8.5/10. Should Ted and Robin be together? For better and for worse, that has become one of the defining questions of the show. Do these two people, who have been through so much together, belong with one another?
When I watched this live (or semi-live), I was annoyed by this episode because I felt like the show had already answered that question pretty exhaustively in Season 2, and a little ways beyond. But on rewatch, I do think it was worth a revisit, even if I wish they had left it at that. Because Ted is right, at the end of Season 2, the two of them broke up because they talked about where they would be in five years and saw themselves in different places, leading different lives, and that meant their relationship, as good as it was, was going to have an expiration date.
Well now, it is five years later, and they're past that supposed expiration date, and they're still living mostly the same lives. So what is it they were holding off for? If things aren't where either of them thought they would be half a decade later, then why not be together and see where things take them.
What's more, one of the major obstacles to their continued happiness was that Robin was a commitmentphobe. She could not handle something serious as a next step like moving in with a guy, and a proposal sent her running and screaming. Well, five years hence, she has moved in with a guy, and though it was brief and heartbreaking, she did accept a proposal. She's grown and changed since she and Ted broke up, and she is, perhaps, more ready to take the leap with Ted. The show elides the fact that Ted is likely to have the same issues related to kids with Robin that Kevin did, but even there, there's an argument that Ted's spent nearly seven years on the show trying to find the life he'd imagined in his head and has fallen well short of it despite a few close calls, and maybe he's willing to just go with a woman he loves, and let that be enough, to see where it takes him.
That's appealing. To be honest, I don't really buy that Ted has been secretly pining for Robin, or at least carrying a torch for her, this whole time. Again, he's seemed too committed to too many other people too often, and he and Robin settled into a chummy relationship that feels much more natural to them than romance at this stage (which is, I think, part of why returning to romantic angle with them annoyed me originally). But I like that idea here, even if it really lacks support from the rest of the series. You can see why, after Ted has felt emotionally deadened and disillusioned by his track record, and after Robin has been through the emotional wringer of telling her friends and boyfriend that she can't have kids, being engaged for 24 hours, and then breaking it off, they would both revert back to something that had worked for them, especially when there's reason to think that things might be different this time.
And yet, the show wisely has both characters accept that it's not the right thing, however appealing it may be. Robin is right that even if things might be different, with all that she's been through, this isn't the right time for her to dive into another serious relationship. She is too emotionally vulnerable and she needs time to figure things out. Ted pushes back and says he thinks she knows how she feels about him now, and that's not going to change, and they should get it out in the open. Robin takes a moment and tells him she doesn't love him. And it's sad but it's sweet and it's good. It ties a bow on the Ted and Robin relationship in a way that works for both characters as we've seen them evolve, and it coheres with how we've seen the two of them become great friends over the course of the series, without falling back into romance beyond a handful of moments like these where one of them or the other were at an emotional low point. It seemed to answer, once and for all, whether these two people would be together, whether they should be together, and it did it well.
Again for better or worse, there was a small but vociferous contingent of the fanbase that, like Marshall, was still holding out for Ted and Robin. That was never me, but in retrospect I see how there were some questions the show had set up long ago that it needed to answer here. Taking the 40-year deal off the table was a nice touch, and although there's not much precedent or even plausibility for the notion that Ted needs to, once and for all, get over Robin, to close the door entirely, before he can be fully ready to love and commit to someone else, it works in the moment. That sea of yellow umbrellas he walks into, the difficulty of closing off something you'd hope for but the comfort in knowing that you're opening yourself up to a new world of possibilities, sells the hell out of the episode.
There's only a couple of things I don't care for in the episode that prevent it from reaching higher heights. The first and foremost is that Lily, and to a lesser extent Marshall, are pretty big jerks here, not necessarily for the long-term bets, which are admittedly kind of cute, but for crap like Lily telling Ted he should fly to Russia and make a big romantic gesture that she knows will scare Robin off just to win the bet, or meddle in Ted's life more. (Marshall does it a bit too in the opposite direction later, so he's not off the hook.) The show tries to handwave it a bit, by having Lily say that she wasn't rooting against Ted, she just didn't think Robin was the girl for him, and that's totally cool. Once again, what isn't cool is trying to drive your best friend into a ditch through subterfuge because you think it's what's best (or to win a bet) rather than just firmly and frankly telling them why you think it's a bad idea for them.
I do, however, appreciate how Marshall is in one of his best roles on the show here -- Ted's caring best friend. He goes to the bar at a moment's notice when Ted asks. He has the heart-to-heart with Ted about all of this and gives him honest, decent advice. And when push comes to shove, he tells Robin what he thinks is best for Ted's well-being. (Which is, admittedly, similar to Lily's meddling, even if the directness of it makes it feel a little more palatable.) I still don't much buy the "Ted is still in love with Robin" idea, which renders some of the severity of all of this a little overwrought, but Marshall is a good friend and he acts like it here, and that is always welcome to see on this show, even if his last "not yet" cracks open a door I wish the show had firmly closed in this episode.
I also don't like the idea that Robin's hesitation is that she's in love with Barney. Granted, the show pushes back on that idea a bit, but it just doesn't match up. While the show bend's over backwards to explain the idea that Robin would still be attracted to Barney for some reason, it's just never seemed convincing to me, and even if it were, the episode where Barney broke up with Nora but Robin chose to stay with Kevin seemed to posit that there was a better answer for Robin than Barney out there. I did, however, appreciate that the show used it to illustrate a bit more emotional maturity with Barney, even, and perhaps because, of its juxtaposition of him frantically hunting for Marshall and Lily's sex tape. The idea that he wants Robin to be happy regardless of whether it's with him does show growth on his part in an organic way, and while that doesn't mean they should be together, it does mean that Barney is a bit of a different person than when things started.
This is an episode of big threads within the show and big changes. It's meant to be an emotional turning point for both Ted and Robin, that sets them on a path toward finding their true happiness over the ensuing two and a half seasons. I'm not sure the show gets there--there's too many bumps in the road between here and the series' controversial ending to call this an unmitigated success in that regard--but it does something pretty great in the interim. It explores how people can change and grow and find themselves in vulnerable positions where they're convinced that what's holding them back is the fact that they're still hanging onto something that worked for a while and that they're convinced might work again. But then, they hash it out; they reevaluate, and even if it's a little rough, they move forward. If only that had stuck.