It’s been too many weeks since I wrote a How I Met Your Mother review. I blame The Bachelor mostly, but it’s also been a few episodes since something MAY-jah, anything worth analyzing beyond “that was funny, that was not so funny” happened on the show. It’s a sitcom, yes, and as a sitcom its first responsibility is to make us laugh, and episodes like “Desperation Day” and “Garbage Island” did just that. But in a way, everything in season 6 (and even further back) seems to have been leading up to “Legendaddy,” when Barney would meet his mythical, mysterious father and achieve the sort of breakthrough we appreciate witnessing in all our beloved characters, but appreciate even more in characters like Barney, whose usual one-dimensionality is both his blessing and his curse. Maybe, upon meeting his dad, he’d turn into a real boy.
But for me–and I fully expect and hope some of you disagree with me here–the long-awaited meeting of Barney and his father Jerry, played convincingly (both sides of him) by John Lithgow, left me feeling underwhelmed.
I could tell from the first five seconds of watching Barney and “Jerry” sitting down in McLaren’s that this “Legendaddy” was all in Barney’s head, which turned the whole interaction–their same drink order, being a roadie for Bon Jovi, getting a chick’s number in five seconds–into a sad display of just how far Barney is willing to go, and lie, to protect himself from actually feeling anything. Don’t you think the gang could pick out when Barney is weaving a tall tale by now? He does it often–too often–enough. And Jerry didn’t help matters by trying to play along with Barney’s attempts at connecting over booze and babes. All this compromised the emotional quality of Barney’s eventual realization, and pain at the realizing, that Jerry didn’t ignore him to go be a global badass, but to go be a suburban dad.
To be fair to Barney, he’s never had a better excuse to act quite so immature. For all his hyper-masculine posing, he’s never had a father around to teach him how to really be a man, including how to talk about feeling hurt without behaving like a child. I don’t want to read too much into it, but the initial example of Barney not being able to use a screwdriver openly hinted at this void in Barney’s education, and went on to become the premise of the episode: We all have mental “gaps” in knowledge that stay with us well into adulthood. While Robin’s, Ted’s, Lily’s and Marshall’s mental “gaps” were embarrassing, but comical and small (I especially loved Robin’s belief that the North Pole wasn’t real, and her subsequent speech comparing it to Narnia, Candy Land and Hogwarts … “Expelliarmus!”), Barney’s is a big one: Instead of the mother of all daddies, he’s got the mother of all daddy issues. And, as the end of the episode showed, when Barney took Jerry’s basketball hoop and paid it forward to Ted’s future kids (the suggestion being that they would get the fatherly love and attention that damaged Barney never did), issues like that don’t just go away when you meet the man who abandoned you.
With time, I hope we come to see more substantial growth in Barney, and in his relationship with Jerry, because so much of their interaction in this episode was based on lies that I felt they lacked an essential chemistry or emotional honesty. What surprised me most about “Legendaddy” is that the real breakthrough came from the more trivial (and enjoyable) storyline: Marshall finally called out the gang for handling him with kid gloves since his father died, and they, in turn, laid into him about his silly little “gaps,” signifying that he was moving through his grief. The bit with the possum was hilarious, and the gang’s attempts to cater to him felt genuine, as did his frustration over it. It was a small conflict that carried heavier emotional weight than Barney’s “Legendaddy” problem, thanks to the honesty and sensitivity of the characters involved.
Therein, it seems, lies the inherent challenge of taking a character like Barney on a humanizing journey of self-discovery: We want Barney to be the class clown, the player, the never-serious sex and catchphrase-machine. We would not be happy if he lost those qualities on his way to happiness, and yet we see more evidence each week that those qualities are in part a result of his deep unhappiness.
This isn’t the end of Barney’s “Legendaddy” issues, so I’m interested to see how Bays and Thomas bring Barney closer to happiness without compromising what we love about the character. And since How I Met Your Mother just got renewed for at least two more seasons, they’ve got some time to figure that out–alongside their big eponymous question, which took the back burner last night. (Though seeing all Ted’s work on the house was a sweet reminder that we will get there eventually!)
What did you think of “Legendaddy”? What are your thoughts on where this will lead for Barney? And how about that mention of a half-sister … think we’ll get to meet her soon?
SHARING TIME: Have you got a funny mental “gap” of your own? One of mine is embarrassingly similar to Ted’s: I mispronounced “orangutan” (“OH-ran-GOO-tun”) for years. I have more, but maybe if you guys share some of yours, I’ll feel more comfortable about spilling them in the comments.
One More Thing: Did you see this hilarious preview for a low-budget Russian HIMYM remake? (“In Soviet Russia, mother meets YOU!”)
(Image courtesy of CBS)