What's funny about the Barney-Robin romance is that it started in a very natural, human way. Robin feeling vulnerable after reliving some childhood pain, Barney being there to comfort her, and one thing leading to another is the sort of organic way that a friendship turns into a romance and maybe becomes something more
Then, it turned into one of those wacky sitcom ur-romances. Barney had to cartoonishly pine for Robin for a whole season. There had to be zany secret keeping, will-they won't-they games, and all manner of nonsense before they could get together. Then, once the two of them actually started dating, things spun even farther out, until the show at least had the good sense to separate them until it could believably bring them closer together.
In that way, "Of Course" is the perfect grace note to the ill-fated Barney-Robin romance, because it brings both Barney and Robin back to that same type of human moment that brought them together in the first place. The typically stoic Robin has been secretly having a difficult time with Barney's return to his predatory ways, and having clandestine crying sessions to let those emotions out. When Barney finds out, he feels guilty as sin for having hurt someone he cares about, and goes to where he knows she'll be.
And there, the two of them find each other in a moment where Robin is hurting and vulnerable and Barney wants to comfort her. Except this time, they've been down the dating road and know that it doesn't work for them. Robin admits that the break-up is hard for her; Barney admits that he didn't realize he would be so terrible as an ex, and once again there's a big gesture between them where he shows her that he cares about her and her happiness.
Barney giving up his "superdate," and with it his chance to bed the girl whose entire ethos is to deny men like him is, in the hyperreal world of HIMYM and amazing sacrifice. And when he offers it to Robin and Don, it's one of the sweetest moments on the show, and a sign that even if Barney hasn't grown up or matured enough to where he could be in a real relationship with Robin, he at least appreciates her friendship and her feelings enough that he can set aside his lothario leanings in order to try to make up for his callousness and do right by his friend.
But just so things don't get too saccharine or heavy, there's a good helping of solid comedy in the episode as well. For one thing, the "bangity bang" song is one of those absurd, running gags that HIMYM does perfectly, and as Marshall and Lily admit to one another, it's also just surprisingly catchy. Similarly, the telephone game realization that Robin has been hurting, followed by various members of the gang expressing disbelief that the next person in the chain didn't realize and is "such a guy" is some nice character comedy. Even the superdate song--which admittedly isn't the cleverest song ever written for television--has the added spark of the shifting green screen production that takes Ted and Barney through Mr. Mosby's designs without ever really leaving their booth, and their mutual agreement that they needed to head to a strip club to reaffirm their manliness after their starry-eyed affirmation of romance was a nice coda.
Even the weakest part of the episode -- Barney's pursuit of Anita, had its moments. Jennifer Lopez joins the surprising number of pop stars who've guest starred on the show. Thankfully, unlike most of them, she has acting experience and can hold her own with the rest of the cast. Her story, a self-help author whose deal is telling women to empower themselves by telling men no, plays on broad stereotypes on both sides of the gender divide and generally detracts from the proceedings. I appreciate the idea of the episode attempting to cast her as "The Anti-Barney," but the humor involved mostly fell flat, and it brought out the worst in Barney at the same time.
Still, the nice thing is that this is one of the rare episodes of the show that deconstructs Barney's bad behavior a bit. After the break up, both Barney and Robin more or less reverted to form as though none of their romance had ever happened. In some ways, it's understandable that the demands of a weekly sitcom involve reverting to the status quo whenever there's a failed experiment, but there's something disappointing about the idea that after all the (poorly-conveyed) development Barney supposedly underwent in the course of winning Robin's heart, he immediately turned back into the same floozy-flinging jerk he was before as soon as they were finished.
For once, however, the show doesn't treat his schemes and conquests as all in good fun. I generally enjoy Barney on the prowl, and I think his methods are too exaggerated to be taken seriously or as pernicious, but at the same time, I'm glad that the episode takes time to show that his actions hurt people, sometimes the people closest to him, and that neither he, nor his friends, nor even the audience necessarily realized that.
As the show rounds out its fifth season, it's a nice reminder of the little bits of inventiveness and attention to detail that made the show stand out beyond its three-camera trappings. Showing the scenes we've watched this season, like Barney bragging about his latest date or unveiling a plan to meet women at the Super Bowl, and recontextualizing them by showing how they affect someone, is trademark HIMYM. At the show's best, it remembers not only who its characters are, but what they've done in the past, and uses it to inform who they are in the present.
We know that Robin is someone who puts on a brave face but has repressed pain and ways of letting it out. We know that Barney is a casanova, but one who also cares about his friends and is willing to make a big sacrifice for their happiness. Letting the two of them seem fine, back to their usual selves, and then adding a reminder as to who they are beneath their stoic or sleazy exteriors, and the connection that brought them together in the first place isn't just good storytelling, it's good character development, and one of those important qualities that elevated How I Met Your Mother into more than just another sitcom.