'How I Met Your Mother' Review: 'Unpause'
My expectations for How I Met Your Mother are very, very low, practically non-existent actually; however, I expected tidy resolution for Marshall and Lily in the third act. Bays and Thomas conditioned me to expect the tidiest resolutions in the third act. Act one establishes the story; act two involves much silliness; act three resolves all the stories swiftly. Marshall and Lily end separated. Lily leaves the Inn. Marshall stands in his bedroom, presumably, regretful of what he said to Lily. The extremity of the fight, which involves callbacks to Lily leaving Marshall because it matters for Marshall in the present, escalates quickly. Alyson Hanigan makes hearts hurt during the scene. Jason Segal is given substantial material for the first time in the final season. I liked the unsettled fight, but the quick escalation of the fight was forced.
One might raise the point that Marshall and Lily thought about their inevitable meeting and fight since Plot Device sent Lily the informative text about what Marshall hadn’t told her. The more likely reason for the straight-to-the-gut fight is that there were limited scenes in the third act, and that the writers needed to cut to the most brutal bits of their fight. Marshall and Lily spend the bulk of the episode on pause, an old relationship device of theirs that allows each to cool down during tense moments of a fight or unexpectedly sexy moments, such as when Marshall reads what Lily spent money on, or Lily’s desire to sleep with her husband after he’s been gone for (was it a week?) five days. A stretch of the second act involves Marshall brainstorming ways to keep his wife satisfied for the night to avoid fighting with her. Earlier, he buys drinks to avoid fighting with Lily, which gets Barney truth serum drunk.
The inevitable and long delayed fight begins with declarations: each declares the other will do what the other wants. Marshall wants to stay in New York City and work as a judge while Lily wants to move to Italy, none of which is revelatory. Marshall dismisses Lily’s passion for art as a hobby. Lily accuses Marshall of selfishness, which brings Marshall back to her deserting him for San Francisco. “Unpause” involves the past—it’s what the B story is about—and Lily’s move to San Francisco was a major plot point in their story and a major turn in each character’s arc. Lily leaves the Inn after Marshall wonders aloud whether he and Marvin are a consolation prize for a life she didn’t find in San Francisco. Lily’s abrupt departure from the Inn is a seven-year extension of leaving for San Francisco. She’s overwhelmed again, taken aback, or whatever, and bolts with a mysterious companion, who must be The Mother. I mean, it’s not like Amber Benson’s in that car. Alyson Hanigan deserves accolades for delivering the best performance of the season in the fight. No one cries on television like her. Bays and Thomas fail to make Lily funny, but Hanigan’s too good dramatically for their writing to screw her up.
Barney’s truth serum drunkenness is different in tone and mood from the A story. In the B story, Robin and Ted get answers for questions they’ve wondered about for years—and of course the fans wondered as well about Barney’s life. Questions about Barney’s sex life, splitting a cab, whether or not he’s taller than Ted, what he does for a living, and whether or not he plans to bring a bear to the wedding are asked of him, and he answers truthfully. I don’t like the conceit of where the truth comes from—from a new level of Barney drunk, just above his Jabba drunk in which everything he says sounds like Jabba the Hut—but it’s the final season. I’ll roll with it. Plus, no one really cares whether or not I liked the conceit. We should all create our own art instead of critiquing and reviewing and comment on episode after episode, right?
Neil Patrick Harris’ serene, truthful Barney is a nice change from his cartoonish Barney. One knew the point of the truth serum gimmick was for Barney to admit his feelings about his approaching wedding, which, okay, yeah, it happened. Robin completes him. He’d never ruin their wedding day. Barney’s profession involves him signing documents that’d make him liable for some serious stuff. Future Ted shows that in two months he screws his boss over and that his whole bro act was a moral endeavor. Ah, I will not miss this show.
“Unpause” isn’t limited to the past. The episode opens and ends with The Mother and Ted on morning of Luke’s birth, with the Mother in labor. The episode hangs on the ol’ ‘nothing good happens after 2AM’ line used and re-used throughout the series, leading to the end when Ted notes the exception of the 2am rule: the birth of Luke. We see two glimpses of the future in “Unpause,” which shows Ted and Barney happy and fulfilled. Marshall and Lily hang in the limbo of the present, but what we watch is all past. Everyone’s story isn’t being created, only told. Marshall and Lily will be fine.