Recap and review of How I Met Your Mother – Season 8 Episode 11/12 – The Final Page, Part One and Part Two
How I Met Your Mother has done a lot of stalling and starting in the romance between Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin (Cobie Smulders). And that’s when the show hasn’t been ignoring that particular storyline altogether, as this season has varied wildly in both focus and tone. The problem with this approach is that the show now has to make up for lost time, rushing the Robin/Barney plot along in such a fashion that Barney’s change strains credulity, never minding the fact that this is, what, the seventh time Barney has gone through a huge emotional growth? And it turns out it’s not really much of a growth, as all the wonderful things he says about the way Patrice (Ellen D. Williams) makes him feel is simply one facet of yet another of Barney’s “plays.” Yes, the twist in “The Final Page, Part Two” (which isn’t as funny as the first episode in the hour-long block, “The Final Page, Part One,” though it hits all the emotional beats like a champ) is Barney’s longest, most complicated con yet. It relies on so many things that Barney couldn’t possibly have predicted, and so many external factors beyond his control that it’s laughably, almost embarrassingly absurd. But dammit, it really does hit paydirt on those emotional moments, to the point where it almost doesn’t matter that the storyline has been rushed, as it really felt like the characters coming full circle, with Ted (Josh Radnor) finally putting away his romantic hopes for Robin, while Barney finally lets go of his promiscuity. It’s pretty easily among the best two episodes the show has ever produced.
“The Final Page, Part One” is the funnier half-hour, as each of the characters have to deal with their “Pit Guy”, the person with whom they’re so obsessed that they run the risk of pulling a Silence of the Lambs and kidnapping them, and then throwing them into their own personal dungeon pit. Ted’s “Pit Guy” is his former architecture professor (Peter Gallagher), who once told a young Ted that he would never be an architect. This leads to some of the best comedy of the entire hour, as Ted starts imagining ways he can punish the professor or rub his own success in the professor’s face, smoking a cigarette and putting it out in his class, starting a fire that causes the professor to spontaneously combust. The GNB building is set to open, making Ted the youngest architect to have a building on the Manhattan skyline. Meanwhile, Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) have to deal with a Pit Guy of their own in a former Wesleyan classmate (Seth Green), a hackey-sack enthusiast who’s obsessed with the notion of the three of them as “The Three Hack-migos.” This storyline is a little less successful on the comedic front, but it’s still a solid entry into the episode, as Marshall and Lily have jinxed Barney into silence, and continue to lord it over his head.
Yet much of the episode revolves around Robin’s own pit victim in Patrice, who Robin nearly fires in an abuse of power upon learning that the news corporation must downsize. The intervention held in last week’s episode doesn’t seem to have immediately gotten through to Robin, though she eventually makes a turnaround upon realizing that the only person who can let you out of the “pit” is yourself. It’s a trite, even formulaic, resolution, but entirely necessary for what comes in “The Final Page, Part Two”, as Robin needs to have some reason to resist the urge to chase after Barney in the climax. Her personal growth serves this purpose. “Crazy” Robin had been a largely unflattering characterization for her, which made her hard to sympathize with for the past several weeks, as she’s had countless chances to actually be with Barney, yet never took any of them (particularly last season, when she broke his heart by backing out of a potential relationship, instead choosing the relatively bland Kevin). Here, however, she appears pretty level-headed when explaining to Ted why she can’t go chasing after Barney anymore, despite Ted’s insistence that Robin has to follow her heart, which would be cringe-worthy if not for how elegantly the scene in the back of the limo is written. Josh Radnor is also magnificent at portraying a certain level of sincerity. I feel like I’m the only person in the world who really likes Ted Mosby, but I really like Ted Mosby. And scenes like his pep-talk to Robin, convincing her to “go get him”, is exactly why. But beyond that, the scene also illustrates a necessary bit of growth in Ted. Earlier in the episode, Marshall refused to throw in the towel on the possibility of Ted and Robin still being together someday, such that he doesn’t think Ted should tell Robin that Barney is planning on proposing to Patrice. But in convincing Robin to go after Barney, Ted is admitting to himself that the Robin possibility is closed to him, once and for all. It’s one of the arcs the show has been building to for eight seasons, and it’s immensely rewarding to see it come full circle.
“The Final Page, Part 2″ also has a B-plot in which Marshall and Lily go to the gala opening of Ted’s building and suffer separation anxiety from being apart from baby Marvin, but it’s small potatoes in comparison to the finale, as Robin makes it to the top of the World News building (her favorite spot in the city) to stop Barney from proposing to Patrice, only to find the rooftop strewn with candles and rose petals. And a last page to Barney’s playbook: The Robin.
The sequence then breaks down the intricacies of Barney’s plan: Declare feelings for Robin, pick an awkward moment to make a move, get rejected, tell Robin he’s done chasing after her, watch her go mad with jealousy while he “dates” Patrice (who is in on the con), plan a “fight” with Patrice (since Barney knew Robin, Lily, and Ted were in his apartment, thanks to hidden cameras), burn The Playbook (since he won’t need it anymore), let his friends stage an intervention for Robin (which he also knows about thanks to hidden cameras), slip the news to Ted that he plans on proposing to Patrice, and if Ted lets the news slip to Robin, Barney will know that Ted has finally moved on and he has his best bro’s blessing.
Robin is understandably furious at being manipulated, though I imagine it’s at least partially her anger with herself for having fallen for it. Either way, the anger disappears once Robin turns over the page for the last part in the plan: “Hope she says yes.” And Barney is suddenly on one knee, ring in hand, asking Robin to marry him. She says yes, they kiss, it starts to snow…it’s really quite the perfect little scene, as treacly as it threatens to get. This is exactly the kind of thing How I Met Your Mother does better than any other sitcom on television. There’s a real heart here, to say nothing of how compelling its serialized elements frequently are when the show bothers to stick with them. This was a slow build, and I guess the serialization of the Robin/Barney arc this season is reflective of Barney’s long-con on her, his final (hopefully?) masterstroke play for the hand of the woman he loves. It’s an absolutely bravura bit of excess, and it totally works, as I found myself more invested in seeing Robin and Barney together than I ever have at any point in their relationship. By this criteria alone, “The Final Page” is a success, as it affects real change in the dynamic of the series, and exemplifies real, measurable growth beyond what we’ve seen from the characters in recent weeks. Hopefully, the series will adopt a more serialized path for the rest of the season, since the stories tend to be stronger than any of its isolated comedic elements (though I can’t pretend that the show can’t still be howlingly funny). This is the most optimistic I’ve been about the show since the early episodes of this season, and that has me looking forward to the show’s return from winter break, to see how the Robin/Barney wedding storyline plays out, and also to see if Ted will finally, at long last, meet this Mother we keep hearing about.