Recap and review of How I Met Your Mother – Season 8 Episode 23 – Something Old:
As How I Met Your Mother winds up its eighth season, some of the heavier plot points of the season are brought back to the fore. Though Robin’s (Cobie Smulders) conflicting feelings about marrying Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) have been a thematic through-line since the midseason return, it’s made more overt here. And it’s just as well, as “Something Old” builds considerable anticipation for the season finale, even if many viewers will feel it treads old territory. This is because, for the most part, it does. These are issues that remain unresolved, as Robin has yet to really develop a proper relationship with her emotionally-absent father, Robin Sr. (Ray Wise). Meanwhile, her ambivalence about Barney is exacerbated by his bonding with Robin Sr., solidifying the kind of father-child relationship she’s always wanted. These two parallel plots form the most substantial portion of the episode, as Barney grows closer to his future father-in-law while Robin searches for a locket from her adolescence as the “Something Old” for her wedding. However, the third plotline of the episode brings Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) into the fold, illustrating how time and distance have the potential to threaten even the sturdiest of friendship. It’s a storyline that dovetails into the conclusion, as Ted (Josh Radnor) picks up the friendship torch for Robin, complicating matters as the wedding date nears.
Robin buried in locket during her first trip to New York City with her father in 1994. Her dream was to come back and dig up the locket upon becoming engaged to the man of her dreams. In the present, Robin returns the spot where she buried the locket and gets digging while Robin Sr. bails on his daughter to go play laser tag with Barney. The Barney vs. Robin Sr. plot provides much of the comedy in the episode, as the two men start off as a scarily effective team. The game brings them closer together, to the point that Robin Sr. considers Barney the son he always wanted, but never had. However, when they come to a disagreement over who should be “point man” in their alliance, the men turn on one another, inciting a war in which Barney and Robin Sr. lead their own armies of children in a back-and-forth laser tag struggle. It’s pretty lightweight stuff that illustrates, in some ways, Barney’s short-sightedness, if not his self-absorption, as he’s too involved in the war with Robin Sr. to notice the distress in Robin’s voice when she calls him for help, dejected by her inability to find the locket. It’s somewhat galling that Barney is continually shown to be this dense, even after all of his growth as a character over the season. Robin even acknowledges that while Barney is much more mature, in many ways, he’s hardly over his inherent boyishness. Barney remains likable, for the most part, but his immaturity makes him hard to identify with, given that it results in him failing to be there for the people who need him.
Meanwhile, across town, Marshall and Lily have called Ted in to help them decide what to pack for Italy, and what to put in the “Bermuda Triangle,” a space outside the apartment into which things disappear almost immediately, and without explanation. Ted is super-cocky about his organizational skills after receiving a nickname while traveling through Spain years ago, “El Ganso con la Riñonera” (while Ted thinks this means “packer of skill and great merit”, it actually means “fanny pack dork”, as Ted traveled everywhere with a fanny pack into which he put everything). Ted is able to help them pack efficiently, but things ultimately go south once Marshall and Lily decides to junk an old bean bag chair, as Ted gets overly sentimental about it. Turns out the bean bag chair was the first piece of furniture the trio had bought upon first moving into the apartment after college, and Ted fears that discarding the chair means they’d be discarding him. He fears that their friendship might not survive the trip to Italy, but Marshall and Lily insist that Ted is their best friend and nothing will change that. Ted remains conflicted until he meets with Robin, reading between the lines when she calls him for help and then pretends that nothing is wrong. Ted recognizes the significance and bond of the friendships in his life, and ultimately advises Marshall and Lily to throw out the bean bag after all, after helping Robin find her locket.
But things get complicated, as Robin realizes that the locket isn’t in the cloth she buried it in. She breaks down, reasoning that perhaps she isn’t meant to marry Barney. For Robin, the locket symbolized her readiness for marriage. If she found the locket, it would mean she and Barney were meant to be. But if she didn’t, she would know that it was the universe giving her a sign. It starts to rain, and as Robin fears that her relationship is doomed, Ted insists that the universe isn’t always trying to tell us something. Sometimes a locket is just a locket, and rain is just rain. This turn of superstition is a really perplexing choice by the writers. I’m not entirely sure it works for the character, and even Ted makes mention of this, as he’s usually the one imbuing innocuous happenings with a greater meaning. That said, it can somewhat be rationalized by pre-wedding jitters, as Robin’s cold feet has resulted in her searching for a way out, or a reason to doubt the authenticity of what she and Barney have together. Ted tries his best to convince Robin that she’s reading too much into things, but Robin worries that Barney doesn’t really understand her. Ted came to her rescue by reading between the lines and knowing something was wrong, yet Barney couldn’t pull himself away from a game of laser tag to be there for his obviously upset fiance. Robin takes Ted’s hand as they sit together in the rain, with Robin contemplating just what she’s going to do about this engagement. Of course, from flashforwards, we know she makes it to the church at least. But whether she walks down the aisle and says “I do”, or if she leaves Barney at the altar is a big question going forward.
“Something Old” manages to find a solid balance between comedy and serialized stories that carry dramatic heft. It’s hardly the season’s best episode, but it’s a half-hour that illustrates the effectiveness of the show’s storytelling instincts, rooting the plot developments in character, instead of contrivances.