Kids, in the fall of 2011 I promised you the story of Barney's wedding and the story of your Aunt Lily and Uncle Marshall's baby (his name's Marvin! I forgot). And 22 epis— er, weeks later, we've finally gotten around to them. Well, sort of. That first one may have to wait until the fall, when we can really sink our teeth into it. But the latter…
Finales are entitled to their big reveals and storytelling twists. That's the contract we enter into as viewers, and not only do we expect them, but we revel in them, to the point where a season-ending episode can forgive all that came before (or bury an otherwise great run). It's the last minute of a basketball game — I'm told this is called the lightning round? — where it all actually counts. So you can't fault any show, especially one that's been around the block now as long as How I Met Your Mother, for piling on the big moves in its final minutes. And just so we're clear, we're talking about:
1) Ted riding off into the sunset with his Season 1 (and early Season 7) cupcake-making love interest Victoria, his full knowledge of The Graduate not withstanding, and 2) The revelation that Barney's future bride is in fact Robin — who we now know looks babe-tastic in a SHIELD uniform AND a wedding dress — despite his having proposed to stripper Quinn in the story's present.
The latter's less a surprise than it is a nice confirmation of something most of us have long-suspected. And the former… like I said, kids, we'll get to it.
NEXT: Barney, the nude time traveler.
"The Magician's Code" is handily broken up into two episodes for us, each dealing with one half of the baby/wedding split. And as soon as the hashtag #BarneysBrideUnveiled pops up onscreen, it's obvious which one they'll knock off first. Now, birth episodes are a television staple, from Lucy bringing Little Ricky into the world to the red-haired witch unleashing her smoke baby on Game of Thrones a few weeks ago. People love babies!
But given the tradition's long history, it's easy to fall into cliched sentiment. HIMYM manages to sidestep most of that with its series of rapid-fire non-sequitur flashbacks. Ostensibly, they're a way for Ted and Robin to calm down a hysterical Lily. But really? Just a bunch of awesome cutaways. We get Barney as The Terminator, in both "biker leather" and "nude time traveler" dress. Marshall follows the trail of his supposedly cursed madras pants. Ted farts. Then blames it on Robin. And in one of the better running gags the show has done lately, the gang each opens and disappears into a previously unseen door in MacLaren's… only to freak out Marshall, the last one to test it.
There are sweet moments (Lily's ne'er-do-well dad gives Lily exactly the story she needed to hear), funny moments (Marshall's struggle to walk up two steps while ridiculously drunk), and ones that manage both ("His name is Marvin — wait for it — Eriksen!"), which is almost exactly what you want from a HIMYM episode. And there's still one more to go!
Part Two resumes the Quinn storyline that had so abruptly stalled two weeks ago and, minus a shoehorned-in line on the bus as Marshall and Barney were hightailing it to New York, seems almost forgotten in the first half hour. While Ted wonders how a guy who once staple-gunned his arm (Marshall) and a woman who once shoplifted beer (Lily) are suddenly parents, Barney heads back to his apartment to try and smooth things over with Quinn. In his absence, she'd redecorated the place to look like a Hello Kitty fever dream. Stormtrooper? Hammacher Schlemmer lighting? General 'American Psycho' atmosphere? All gone. And yet: "Thank God you're still here." They embrace. And with that, two things become readily apparent:
1) Barney will be proposing to Quinn within 10 minutes of the credits, and
2) He will ultimately be getting married to Robin.
NEXT: Victoria getting married.
Not that there's anything wrong with obvious. While the whole "magician's code" conceit that lands Barney in TSA custody (kids, it's a long story) feels a little stretched, his proposal is handled with real showmanship by Neil Patrick Harris. Although missing that key Tony Wonder ingredient, it calls back to other great visual moments the show's done recently (i.e. the "symphony of illumination") or in the past (say, Ted's two-minute date with Stella). HIMYM's age has been showing for much of the season, but you've got to hand it to them — the cast and crew can still deliver a moment. The show's like Glee, minus the self-importance!
MEANWHILE, Ted, on Robin's assessment of his dating life, has given Victoria a call. He asks if she wants to meet him for a drink. You know, catch up. "I can't meet you at 2. Maybe 1:30? I have a thing after." Could that thing be her getting married?!?
DING DING DING DING DING. Victoria shows up in her wedding dress, panicked to go through with her nuptials. She and Ted talk about their past together; the things that kept them apart. And then she offers Ted everything he's ever wanted: the chance to drive off into the sunset with The One (or one of the ones, anyway). And Ted says yes.
Well, then he says no. Ted's a nice guy. He couldn't break up a wedding, especially when the same effing thing happened to him (and his doppelgänger Chris Kattan) a few seasons ago). As much as he might want to, he just couldn't…
Then he says yes again, with his hand (which is holding Victoria's). They drive off for somewhere north of 96th Street with a song in their hearts — Cat Stevens' "The Wind" — and possibility on their lips. Life is beautiful and complicated and this won't end well but hey, it's a great closing shot.
Back to everyone else! Barney and Quinn return to the Eriksen apartment to share their engagement news. And while Quinn shows off her rock to Marshall and Lily, Barney gets a chance to shoot the s**t with Robin. Is this their last chance to run away together?, they joke.
Not so much, if our final flash-forward — back to the wedding, where Robin's bridal form is finally revealed — has anything to say about it. We may spend half a season this fall getting there, but dammit if it's not our predetermined finish line. We will get there! And neither Becki Newton nor the writers' longstanding hesitation to put Barney and Robin back together are going to stop it!
So we arrive at the end of Season 7 with some questions answered, some new ones created, and our search for the Mother once more resting somewhere on the back-burner. Exactly where most of us probably want it, right? For all its wonderful mythology and laborious attention to detail (catch the Proclaimers echoing from Marshall's old car), where HIMYM shines most brightly is in the easy fun of hanging out with its five characters. It's that last shot in episode one, really, that reminds me why this show has succeeded for so long where other similar sitcoms whither and die: four characters in a closet, trying to scare their friend. The prank is unnecessarily elaborate and silly, but it's one they've concocted together. Because they really, really like each other. And six years after our first trip to MacLaren's? We all still feel the same way about them. BRING ON THE FUTURE, BABY.