Despite tying in to the narrative hints dropped in a prior episode, last night’s How I Met Your Mother 7×21 “Now We’re Even” wasn’t one of the series’, or even the season’s, best episodes. Lily‘s sex dream being about Ranjit was funny at the reveal, but not before or after; Robin was a badass, but that’s not unusual; and Ted‘s bachelorhood is take-it-or-leave-it since we now know he meets The Mother by 2015.
I was ready to write off the episode as vaguely disappointing when we reached Barney‘s plotline. All through “Now We’re Even” Barney brags, “My girlfriend’s a stripper!” to anyone who will listen, and cajoles single Ted to make every night unforgettable. It’s Barney’s usual bravado, but near the end we see how hollow an act it is.
Barney: Because… I’m dating a stripper.
Ted: Yeah, I’ve seen the bus ad. I get it.
Barney: No you don’t. Every night, between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m., I’m in hell. All I can think about is what Quinn is doing, and where she is doing it, and who she is doing it on. If I don’t do something to take my mind off of it… You’re lucky that you could just go sit around the house, Ted. I don’t have that option.
That short speech was enough to redeem Barney’s caddish behavior — which is wearing thin after seven seasons — and the episode’s other shortcomings. And that’s something that How I Met Your Mother does better than most sitcoms: It folds these little moments of heart and gravitas within the larger package of outlandish, self-referential comedy, and it surprises me every time.
A few years ago at my old job, I wrote a piece about about how you can take the dramatic stakes more seriously in sitcoms, because they’re not thrown in to get ratings during sweeps. When HIMYM gives us gravitas, they commit to it. Since we’re at more than 150 episodes I obviously don’t have all of them committed to memory, but these are the ones that stick out in my mind.
We saw this startling reversal in the season 1 finale, when Marshall and Lily realize that her dream to do an art program in San Francisco for three months could derail their engagement. Earlier in the episode they had jokingly referred to their strategy of “pausing” arguments so they never had to get to the big blow-outs, but in the following exchange we see how that shallow evasion crumples under the real problems they have to face:
I always have to include that moment when I talk about serious sitcoms, but otherwise I’ll try to stick to Barney-centric instances. Because Carter Bays and Craig Thomas really have redeemed Barney from the seemingly one-dimensional character he appeared to be in season 1. Even though we always suspected that his bravado hid the kind of insecurity he derided others for, we never suspected the depths of that trauma.