The gang fears that Ted’s Midwestern emotion-bottling is keeping him from truly moving on from his failed almost-marriage to Stella. They suggest that he cry, scream, or feel anything, really, other than his current coping mechanism of pretending that nothing happened at all. Ted rationalizes that the best way to not have a problem is simply to avoid it, going so far as to make a map of Stella-free zones on the island of Manhattan, which basically seems to be Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Washington Heights, half of the Upper East and Upper West sides and, of course, any outlying borough that isn’t New Jersey. He is so committed to not running into Stella that he refuses to go to dinner anywhere within a “red zone” (a potential Stella zone). Lily, believing Ted needs to run in to Stella in order to confront the issue and move on, gets the gang to go out to dinner at a tapas place in “the white zone,” which she later realizes she heard about from Stella when Stella walks in to grab her order.
Ted, committed to avoiding the issue, dives under the table immediately. If Stella doesn’t see him, he can continue to pretend like this never happened. Despite their protestations, the rest of the gang joins Ted under the table and they all share stories about the people they’d never want to see again and what they’d do if they saw them (which would likely not include hiding under a table).
The person Lily would least like to see again is Michael Sasser, a boy she knew in 9th grade who was on the verge of becoming one of the cool kids until she blamed a fart on him and saddled him with the nickname Gasser for the rest of his days. (It is shocking how much Alyson Hannigan can still pull off playing a 14-year old, even at age 34. Willow Rosenborg lives!) Even though she feels terrible for ruining his life, Lily insists that if she saw Gasser again, she certainly wouldn’t avoid her problem by hiding under a table.
Barney, on the other hand, might actually hide under a table from his ex-girlfriend, Becca Delucci, whom he dated once a week (including conjugal visits) while she was up at the Bedford Hills State Penitentiary. It was the perfect relationship (one visit a week, and whenever she got too needy, he could just have the guards detain her), until Barney inevitably found another inmate he found attractive, whom Becca assaulted when she found out. After that incident, Becca started sending Barney threatening letters, insisting that she would come to kill him whenever she got out.
Robin tells the saddest story about her father, whom she hasn’t spoken to in years, being the last person she would ever want to run into. It turns out, her dad wanted a son so much that he pretended Robin was a boy until she was 14 years old and he caught her (in her pixie cut) kissing one of her hockey teammates. Her full name is Robin Charles Scherbatsky, Jr. – that’s how much her dad refused to acknowledge that she was female. This is clearly a point of intense sadness for Robin, who can’t talk about the various bonding attempts she made with her father without choking up a little bit.
The writers did a good job of tempering how sad this actually is by adding in some fun facts about Canada:
1. In Canada, when things go badly, people say they’re “going North.” As in, after Robin’s dad caught her kissing her teammate, things kind of went North after that.
2. What the baseball-as-sex metaphor is to Americans, the hockey-as-sex metaphor is to Canadians. Kissing is getting to the blue line, and getting to the red line is getting naked. I don’t know enough hockey for Robin’s final reference to make any sense to me, but I’ll assume whatever it was was the equivalent of something we can all understand: a home run.
(Husband Note: The Canadian equivalent to “third base” or “home run” [it was unclear as it can mean two things] was apparently “in the crease.” Ewwww…)
Marshall doesn’t tell a story, which was disappointing, but I think that Marshall had enough baggage to cart around during season 2 after Lily left him, and we already got to see him weep onto Ted’s lap in a flashback (one which fully solidifies something I realized earlier this season: no one cares about hair continuity on this show anymore).
After hearing how much baggage all of his friends carry around, Ted realizes that he needs to face Stella, but by the time they all surface, she has already left. They follow her in a cab, and then gang still tries to get Ted to realize that he needs to feel something about this, and not just try to be comfortable around her. Marshall blurts out the secret he’s been holding inside (that Stella hates Star Wars), but nothing phases Ted until he notices that Stella’s cab didn’t make the turn for the Jersey Turnpike. He flashes back to the restaurant when she said she was going “home” and realizes that she meant home to Tony’s place in the city. This is the last straw for Ted: Stella was going to make him move to New Jersey, but instead she turned tail and moved to the city with Tony. Everyone is excited about Angry Ted and he practices what he’s going to say to Stella as the cab draws up to Tony’s apartment:
“You picked the wrong guy. You made a really, really bad choice.”
But when he actually gets out of the cab and sees Stella, Lucy and Tony at the top of the stairs together, he can’t say anything at all. Stella made the right choice, she just made it the wrong way at the wrong time.
I enjoyed everyone’s under-the-table stories – I obviously especially appreciated hearing how Robin became so into hockey, scotch, cigars and hunting because it really does make her the “hot” (Barney’s words), strong woman she is today, but not without some serious emotional damage – but that whole scenario seemed a little un-HIMYM to me. I suppose that was the point, as Ted was doing something very un-human, very un-New York, by bottling up his emotions. I definitely found this episode funny, but other than Robin’s story, it doesn’t really stand out to me. I’m just glad to see the Stella arc end so that the show can get back on track and move into an arc I’ve been waiting to see since Marshall and Lily got married: the How Everyone Deals with Marshall and Lily Having Babies arc.
The final minutes of this episode was the best the show has been all season, where we first get to relish Ted making some very harsh, nasty statements to Stella, then pull back and find out that he actually said none of these things at all and is still waiting in the cab. It’s interesting for a show – a sitcom especially – to avoid big scenes of confrontation and emotion, but just like Ted himself, the show managed to stand back and avoid a cliché and instead focused on that grey area inside all of us.
Maybe Ted is finally learning what it takes to be an adult; that sometimes you just have to take the hit and move on. As the gang hits their early 30s, they can no longer live impulsively (which technically was never Ted’s problem to begin with) and must instead simply let things happen when they need to, doing the best they can with what they have.
Sure, it would have been cathartic for Ted to tell Stella his true feelings, but at what cost? As Stella picked up her young daughter and kissed her ex, perhaps there was a little voice inside Ted’s head saying, “It’s finally time for you to have your own child, someone you can protect and love unconditionally, because god knows you’ve never seen unconditional love before.” Instead of teaching Stella a lesson, Ted taught himself one, and now he can finally look for his one true soul mate (one that doesn’t hate Star Wars or subscribes to gun magazines).
My sister does make a good point, though – Robin needs a boyfriend, stat.