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Proving once again that How I Met Your Mother can be as much a drama as it is a comedy, the episode tackled Robin’s views on pregnancy and ended up turning into a story about how life can sometimes be a kick in the face.
Just a couple of weeks back, I was griping about the overuse of surprise pregnancies and “who’s the father” mysteries in TV shows, using How I Met Your Mother as an example, as it was recently revealed that Robin was (or might be) pregnant, and there were two options for the father in the equation, Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and her boyfriend Kevin (Kal Penn). The series proved me wrong last night when it was not only revealed that Barney would have most definitely been the father, as Robin had not slept with Kevin yet, but that Robin was not actually pregnant. The news that she wasn’t carrying Barney’s child came after Robin panicked at the thought of giving up her independence in exchange for becoming a mother. And then she found out, not only was she not pregnant, but she’s unlikely to be able to have children at all.
As all of this is playing out, Robin was narrating the story to her own children, much in the way that Ted does each episode as part of the “How I Met Your Mother” format. Following the reveal of Robin’s infertility, her imaginary children disappear and the rest of the episode rides out on Robin’s quiet disappointment.
At its core, How I Met Your Mother is a show about friendship. This is why I tune in. I’m more or less indifferent over how Ted met his kids’ mother, though I expect the story will inevitably be resolved some day. Given how close Robin is with her friends, we might have expected her to explain her situation and the resulting surprising disappointment that came with it, to Ted, Marshall, Lily and Barney, but she didn’t. Instead, she made up a story about learning she’d never be an Olympic pole-vaulter to justify her bad mood. When faced with a onesie with a red Canadian maple leaf, she could barely keep from crying. Neither could I, frankly. It’s hard enough that she’s facing the reality that bearing children is never going to be an option for her, but factor in the fact that two of her closest friends are celebrating the impending arrival of their own child and her sadness is certainly understandable.
Robin’s choice not to tell her friends exactly what she’s going through seemed fitting, not only because she’s often shown as having a tougher exterior, but also because it really is a private subject and one she knew none of her friends would be able to relate to. They knew something was bugging her but they were clueless as to what it was. In the end, Ted did what Robin knew he would do all along. He went out of his way to try to cheer her up, even without knowing why she was sad. The episode didn’t conclude with a smile though. It ended with tears as Ted and Robin hugged after Ted surprised her with a ridiculous display of music-accompanied Christmas lights in their apartment.
We were given some consolation through Ted’s narration, which returned at the end of the episode to tell us that while Robin would never be a “pole-vaulter,” she will go on to become a famous reporter and a bull fighter (a story for another time, but one the show is likely to find a way to explore at some point). Most importantly, she was never alone.
This is hardly the kind of Christmas episode you’d expect from a TV comedy, but it came together beautifully and didn’t try to gloss over the sadness and disappointment of Robin’s situation, or turn it into a joke. In the end, the most important thing was that she wasn’t alone through it. Ted may not know what she was going through but he was there for her regardless.
I’ve compared How I Met Your Mother to Friends before and it’s hard not to do that again here, when considering what Monica and Chandler went through when they were trying to have a baby. In this case, Robin’s infertility reveal came a lot less predictably, not only for the show but also for her character. She isn’t married and looking to settle down. Instead, she learned the news that she couldn’t have children at a time when she wasn’t even sure she wanted them. It’s a different kind of disappointment as even she didn’t seem to see it coming.
?So what does this mean for Robin and Barney? As she didn’t share the news with him either, though he does know she isn’t pregnant, everything seems to be status quo for them for now, which is fine. As much as I liked that the writers didn’t try to twist a lot of humor or some kind of happy ending beyond seeing Ted consoling Robin, I’m also glad it wasn’t used as a way to push Robin and Barney (or Robin and Ted) together. The heart of the episode was in Robin’s disappointment and Ted’s determination to be there for her even when she thought she didn’t want him there.
“Symphony of Illumination” wasn’t all sad though, as we did get to see Marshall’s attempt to develop a dad-like nature with one of the local kids near his and Lily’s new house, blow up in his face when the bratty kid took advantage of him and trashed their house. I guess parenting (and becoming street-wise to the ways of kids that lie) is a learning process.