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Oh Slap Bet, how we missed you. The re-emergence of the long-standing How I Met Your Mother bit after a two-year hiatus was a welcome surprise in Episode #7.9, but fans could hardly consider the reignited romance of two of the show’s main characters a slap from out of nowhere.
“Disaster Averted” marks the third use of storytelling flashback this season, the age-old HIMYM tactic that usually works despite being a bit frustrating. Robin’s boyfriend Kevin (Kal Penn) sparks the episode by asking how MacClaren’s came to have a “no boogie-boarding sign” out front. Turns out this is a story not three months old that took place on the eve of Hurricane Irene's collision into New York City.
While the episode’s ending scene — a passionate kiss between Barney and Robin, despite their romantic relationships with other people — will be the talk amongst fans. The beginning might have been equally as epic a pre-credits scene as we’ve ever had. Barney, heroically stopping two criminals and then saving a young boy dangling from a ledge, all before a bird came and stole away the Ducky Tie, marks the first time we’ve actually seen one of Barney’s elaborate lies told in cinematic fashion, and we get the punchline just as we’ve figured out what the opening is all about. A great start to a great episode.
The Slap Bet resurfaces as Barney is willing to do just about anything to get Marshall to rescind his requirement that Barney wear the Ducky Tie for an entire year. Ever since the “Ducky Tie” episode, we’ve been wondering when it might factor in again. The exchange of the Ducky Tie gag running through May for three additional slaps is a fair trade as far as fans are concerned. We got two terrific slaps at the end of this episode and now two remain, presumably a tactic by the writers so that the slaps can be placed perfectly between now and the show’s series finale, which as it stands will be in a year and a half.
I was initially skeptical of the choice to tell a story “written in” to the gang’s recent past and it still doesn’t settle to a certain extent, but the humor and quality of the subplots make it work. I found the enactments of Marshall’s fear that he would be mauled by a bear if left alone because he wasn’t covered by insurance for two weeks to be hysterical, not something I find the recurring in-episode bits capable of, but Jason Segel sells it so beautifully.
The one aspect of Lily and Marshall’s subplot I found a bit cheap, but not surprising, was the rewriting of the Baby Eriksen timeline. If you’re even a casual follower of the show, you know that Season 6 ended with Lily discovering she was pregnant. The story of her and Marshall conceiving the baby in Barney’s bathtub is a welcome addition to HIMYM lore, but it spits in the face of the Season 6 finale. Lily should technically have the baby in February, but now that she was knocked up in August she can conveniently give birth in May, when Season 7 will bow out. Good thing it’s just a sitcom ...
The only other slight annoyance is that Ted once again finds himself the laughing stock of the group as the “always prepared” Boy Scout in pink rain boots trying to convince everyone that Hurricane Irene is serious. I still wish they’d give him his dignity back, but it allows the other cast members the opportunities they need to make the episode funnier at his expense.
But despite the obvious contrivances and re-calibrations, “Disaster Averted” turned out to be one of the season’s best. It finally moved along the inevitable rekindling of Barney and Robin’s romance and somehow strengthened the already air-tight bond of the five friends, all while giving devoted fans something to talk about with the slaps.
My initial worry would be the Barney/Robin affair getting swept under the rug after this, but it seems next week’s episode will dive headfirst into how Barney and Robin handle their “little secret.” Given how often we see Nora anyway, the writers will be thrilled to write her an out. I expect most of the friction to come from Kevin. At the same time, they’ll want to keep Barney’s bride a secret as long as they can, so who knows just what they’ll do to mask her identity, though I think it’s hard to envision it being anyone but Robin at this point.