Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Bafflingly Stupid Ending of the HIMYM Episode "Sunrise"

I can't decide which group the producers of How I Met Your Mother hate more: their characters or the audience.  I've dismissed many a criticism of the show, but the final scene of the episode "Sunrise" was the most idiotic thing I can remember being shown on television:

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The GIF is a mercifully sped-up depiction of a payoff of a metaphor the least intelligent 7th grader could discern.  As referenced in a previous episode, we see Ted's brief but apparently significant relationship with a balloon as a boy, a balloon he inadvertently lets go.  The final scene is even more ridiculous in real time and is an aggressively terrible artistic choice.  If you haven't seen the episode, you might assume this clip is meant to be comical.  This clip and episode reflect that Carter Bays and Craig Thomas structured the series poorly and have let it drag on far too long.  

Let's first discuss the issues with this episode itself.  Contextually it's even more disappointing after a great episode, "How Your Mother Met Me," a moving demonstration of HIMYM's romantic side.  Ted's definition of love and his explanation of his actions paint him as desperate at best and willfully destructive of his friends' happiness at worst.  Unfortunately, even the mind-blowingly dumb Robin/balloon symbolism can't be believed as an entirely definitive end to this storyline; we've seen repeated efforts to show Ted as having accepted reality.  He and Robin were always fundamentally doomed as a couple: they are at their core incompatible, valuing very different things and seeing their world in significantly different ways.  The Ted/Robin "relationship" has been a dry well for several seasons.  Robin moved on, moved on with someone they are both close with, and never was anything but abundantly honest about how she felt/didn't feel about Ted.  Ted's efforts to rekindle a relationship for years have landed as sad and desperate, not romantic in the way that is supposed to be at the core of his appeal.

The episode also undercuts several seasons' work of rehabilitating Barney's soul.  Super-drunk Barney finds two random proteges to teach the ways of "being awesome," suggesting that his personal changes in behavior and outlook came not from accepting that his previous lifestyle was damaging to himself and others (and gross and dangerous and predatory), but more that he's just moving on to the next stage.  The tale of Barney's apprentices is a serious storytelling problem.  In previous seasons, we see Barney meet his own philandering father and recognize the painful consequences his father's absence had on his life.  He recognizes that his parents' behavior and his own subsequent choices have messed him up.  His old ways die hard, but we're led to believe that he's different...until "Sunrise" suggests otherwise.  There isn't anything wrong with a show redeeming a character and then soiling him again - that would be an interesting and fairly unprecedented strategy - but it is unlikely that we'll see any lasting negative consequences for Barney, Robin, or anybody else as a result.

The Marshall/Lily confrontation was well-earned and fairly well-executed.  Over the course of the series, the writers have subtly given them a complex, meaningful relationship.  They very obviously love and support each other, but face real obstacles.  Lily is dismissive of Marshall's supernatural beliefs and disrespects his family.  She has stepped on Marshall more than once in pursuit of her dreams.  Marshall treats her dreams with tremendous hypocrisy.  He offers verbal support for her artistic ambitions, but he at no point considers her a real artist.  While Marshall is a touch too hard on himself, especially in the context of their relationship, that is true to his character.  The result of their conversation (in person and in Marshall's mind) in "Sunrise" is a significant discussion of how couples can communicate and make decisions.  HIMYM would have done well to supply Ted's relationships with more of these layers of maturity and nuance given that his romantic search is supposed to be the emotional core of the show.

Deciding to set the entire final season over the wedding weekend was a mistake, but it didn't have to be quite so poorly executed.  The show has never been limited by a sequential time frame and narrowing so much of the plot to such a short period has led to a lot of meaningless, illogical, lazy, and counterproductive story lines (did we learn nothing from 24?).  Even within the nominal framework of the wedding weekend, instead of irritating issues like Jason Segel almost literally phoning in the first third of the season, Marshall's maddening road trip, lousy rehashing of the Barney/Robin Doubts About Our Relationship issues, unfunny bringing back of previous characters, they could have done a range of intriguing stories/concepts:

More musical episodes.  HIMYM has a very musically talented cast.  Jason Segel and Neil Patrick Harris are legitimately good musicians and the rest of the core cast does well.  The Mother, Cristin Milioti, is a Tony Award nominee for best actress in a musical, and her rendition of "La Vie en Rose" in the preceding episode was gorgeous.  Even frequent guest Wayne Brady has major musical skills.  The show has consistently done an excellent job with music.  We'd all much rather have seen more music, comical or not, than several episodes of Marshall bickering with Sherri Shepherd's ill-conceived character or Ted spending three too many episodes with Jeanette.

Barney/Robin/Ted drama that isn't Ted pining for Robin.  Ted should be jealous of the wedding, not because he's Lifetime-movie-ly obsessed with Robin, but because it's not his.  He could be legitimately angry that he feels like he's done everything the right way (true or not), done everything he could to have the wife and family he wants, but The Universe has denied him.  Add to that Robin and especially Barney have no such history of wanting and planning for such a life, there could have been real drama for Ted and the group in Ted feeling screwed over by life.  If they wanted to still try to milk some drama out of Barney/Robin/Ted, how about some legitimate anger and conflict between Ted and Barney?  Ted's obsession threatens his friends' happiness and is betrayal on several levels, but nobody gets actually angry over this.

More of The Freaking Mother.  Is it too crazy to have more of the titular character of the show who is played by an award-nominated actress who is perfectly cast for the part?  "How Your Mother Met Me" was funny, moving, smart, and charming.  We saw a great character who was more than a collection of weird/cute things on Ted's arbitrary checklist.  The Mother's story and Cristin Milioti's performance merit much more than a single episode to be featured as the lead.  As long as the show has been on, couldn't we also have had some funny stories about The Kids?

Robin flying away at the end of "Sunrise" was the case in point for all of the viewers' frustrations over these final few seasons.  The constant attempts at Robin/Ted undermine the characters, are excruciatingly executed, and most importantly, wasting time that could be spent telling much more interesting, significant, and entertaining stories.

                                                 What would have made the episode better
                                                 (Image by