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Far too often, How I Met Your Mother presents an opportunity to really dive into the psychological maladies of its characters, coming up short in favor of a cozy ending and a few quick laughs. The saving grace of this week’s “The Poker Game” is that it concludes its calamitous plotline with a cliffhanger, so that we may very well revisit the central conflict of Robin coming to blows with Barney’s family in a valid fashion. But we’ll approach this with cautious optimism.
During the pre-marital poker game (to which all parties, including Robin, are invited), Barney’s recently divorced brother James barks repetitive affirmations that marriage is for the birds, leading Robin to get fed up and nab the wedding ring to which James is still clinging desperately via a well-executed bet. As a result, James brings in his and Barney’s mother to put Robin in her place, but Ms. Scherbatsky one-ups the Stinson family matriarch. As such, bad blood boils between the bride and her husband-to-be’s family.
The real conflict, however, is between Robin and Barney, who refuses to take sides despite Robin’s assertions that their marriage means that the two of them must be a team. In Barney’s anxious proclamations that he cannot betray his family and Robin’s deliberate belief that she should take priority over James and Loretta, we see hints of the characters’ backgrounds. But hints that never really come to fruition in this episode.
We know that Barney has always been a very sad, lonely young man. That he had few friends, no father, an unfaithful girlfriend, and a shady, tie-wearing role model. His only consistencies, before meeting Ted, Marshall, Lily, and ultimately Robin, were his mom and brother. A pair of whom he always spoke so highly, who he has always valued above all. In fact, the regularly venemous Barney has shown a consistent soft spot for his family — perhaps the first element that was used to showcase an inner humanity in the character.
Robin, on the other hand, has quite the different relationship with her family. Her dad was emotionally abusive and disapproving. Her mother is barely mentioned. Her connection to her younger sister is tenuous at best. In her family, Robin always found pain and alienation. She looked to friends and relationships for comfort. In fact, the idea of “family” being such a nightmare to her might explain her long apprehensions about marriage, and almost definitely her heated aversion to having children. With family being so far below Barney on her list of priorities, Robin cannot understand how Barney could possibly choose his mom and brother over her.
How I Met Your Mother didn’t grapple with any of these character constructs, never talking about either of the pair’s upbringings while delivering the conflict. Since the episode caps with Robin and Loretta still at odds, we might yet see the true reasons behind their respective ideologies come to life. But we’re not going to get too optimistic, here…
On the other side of things, the episode revealed a decade-long feud that has been brewing beneath the surface between Marshall and Ted over wedding gifts and thank you cards. This whole time, Marshall and Lily have believed that Ted didn’t buy them a wedding gift; meanwhile, Ted resented them for not sending him a thank you card for said wedding gift, which it turns out he did buy and deliver. Very silly. Very funny. Good HIMYM B-plot material.
But will the show get meaty in delving into Robin and Barney’s familial issues next week? We hope, but we doubt it.