I have been head over heels for this season of How I Met Your Mother, defending the stuck-in-the-wedding-weekend conceit against detractors and championing the overall refreshed feel of the humor and performances. But “Bass Player Wanted,” the episode that would bring us the long anticipated union of the Mother and Ted’s best pal Marshall, is far and away the worst half-hour Season 9 has given us.
Marshall meets the future Mrs. Mosby — whose name might well be hinted at by the title of the series finale — while he’s struggling to walk five miles from his broken down bus to the wedding venue. (Now, this is hardly a relevant issue, but the show makes out a five-mile walk to be some sort of cross-country trek. Yes, Marshall is carrying his son and a few bags, but five miles really isn’t that dreadful a hike for a healthy man of his physical prowess.) Driving away from Farhampton, The Mother recognizes Marshall from the pictures Lily showed her back on the Long Island Railroad and offers to give him and baby Marvin a ride.
Here, she reveals her present conflict: her lead singer, played demonically by Andrew Rannells, is some kind of sadistic sociopath who gets off on ruining people’s friendships. As T.M. divulges Rannells’ penchant for interrelationship sabotage, we see him starting fights between Lily and Robin (revealing that Robin is secretly taking Marshall’s side in the judgeship/Italy debate) and Ted and Barney (telling Barney of Ted’s plans to move to Chicago after the wedding).
But we never quite understand what the deal is with this nutjob. Why is Rannells’ character such a psychotic dick? And how does he know enough info about Robin/Lily/Ted/Barney to infuse himself so effectively into their trust? And is T.M. the only one who knows of his evil follies, or are the other band members also aware of the monster that Rannells is? As T.M. continues to refer to Rannells as “the Devil,” we learn that he also has optioned to replace her as bass player, after usurping her position as lead singer. It’s all a bunch of wackadoo nonsense that unwinds into a convoluted conclusion to win Ted the good graces of his future wife. How? By an act of idiotic violence.
See, after Ted and Barney make up (I’ll come back to that, since it is my favorite part of the episode), we see Ted punch Rannells’ character right in the face. Is it because he broke his $600 bottle of Scotch, or because he instigated a spat between the two friends? A little of both, maybe. Either way, 35-year-old men shouldn’t be punching people. That’s not really admirable, and certainly not in character for Ted. Is this bizarre one-off moment of moronic machismo really supposed to be the thing that wins him the heart of The Mother? And do we really want Ted to end up with someone who can sign off on something like that?
T.M. hears that someone has punched out Rannells, which, along with encouragement from Marshall, gives her the guts to stand up to him once and for all and kick him out of the band. Bravo, golf claps, whatever. This is fair, permissable punishment for this weird non-character. A telling off and a deflating of ego is far more effective than a sock in the jaw.
But back to Ted and Barney. The sensitive Barney takes it personally that Ted hadn’t told him about his Chicago move, insisting that Ted sees him as just “some guy he used to know in New York.” The words land, and hard — Barney has always felt as though Ted didn’t care nearly as much for him as he does for Ted, and probably with good reason. But Ted pulls off a half-cocked plan (stealing a $600 bottle of Scotch) and admitting, tacitly, that he is only leaving because he needs to start over with a Robin-free life.
This Barney understands. The two make up. It all works. Unfortunately, it’s surrounded by a lot of stuff that’s significantly less clever.