I. SALT AND PEPPER AND CUMIN
How I Met Your Mother is fundamentally a story about how there’s a grander scheme at work — how the past designs the future, how everything (everything) has meaning. But the danger of constantly watching the horizon for messages from the universe is that you’re bound to fall for a mirage every once in a while. The story of Ted’s brief bffship with a balloon is genuinely one of the funniest, saddest, most poignant things the show has ever done. It really ties the room together. It explains so much of what we’ve seen of his attitude to love, intimacy, and relationships through the course of the past nine years. I can’t believe they managed to sneak it in as a casual “lol, Ted” aside from very early in the season only to finally land the emotional punch within two hours of The End. ‘If you love something you can never let it go. Not even for a second or it’s gone forever.’ Stylistically, the set-up reminds me of another all-time favourite episode back in season seven (‘The Naked Truth’, 702), when Ted runs around New York for twenty minutes to the jaunty strains of The Kinks only for one-that-got-away Victoria to be revealed when the chorus kicks in. If there’s one thing HIMYM knows, it’s casual misdirection with sublime payoff. The JK Rowling of network television sitcoms.
This scene on the bridge with Jeanette isn’t your Michael Scott never ever ever give up moment. This is Ted Mosby’s Graduate moment, where amidst a largely beautiful speech on the nobility of enduring love it becomes slowly clear to us, and possibly to Ted himself, that something isn’t quite right here; that he is nourishing a deeply painful perspective on what it means to care for someone. That one word that gives him away: destroys. Ted has no boundaries — that much has been clear since his first date with Robin — and as such loves recklessly and desperately, without any consideration for self-protection, believing at his deep tap root that if you love something you gotta lock that shit down. The balloon taught Ted that the blame of losing anything he loves rests firmly on his own shoulders, but the flipside of such a highly attuned sense of personal responsibility is that you truly begin to believe that you can will your desires into being. Maybe he just hadn’t tried hard enough, maybe the timing wasn’t right. He wanted it so badly. Maybe if he made it rain, if he found the locket, if he stole a whole blue orchestra.
Ted’s vulnerability, his allegiance to leading with his heart, is what makes him such a compelling and heartfelt character, but just as The Mother has to take the risk of opening herself to another true connection, we need to see Ted grow out of this chronic compulsion to abandon autonomy and merge wholly with the people around him. Is it meaningful that the first time Ted spends any real time in the company of the mother they’re literally separated by a wall? (And that he’s content to sit and listen without attempting to scramble over it, as early-season Ted would almost certainly have done?) After so much emotional investment in their respective struggles, I really hope we’re given the time in these last precious few episodes to see the characters negotiate the beginning of their relationship — to heal old wounds and learn new ways of loving — away from all the 2030+ high drama that seems to be in the pipeline.
II. THE RAIN MAKES IT WEIRD
There is a word in German: lebenslangerschicksalsschatz. And the closest translation would be “lifelong treasure of destiny.” And Victoria is wunderbar, but she is not my lebenslangerschicksalsschatz. She is my beinaheleidenschaftsgegenstand, you know? It means “the thing that is almost the thing what you want, but it’s not quite.” Das ist Victoria to me.
I think about Robin in the yellow raincoat a lot. The danger of constantly watching the horizon for messages from the universe is that you’re bound to fall for a mirage every once in a while, but in fairness to Ted, Robin’s a very convincing mirage. We know he’s ultimately looking for a yellow umbrella, but all he can see is that he already has a yellow raincoat. They provide the same function, they both offer shelter against the storm, he likes it, he’s comfortable, can’t he make it work? It’s almost the thing he wants, but not quite.
Rainstorm imagery is a sitcom staple, intrinsically connected to heartache and the misery of longing from a distance, but it holds special importance in HIMYM, often heralding a zero sum shift in the fortunes of the show’s characters. As one relationship flourishes, another crashes and burns. In the yellow raincoat episode (709, ‘Disaster Averted’), a call from Robin’s emotionally-distant father during the storm interrupts an intimate moment with Barney, but their eventual kiss by the episode’s end begins the slow process of their coming back together — and signals disaster for their relationships with Kevin and Nora. In ‘Something Old’ (823), digging in the park for her locket, Robin and Ted are caught in a downpour that Robin construes to be a bad omen for her marriage, leading to the ex-lovers sharing a “moment”. This evokes season one’s ‘Come On’ (122), where Ted makes it rain, harnessing the energy of his old friend the universe to hold Robin back from another man and will their relationship into being. Returning home, he finds Marshall sitting on their stoop amidst the downpour, newly abandoned by fiancée Lily.
Ted’s prior knowledge of Lily’s ambivalence is compounded by his act of playing god, making him complicit in his best friend’s heartbreak. Selfishly taking what he wanted, he failed to consider the karmic balance, the debt that would have to be paid. Though believing himself in cahoots with the universe, actually Ted can’t learn to trust it. Too close to the action to see the bigger picture — too close to his own pain and desire — he fails to realise that the raincoat is a perfect fit for Barney, that he should hold out just a little longer for the umbrella. Robin and Barney want love and commitment too, but they want it on their own terms. All the things that frustrated Ted about his relationship with Robin — her fierce independence, her adventurous spirit — are the very reasons Barney loves her. This is a woman who killed a wolf with her own bare hands, and Ted wants her to make him feel needed every now and then? ‘Shouldn’t we hold out for the person who doesn’t just tolerate our little quirks but actually kinda likes them?’