Barney's mom/Robin feud.
The B story about wedding gifts and thank-you notes isn't bad. Ted and Marshall's friendship is the best relationship on the show. For years, Marshall and Lily thought Ted didn't give them a wedding gift; for years, Ted wondered why he never received a thank-you note for the gift. I liked the development of the story, from passive-aggression to comical misunderstanding to the shot of Katie Holmes dressed in the pumpkin costume, which reminded me of my crush on Katie Holmes. Jason Segal seemed energetic for the first time this season. He got to interact with Josh Radnor for a decent chunk of the episode, as well as Alyson Hanigan. Radnor's and Segal's enthusiasm was infectious. The horrible ending to the story was somewhat (not really) made up by Radnor fake-crying. Okay, no, that's not true--Radnor should never fake-cry. The pizza delivery made no sense.
"The Poker Game" didn't fill me with new optimism about the longest wedding weekend working for an entire season, especially after watching the bad A story that didn't add anything new to the characters and their dynamics.