Tuesday, December 29, 2009

HIMYM 5.11: "Last Cigarette Ever"

“We had a fairly intense screaming match. Wherein I suggested that you take your head and store it within yourself. In a fashion that while space-saving might limit its exposure to sunshine.”


“Last Cigarette Ever” seems to be another episode that more closely resembles the earlier seasons of HIMYM, where the characters face a typical situation for someone in their mid-20’s to early-30’s in their own unique way. Not being a smoker myself, I can’t vouch for this episode’s authenticity like I can for others, but I would guess it has been written with the same attention to emotional detail as episodes like “Okay Awesome,” “Arividerci Fiero,” and the two-part Season 2 finale “Something Borrowed” and “Something Blue.” Because I am not a smoker but I have felt discomfort at “fun” social activities like clubbing, contemplated giving up my first car, and have participated in my best friend’s wedding, I didn’t feel the same connection to “Last Cigarette Ever” as I felt to the other episodes I mentioned, although there were still plenty of good character moments to make it a worthy episode overall.

Robin is facing some extra stress at work. She has a new co-anchor, Don Frank, who is the veteran of 38 local morning news teams. Robin is excited about this at first, thinking she’ll be getting a co-anchor with a lot of wisdom to bring to the job. Instead, she winds up with a jaded loser. Robin deals with the stress by indulging in her vice of choice, smoking. It turns out that the entire gang are smokers to some degree, even though they deny their status most of the time (especially Barney). The HIMYM writers are once again taking advantage of the “Ted as an unreliable narrator” trope to create an episode’s story. Ted has been hiding the fact that they were all smokers from his kids, and they are quite surprised to learn the truth.

Dominoes keep falling to make more of the characters start smoking more frequently. Marshall smokes to get in good with his new boss at GNB, “Artillery Arthur” from the Season 3 episode “The Chain of Screaming.” Marshall and Arthur were not fond of each other to say the least, and their working relationship ended in a massive screaming match. Arthur was brought into GNB to fire a bunch of employees, and word is that he fires people he doesn’t know. Surprisingly, he doesn’t remember Marshall, but he tells Marshall that he finds sharing a cigarette to be a great way to get to know someone.

Marshall smoking more frequently makes Lily immediately fall back off the wagon. Ted and Barney are then left sitting alone in MacLaren’s as Robin, Marshall, and Lily are all outside smoking. We get a great flash back to what it was like when people were allowed to smoke in bars. The entire screen is covered in smoke, and Barney and Ted are having trouble finding women to hit on amid the haze. It’s reminiscent of the very loud club in “Okay Awesome” where all the dialogue was captioned. It’s an obvious call back joke, but it’s still funny because it’s so true. Ted and Barney decide they might as well go outside and join the rest of the gang, so now they’re smoking too.

After a few weeks of smoking, everyone has reached their “breaking point.” Lily wakes up one day with a “smoker voice” provided by Harvey Firestein. Ted has a great deal of trouble climbing the stairs to his apartment. Barney notices a burn mark on his tie (and reacts with a hilarious girly scream perfectly produced by Neil Patrick Harris). Marshall witnesses Arthur have a heart attack during one of their workday rooftop cigarette breaks. We get some more time-traveling Marshall, and this time early-30s (present day) Marshall goes back in time to beat up his 13-year-old self who thought starting smoking was a good idea. It’s pretty amusing, although it feels a bit redundant to have time traveling Marshall I think I liked the first version better. 60-year-old Marshall still caring deeply for Lily was poignant as well as funny. gags two weeks in a row.

The group then makes a pact to quit, but Robin’s work troubles don’t make keeping the pact easy. As I alluded to earlier, Don is not the helpful professional Robin was hoping for. He has lost hope of ever finding true success in journalism, and his attitude is affecting the rest of the staff at Robin’s show. As is his habit of working in just tightie whities and no pants (the anchor desk hides his legs, after all). Robin, still determined to succeed, is furiously trying to get Mayor Bloomberg to come on the show. This is one of the reasons she agrees to quit smoking, actually, considering Bloomberg is the “Anti-smoking Mayor.” Don is convinced Robin is wasting her time, and he turns out to be right- for now, at least. The Mayor agrees to be on the show, but he cancels at the last minute.

The thing I liked most about Robin’s plotline in this episode is what happens on her show after she finds out that the Mayor cancelled. Don has convinced her to just goof off on air since nobody really watches the show. Robin is about to light a cigarette, when she gets a phone call from Marshall. The whole gang actually decided to watch her show for once (since it’s on so early in the morning, they’re usually all asleep). Marshall calls to beg Robin not to light that cigarette, because if she starts smoking again, all of them will fall off the wagon. I thought that Robin’s reaction to her friends actually watching the show was sweet, and I enjoy that these are characters who seem to genuinely like each other. On the other hand, Saget!Ted informs us that Robin will be dating Don within three months. Don was mildly amusing, but I think I will find him insufferable in larger doses. I can only hope their relationship does not last as long as is hinted at in “The Playbook.”

The end of the episode is what makes the episode as a whole work. It’s truly vintage HIMYM, with a healthy dose of sentimentality. The gang are all on the roof, and they decide to have a mutual “Last Cigarette Ever.” As the camera pans over each character, Saget!Ted tells us when each of them truly quit smoking. Some of the revelations were more interesting than others. Barney will quit in 2017, which is interesting because we know that he will at least live that long (there aren’t many references to Future!Barney). Lily will quit when she and Marshall start trying to have a baby, and Marshall will quit when their son is born. Ted quits a few weeks after he meets his future wife.

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