Recap and review of How I Met Your Mother – Season 8 Episode 5 – The Autumn of Breakups
More than perhaps any other show on television, How I Met Your Mother is cited when someone is searching for an example of shows that are continually spinning their wheels in lieu of substantive plot advancement. Normally, this isn’t really an issue for sitcoms. Not a whole lot changes on Happy Endings, and Modern Family is only just getting around to significantly altering the dynamic, with Gloria’s pregnancy. However, this show is a different animal. How I Met Your Mother has a predominant story that threads throughout the entire series, from its frame narrative structure (with Future Ted telling his kids the story of how he met their mother) to the conceits of each plot at its center. Take tonight’s “The Autumn of Breakups,” for example.
Ted (Josh Radnor) proposes to Victoria (Ashley Williams), and she accepts on the condition that he give up his friendship with Robin (Cobie Smulders). The conclusion to the storyline is never really in doubt, even when the episode makes use of X Factor-style trick editing, because we know that Victoria is not The Mother. So even if Ted, for whatever reason, decides that Victoria is more important to him than Robin, we know that their relationship still isn’t going to last. Of course, despite this potential plot vacuum, “The Autumn of Breakups” does a better job of getting to the heart of how Ted has changed in the past eight years than most episodes in recent weeks, but there’s still this pervasive feeling of inertia throughout this series that keeps it from ever feeling like there are real stakes. I know we should just be enjoying the journey, but that’s the kind of rhetoric you use when talking about a series that’s maybe five seasons in. This is the eighth season of How I Met Your Mother, and we’re not really appreciably closer to discovering The Mother’s identity than we were in season five, unless the flashforward to Robin and Barney’s wedding indicates that The Mother will be waiting for us at the season finale.
Now, having said all that, “The Autumn of Breakups” is one of my favorite episodes of the season so far. Say what you will about how tired some of the melodrama gets, but blending comedy with honest, relatable relationship drama is still something the show does remarkably well. I’ve made no secret about Victoria being my favorite among Ted’s former girlfriends, and while Ashley Williams hasn’t had a lot to do this season, she’s still every bit as sweet and likable as she’s always been…well, up to the ultimatum. Last season’s crisis aside, I feel it’s self-evident that Ted is over Robin, yet Victoria persists in her notion that he isn’t. I don’t really know where she’s getting any of this from, especially since I don’t think she knows about Ted’s rooftop confession from last season. Granted, Victoria has an established mistrust of just how platonic Ted’s relationship with Robin is, but that comes across more as neuroses on her part, than it is based on any measurable, concrete evidence. It’s one of the most annoying quirks about her character, since she’s pretty much perfect in every other respect. But even as she’s saying goodbye to Ted at the end of the episode, she’s wishing him luck in his pursuit of Robin, saying “I hope you get her someday.” It would feel like a writerly contrivance if it hadn’t been a pre-established facet of Victoria’s character, but all I could think was “Really? That’s your out from this storyline?” It’s completely fair for a person to have different expectations from a relationship than their partner, but she really should have brought the issue to the fore upfront, instead of waiting until Ted proposed to drop the bomb on him. She had to know what she was signing up for, and while that may not make it right, it still makes her naive to think that it was an ultimatum that would end well for her. Which I guess is the point.
All that having been said, the episode is still pretty funny. There’s an ongoing gag about relationship clocks, which brings me to an honest question I have that maybe my readers can answer: Do you side with Ted or Victoria on the relationship clocks? Do you really hit “pause” once you break up with someone, and then “restart” the clock if you get back together? Because, by this logic, Ted and Victoria have been together for years, even though it’s only amounted to a handful of months at a time. Ted seems to believe that the clock resets with each new iteration of the relationship. So Ted, having started a new round of his relationship with Victoria, feels they’re only roughly six months in. I’m genuinely curious about the answer, because I can see both sides of the argument.
As for the rest of the episode, there’s a great subplot in which Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) picks up a stray dog, names it “Brover” and proceeds to use the little canine to pick up women. However, wingmanship isn’t a one-way street, according to Barney, and so we’re treated to an episode-stealing montage in which Barney is shown playing the wingman for Brover. It’s the sort of priceless sequence the show doesn’t do enough these days. However, the good times eventually come to an end when Brover’s owner is found, leading to Barney realizing that Robin is really the best wingman of all. The conclusion is a little tidy, but it’s still worth it for Robin’s impression of a lesbian, coupled with the episode’s ending tag, in which Barney helps Brover escape from a “crazy bitch” accusing him of knocking her up (Brover’s barks are subtitled, you see). Also of note, Robin’s relationship with Nick (Michael Trucco) serving as the inverse of Ted’s relationship with Victoria, where Nick is exceedingly jealous of Robin repeatedly dropping everything to help out her guy friends. Unlike Victoria, however, Nick proves to be understanding. It’s a storyline that comes and goes, but still produces decent laughs of its own, including the running gag of Nick attempting to come up with a catchphrase for his cable access cooking show. The opening title sequence is aces, as is a segment in which he keeps making inadvertent sex puns, to the consternation of his studio audience.
“The Autumn of Breakups” is a fun episode with considerable depth, all-around, but the primary problems with the series still remain. However, the episode at least gives us the impression that Ted is now unambiguously on the track towards meeting The Mother, at last, having tied up the Victoria loose-end, and possibly getting closer to closing the door on Robin once and for all. I hope it’s soon. I certainly enjoy the ride, and I’m not as desperately invested in the destination as I’m leading on, but it can be taxing when we’re asked to invest in obvious dead-ends. This show is better than that. With any hope, we can finally begin to see Ted’s transformation into the man he needs to be in order to meet The Mother, which has been the point of all of these relationships since day one. He certainly seems ready.