Episode Synopsis: In their ongoing slaphappy "Slap Bet," Marshall plans to land one final smashing blow to soon-to-be-married Barney. -tvguide
Spoilers ahead. Now, you might think yourself capable of handling what's ahead. Perhaps you think you have the strength of will to read the review and yet resist the spoilers. Fool! You lack the training, the discipline, and the fortitude that will enable you to resist the oncoming spoilers. Perhaps if you go on a quest to seek the great Spoiler Master, you will learn the ways of remaining spoiler free. But until then, know that if you proceed any further, you will be spoiled.
Full Review: "Slap Bet" is the second most important episode of How I Met Your Mother. (The most important, of course, is the final episode, which determines whether the wait, and the series, was worth it.) Slap Bet's importance is based on two series long gags that both originated in this episode: Robin Sparkles and the titled slap bet.
The one thing the show struggled with was how to dole out the slaps. Marshal dispensed the first one at the end of Slap Bet. The second was a surprise slap later that season, a fitting conclusion to Barney's deliberately awful play in the episode "Stuff." The third was paired with a countdown clock that culminated on Thanksgiving, henceforth known as Slapsgiving. All three solid slaps, each one funnier than the last.
However, after Slapsgiving, the slaps hit the point of diminishing returns. Rather than find a new way to dole out the slap, the show returned to the Thanksgiving themed slap with Slapsgiving 2. It tried to up the ante, but in the end the slap just didn't have the impact of the others. It wasn't unexpected and we'd already had a Thanksgiving episode about a day long buildup. It also meant that the show only had one slap left.
The Ducky Tie Saga was to the slap bet as Time of the Doctor was to regenerations (how's that for a geeky analogy). The show used Barney's ducky tie bet to wring out two more slaps to be doled out, resetting slaps 4 and 5. It was clear that, like The Mother and the Ted/Robin drama, the show was going to wait until the very end to finish up the slaps.
So while the show bought itself more time, the question remains: will these last two slaps, much like the fabled meeting of The Mother, be worth the wait? If you are a fan of martial arts movies, particularly the stories about a young warrior who ventures out on a quest to seek ultimate knowledge from the greatest teachers, then you'll probably answer "yes."
This episode is less about the actual slap, and more about how Marshall decided to torment Barney in anticipation of it. We knew it was coming from the end of the last episode, but what we didn't know was how Marshall primed Barney. As we await the slap in agonizing slow motion, we are treated to a flashback in which Marshall explains why this slap was going to be a zinger.
Marshall's torment takes the form of a story about his supposed quest to learn the Slap of A Thousand (Million) Exploding Suns. This epic, globe-trotting tale is a tribute to classic martial arts cinema, and it's clear that the writers are huge fans of the genre. Early on, it's pretty clear that Marshall is just making it up, what with his friends all supporting his story 100%. This means that this story has no real impact for the overall story except for Barney's psychological torture. (I do like the parallels of Marshall pulling a prank on Barney while Barney is pulling one on Robin.)
What we have here is a fantasy sequence episode, similar in many ways to a dream sequence. Whether a fantasy/dream sequence is effective is always determined by two things: how do the characters react to it and/or was it interesting?
I like a good fantasy or dream sequence because it allows a show to explore aspects of characters we normally never get to see. The trick is to have the actors still be in character while playing the new role. It's a fun way to look at how these characters would be/act when they are in completely new and ridiculous situations. These kinds of episodes would never work if the show acted like this is was part of the characters' daily lives (see the final season of Roseanne.) But when we know it's all pretend, that's when we can ignore continutity all together and just have fun. (The Simpsons does this every year with its Treehouse of Horror episodes.)
This episode shows us what Robin, Lily, and Ted would be like as Kung Fu Slap Masters. They each play their roles perfectly, although Ted's is the most like his actual counterpart, "The Calligrapher." The best part of Ted's sequence was having him talk about the awkwardness of giving one's dying utterance and then sticking around for 10 more minutes. (We've all been there.) This was classic Ted, and I love classic Ted, even in fantasy sequence form.
I must say that the parade of Barney's exes was definitely a nice nod to continuity. I was wondering if the show was going to take one, last look at Barney's history, and this was a clever twist on the retrospective, having Marshall endure all the slaps and knees to the groin that Barney richly deserves. However, each woman's scene was so quick that I had to watch the end credits just to remember who was who and from what episode.
While a bit silly, the way the show commits to the bit makes it meet part one of the criteria of a successful fantasy sequence. What about part 2, Barney's torment? Unfortunately, this didn't work out quite as strongly as the show was hoping. The fake jukebox bit, and the gang's ready acceptance of Marshall's story as truth were amusing. Barney running off to find the willow tree with four women and a tiger was a funny payoff to Marshall's cryptic prophesy. I especially liked how one of the women admitted that they didn't expect him so soon, thus why the tiger wasn't finished.
But in the end, we've seen Barney freak out about the slap before, so we didn't get anything new on that end. There's a reason why the show went for broke in setting up the slap. The actual slap is the most anti-climactic moment of the show, despite the fantastic slow motion. We've seen slaps before, and at the end of the day, it's just another slap to the face. The key to these episodes is how Marshall does it. And I think he, and the show, pulled it off.
I really liked the moment that followed the slap, when Barney and Marshall immediately become bros again, reminiscing about how much time has passed since the first slap. It's like those cartoons of the wolf and the sheep punching in and out of the time-clock. It's a good scene that emphasizes that these two are good friends and do care for each other, even if one is determined to slap the other one really hard in the face. They have a very deep and complicated relationship, and I like seeing it.
Now, as a child of the 90's, I thought the Boyz II Men rendition of "You just got slapped" over a montage of all the slaps was fantastic. I'm pretty sure this was meant to be outside normal continuity, much like the "For the longest time" song at the end of The Time Travelers, and the Beaver Song at the end of Glitter. Yes, it breaks the fourth wall and reminds us we're watching a television show, but since these moments are rare and usually well-executed, they add to the show rather than detract.
As far as slap episodes go, Slapsgiving is still the best, as it was not just about the slap, but about how that slap both threatened to destroy and then ultimately saved Lily and Marshall's first Thanksgiving as a married couple. I'm also very partial to the second slap, because it was unexpected an yet fit perfectly into the scene. (And finally ended Barney's awful play.) I would rate this the third best slap. However, as Marshall pointed out, it isn't over just yet.
There is one more slap, and unlike this one, I don't want an episode devoted to it. We've done that, we've gone as big as we can, this one needs to go in the opposite direction. The final slap should be unexpected and happen when the timing is right. I would really like that slap be more than just reaching the five-count. I'd like it to have something to do with Ted meeting The Mother. Perhaps she's even involved. I want Ted to say, "And kids, if Barney hadn't made that slap bet with Marshall, I never would have met your mother."
So all in all, this was a fun episode. We didn't get any more time with The Mother, which always disappoints me no matter how otherwise good the episode. Next week we'll see Lily and Marshall "un-pause" their argument, and perhaps The Mother will be back to help. If not, I'm certain Linus will be a great help.
Best Apology: "I have much gold."
Worst Request: "Could you also slap me across the face?"
Best Tourist Slogan: What happens in the magical Gongquing Forest stays in the magical Gongquing Forest."
Most Far Off, Mystical Land: Cleveland
Best Callback: "You Just Got Slapped" - now with more soulful 90's goodness.