“As deep and poignant as the episode was, I guess there are some abysses you just have to look away from.”
Esse Quam Videri, poster on the AV Club discussion board
Monday afternoon, West Coast Time
A blizzard of tweets began to fly from my ALI twitter friends about something that was afoot on “How I Met Your Mother”. HIMYM is a show I watch religiously, in order: I have seen every single episode sequentially until this current season. Because like a dolt, I forgot to DVR my season pass and I want to watch it with Darcy, not online (it’s a rare show we both love), so I had consigned myself to catch it when the DVDs came out. I take a stubborn pride in watching all my favorite shows in order.
The reaction was pretty phenomenal, though, about HIMYM. I haven’t seen such a stir since PETA’s vasectomy campaign.
Well, I had to watch it now.
So I did. Holy crap on a stick. !SPOILERS!
The show begins with a twist: the conceit of the series is that Ted Mosby is telling his two children in 2030 the story of how he met their mother. Almost every program starts with Bob Saget (as the voice of the older Ted) saying something like, “Kids, you know I spent a lot of time in bars,” or “I did a lot of stupid things in my day.” Or “Kids, did I tell you about the time I got a butterfly tramp stamp?” Ted tells a lot of inappropriate stories to his teenage children. But this episode shows a different boy and girl than Ted’s usually pictured duo and Robin is doing the voiceover to HER future children. As the show progresses, Robin tells the story of how she thinks she’s pregnant, finds out she’s not pregnant, is very happy not to be pregnant (“Sorry kids!”) then her OBGyn calls to tell her (in blurred specifics we can’t hear) that she will be unable to have children, ever.
Robin, who has long proclaimed that her career is more important than her than having children, is absolutely devastated by this diagnosis. I assumed this meant that she would eventually figure out a way to have children or adopt, but as Robin sits on a park bench in solitude in present day, coming to terms with her infertile status, she starts speaking to her raven-haired girl and Neil Patrick Harris doppelganger. (He’s supposed to be their father, according to Robin.) Here’s the full speech:
“So kids, I settled in for a Christmas alone. I appreciated that Ted wanted to cheer me up. But honestly, it wasn’t necessary. So I can’t have kids. Big deal. This way there’s no one to hold me back in life. No one to keep me from traveling where I want to travel, no one getting in the way of my career. If you want to know the truth of it, I’m glad you guys aren’t real.” Cut to Robin’s children, who fade off the screen like ghosts, clearing the way for a shot of Robin sitting on that park bench alone, while it snows.
“Really glad,” says Robin who looks utterly bereft.
(The actress who plays Robin, Cobie Smulders, did a pitch-perfect job in this entire episode)
The show wraps up by Ted saying that Robin turned out to be many things, but she was never a “pole-vaulter”. (“Pole-Vaulter” is the show’s euphemism for being a mother.) But one thing Ted says she never was: alone.
I’ll admit that I started sobbing when her children receded slowly away the frame. I’ve been on two message boards (EW and AV Video Club) and most commenters (male and female) said they felt “kicked in the gut”, “devastated”, “sad”. Some reported their own troubles conceiving and received positive, encouraging comments (and not one of those comments said “Just Relax” or “Just Adopt” either) and some were just angry that the writers could DO this to Robin.
What I think this episode did is frame infertility for those not in the know. Robin is a beloved character, a friend almost to people, and to see her diagnosis, her reaction, and her goodbye to the dream of children was heartbreaking. I have to hope that some empathy was gained.
On the other hand: the abyss. When I was going through infertility, if I had seen that episode in the middle of the my treatments, I would have been very disturbed. Robin’s Abyss: the hole in her life where we know no children will be was visible. That empty, sad park bench haunted my nightmares last night. I know that my worst waking nightmare was that I would have to face that abyss. So I definitely sympathize with Starfish Kitty Dreams about her reaction.
What do you think of this episode? Educational and full of heart? Too difficult to watch?