Monday, February 18, 2013

How I Met Your Mother: "The Ashtray"

Quick Review: I think the writers had one too many sandwiches.

Episode Synopsis: Ted gets a weird and surprising call from the Captain, which launches the gang into a series of recollections about the last perplexing encounter they had with him. -tvguide

Spoilers ahead, so perhaps you might want to watch the episode first, lest you be spoiled. Why am I so insistent upon giving you a spoiler warning? Because in the days of pirates, giving away the ending to a story without so much as an "Avast, here be a spoiler warning!" would earn you a quick trip to Davy Jones' Locker. Keel hauling might play a part, and that's a nasty way to go. Let this be a warning to any of you who go around spoiling without warnings. When you least expect it, you'll see a black flag on the horizon, and your doom approaches.

Best Episode Moment: Lily discovers that it wasn't about the ashtray.

Worst Episode Moment: Barney's insistence he was a part of the crazy story.

Best Captain: Kyle MacLachlan

Worst Art Gallery Patrons: Ted and Robin

Quaintest Trope: Discovering a message on an answering machine

Best Callback: Aldrin Justice

Any hint about The Mother? She might be a fan of sandwiches.

Any hint about The Wedding? It's one crazy story Barney was involved in.

Do we like Ted this episode? Present day Ted is all right. Past Ted is pretty hard to tolerate.

Overall Opinion of the Episode: So it looks like we don't see Ted's crazy girlfriend flame out. Instead we get a lovely reunion with The Captain. Except I'm not sure that lovely is quite the word I'd use, as it was more of an excruciating reunion. It wasn't The Captain's fault, he was still the friendly/creepy man we've come to know and fear. It was the three-pronged flashback.

I do like the idea of taking multiple looks back at the same event, each character's retelling offering a different perspective, revealing more and more of the story. How the characters told their version of events would reveal more about them than anything. Ted and Robin's stories were no exception, except that their memories were corrupted because Ted was stoned and Robin was drunk.

The idea is sound. They've done similar episodes before with The Burning Beekeeper and season one's The Pineapple Incident. With an episode like this, it's all in the execution. Each subsequent telling is supposed to offer up something new and reveal how the previous version was wrong. However, when the twist is that both people were high/drunk, the retelling just isn't that interesting.

When everyone is sober, the differences all reflect their own perceptions and prejudices. However, by making them drunk, you can cheat by significantly altering events by broad strokes rather than subtle inflections. To be fair, the episode did have a few more subtle differences. The Captain's line about Ted being his old "nemesis" did work because Ted saw it as threatening but The Captain meant it in a more jovial, almost teasing manner. However, far too many of the differences were too big to be clever, such as Robin's memory of The Captain propositioning her.

The best moment of the episode was Lily's arc. She seems to be the only character who realizes she's eight years older than when the series started. Now in her mid-thirties, she's distressed that she is stuck in a permanent rut and she'll never achieve her dreams. A lot of us can relate, especially the older we get. That's why I liked how the episode ultimately ended, with the realization that it's never too late. This was solid character work.

Barney, on the other hand, was less impressive. We get a sort-of heartfelt moment when he insists that without his crazy stories he's nothing. But given how accomplished Barney actually is (at whatever he does for a living) he does have a few things to hang his hat on. A better lament would be feeling like he no longer has crazy stories because he's settling down with Robin. That would be a better explanation for why he wants to be a part of it.

Unfortunately, the show squandered a great opportunity for one final reveal. It hints that Barney may have been there, running a play. (We even see it at the end of the episode.) Why not just reveal that Barney was there, he just didn't remember that it was the same Art Gala? That way, we find out that Barney really is part of all of Ted's stories.

Good in concept, poor in execution, tonight was not one of this show's better outings. Although if you've had a sandwich, you might remember it differently.


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