Saturday, January 29, 2011

HIMYM 6.14: "Last Words"

“Hey son, I just want to leave you with a little advice. Rent Crocodile Dundee III. I caught it on the cable last night. It totally holds up!”

I have to admit that “Last Words” was kind of a difficult episode of HIMYM to get through. Not in the sense that it was poorly executed- it just dealt with a serious and emotional subject matter. While I (thankfully) have not yet experienced the loss of a parent, I totally understood where the rest of the characters were coming from. When something horrible happens to a friend, it’s hard to know what to do. You do what feels right, and you try to be supportive, but with something as horrible as what Marshall is going through in this episode, there’s not a lot that is actually going to do much good. And that’s where the rest of the gang is here. Robin has her bag of any pseudo-contraband under the sun, Lily’s got “Judy Duty,” and Ted and Barney have silly internet videos. I think what helps Marshall more than any of the things they actively try to do, however (maybe with the exception of Lily- her plan does actually end up being pretty good), is simply their presence. There were some funny moments in this episode, but it almost felt inappropriate to laugh at them. I think it ended in a good place, though. While this sort of episode isn’t necessarily what you expect to see when you tune into a sitcom, I think it was needed. Without this episode, the ending to “Bad News” would have felt like a cheap shock, and HIMYM is better than that.

The gang is all out in Minnesota for Marvin, Marshall’s dad’s, funeral. As I already alluded to, they’re feeling kind of useless. Except for Robin. She claims to have been to enough funerals to know exactly what her role should be. She’s “vice girl.” Her bag is filled with everything from phone chargers to pills to dirty playing cards, and she’s happy to help out any mourner who might need a little something. It’s an amusing little subplot that helps break all the dreariness of the episode here and there, but not in an inappropriate way. Lily decides that her role is going to be “Judy Duty,” aka taking care of Marshall’s mom. That turns out to work in a way that’s quite unexpected. Judy goes off on Lily when Lily offers to help with the cooking, and Lily realizes that she can help Judy by essentially being Judy’s punching bag. Judy recognizes this by the end of the episode and thanks Lily for it, which I thought was kind of sweet. Finally, Ted and Barney think their job should be to make Marshall laugh. They keep showing him internet videos of guys getting hit in the nuts in odd ways, and Marshall (understandably) is not in the mood to laugh. Even when they take the concept to “live theater” (Barney punching Ted), it doesn’t help.

To make things even worse, the pastor of the Eriksens’ church has to go run to the birth of his grandchild, and he leaves the funeral service in the hands of his son, Trey, who is also a pastor. This wouldn’t be so bad if Trey hadn’t bullied Marshall back in their school days. Trey is played by Danny Strong, of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fame, but I think he’s kind of wasted in this role. He’s really only in two scenes. Really the only purposes he serves are to provide a comedic visual (he is rather short, especially when compared to Jason Segel) and to start off Marshall’s conflict for the episode. That conflict isn’t with Trey, it’s with himself. Trey, acting like it’s the biggest hassle in the world, asks the Eriksens if they can remember the last words Marvin said to them. He says his father told him to ask- he really could care less himself. Everybody has these idyllic final memories, except for Marshall. He spends most of the rest of the episode perseverating on the idea of his father’s last words to him.

Marshall has some trouble figuring his father’s exact last words. First, he remembers denying his father a pork chop for the road as his parents were leaving to go back to Minnesota after the fertility issue conversation in the last episode. Which brings up an important point. Why is Marshall obsessing so much on the very last words, when he had this wonderful conversation with his dad, where his dad said all the things Marshall would want to hear, not long before his death? It really is an unfortunate oversight. Anyway, Marshall then remembers that he had another conversation with his dad before he left for Minnesota. His dad yelled up to Marshall from the street before getting in a cab. What his dad yelled was some well meaning but full of stereotypes comments about Marshall and Lily’s Korean neighbors. Marshall’s not satisfied with that as his father’s last words, either. Then Marshall remembers that he brought an umbrella down to his father before he left. His father said he had some advice to give Marshall, and that advice was…to rent Crocodile Dundee III.

Marshall is at least temporarily satisfied with those being Marvin’s last words to him because he likes Crocodile Dundee III, but then Marshall realizes he has a voicemail from his dad on his phone (the battery had been dead and Marshall had only just recharged it). Marshall now has the possibility of much better last words or much worse. When the rest of the gang act like Marshall’s strange for obsessing on this so much, Marshall asks all of them to remember the last words their dads said to them. Ted’s dad has been playing the field quite a bit since the divorce, so his last words to Ted were about his sexual exploits. Lily last spoke to her dad when he called to say he was in jail for tax evasion. Robin’s dad was berating her as always, and Robin was just happy that he remembered her birthday.

Marshall decides not to listen to the voice mail because “Crocodile Dundee III” is good enough, but then he changes his mind when he hears all the over-the-top last word stories at the funeral. He’s dismayed to find out that the call was just a pocket dial. As the rest of the gang gathers around him, he starts yelling at God about how unfair the whole thing is. I hate to say it because it was meant to be a powerful scene and I love much of Jason Segel’s work on the show, but President Bartlett in “Two Cathedrals” he was not. Anyway, it turns out that several minutes into the message, Marvin realized what was going on and left Marshall an “I love you”…and something about his foot cream, but Marshall chooses to go with the “I love you” for the last words. And actually, he keeps those last words to himself, choosing to tell the “Crocodile Dundee III” story to the mourners at the funeral. The experience leads the rest of the gang to all call their respective fathers, and most importantly (to me, at least), Barney calls his mom and tells her he’s ready to meet his dad.

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