If you caught the midseason finale of How I Met Your Mother, then you're all up to speed on the show's latest gambit: Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) took up with his beloved Robin Scherbatsky's (Cobie Smulders) sweet and peppy, albeit inscrutably detested, coworker Patrice (recurring player Ellen D. Williams) in an effort to make Robin jealous and win her over once and for all. Setting aside the devious, manipulative, colossally childish nature of this ploy, there is something wholly detestable about the series' use of the Patrice character in its machinations.
See, the tryst brewed between Barney and Patrice was at first presented to fans as a genuine romantic relationship. Of course, we knew it wouldn't last. Something had to bring Barney and Robin together, per the time-jump in the season premiere that recognized them as an eventual bride and groom. But we were never sure how exactly that course of action would go: would Barney leave Patrice upon acknowledging his true feelings for Robin? Would Patrice leave Barney upon reconnecting with a lost love of her own? Would there be any semblance of authentic affection confirmed to exist between the reliably shallow Barney and this new woman, a far cry from his usual "type"?
If only How I Met Your Mother was that mature. See, the show led us down the road of believing that Barney might actually be interested in Patrice. Why had he pursued her? Because she was the opposite of everything he had gone for in the past: sweet, innocent, wholesome, and most notably (although never earnestly acknowledged by the show) heavyset. Throughout the show, Barney's libido has targeted exclusively on thin, morally ambiguous, borderline brain dead women. But the tormented, lonely, brokenhearted Barney seemed to be discovering new desires within himself: the want and need for someone with an outstanding spirit and the ability to provide compassion and stability. In this, he appeared to have found Patrice. A character more deserving of love and devotion than any of the self-involved, ethically barren main characters. A character perhaps capable of deriving the good buried deep below Barney's perpetual antics and setting him on the path of a more healthy and happy lifestyle.
It was interesting to see Barney adjust his ways for a few episodes in his involvement with Patrice. Even if we knew he'd be taking up with Robin ultimately, the ability to abandon his fixation on the supermodel figure was a welcome exhibition of growth for the character. But no such luck, no such growth — Barney adheres just as vehemently to his adolescent ideals about women and how to trick them into being with him. Unfortunately, Barney isn't made out to be a villain here: How I Met Your Mother celebrates these elements of the role, rewarding him with a union with Robin that is meant to feel touching and triumphant.
And you can argue that maybe he really does love Robin, flawed and callous as she is. The flawed and callous are worthy of love, too. But that hasn't made him insusceptible to divergences from his path to her in the past. Barney has fallen for women before: notably, Nora (Nazanin Boniadi) and Quinn (Becki Newton). Ill-fated though they might have been, these were in fact real, substantial relationships. So why was it so much easier to accept that he might have a real relationship with women who look like Nora and Quinn? A better question: why is How I Met Your Mother unafraid of involving Barney in romance with such women, when it won't touch the legitimate possibility of Barney fostering a real interest in Patrice?
Why is that out of the question? Why can it only be optioned as a joke or a trick? Why do the people behind How I Met Your Mother have the same attitude on Barney dating Patrice as Barney himself, or his equally shallow friends Ted, Marshall, and Lily? "Of course Barney would never date Patrice," How I Met Your Mother assures us. "Of course he can only see her as a cog in his process to win the prize that is Robin." And what's worse than the show's insistence on this as the certainty is how unapologetic it is about the ordeal. How little an explanation it seems to feel is warranted for Patrice's sole purpose as a means to an end.
When Patrice was accelerated to the forefront of the action, her one-dimensionality became an issue. Why, in her days past just being a one-note joke, is the highest honor Patrice can hope for that of being an accomplice in getting Robin engaged? Why is the idea of her own love story handled with such flippancy? It even nullifies the forgivability in Patrice's cooperation with Barney's ploy; why are we okay letting a character as great as her be happy just to be used? She deserves better.
It's unfortunate that How I Met Your Mother, a show that prides itself on being a celebration of love, is so restrictive with not only the achievement but the very pursuit of love. So disingenuous with its attitude on the idea of love. "It can only exist between people who look like this," the show insists. "Everyone else in our universe is here to make sure those people get their love." It's not only Patrice who suffers here. The mentality propagated by this idea, and all of the multitudes of TV shows and movies that uphold the same themes, is dangerous. We can't be left to forgive Barney and How I Met Your Mother, to subjugate and marginalize Patrice. The fact that we're asked to do this so cavalierly is frightening. And the fact that many of us comply with this request is horrifying.
[Photo Credit: CBS]