Coming off a hiatus can be a tricky thing to properly pull off for a sitcom as engrossed in its own mythology as How I Met Your Mother is. You don’t want your return to be too emotionally based, featuring huge advancements in the season’s plot, but you also don’t want a totally unforgettable episode. Finding a balance, something that plays to the show’s strengths while not being too aggressively plot-focused, is the key. And it has to be funny. “The Fortress” brings HIMYM back to forefront of my mind with a terrific episode that does just what it should. It’s funny, clever, cute, but the events of the episode are ultimately inconsequential. That’s exactly what you need from a post-hiatus episode.
Barney finds himself in the uncomfortable position of having to sell his apartment at the insistence of Robin, who feels they should, as a couple, find their own place together. Barney is naturally resistant to the idea – he’s giving up a lot of a time and effort he put into all the gadgets and gizmos he’s invented and installed into the apartment. My personal favorite is the Ho-Be-Gone Sleep System, which had me laughing for just how amazingly illogical it is. Not only was I trying to figure out where the hos go, but how many beds does Barney have in rotation and how much did it set him back to constantly buy new mattresses? Robin eventually takes matters into her own hands, setting up an open house to show potential buyers. Not one to be outdone, Barney puts everyone off by describing in detail everything creepy invention he installed, from the Heavy-Set-Go to the Escape From Bitch Mountain. A couple does eventually agree to purchase the apartment, but they tell Robin their intention is to tear it down and build a new apartment from scratch.
HIMYM manages to squeeze some tender moments from the episode by having Robin reject the offer on the apartment because she wants to preserve Barney’s inventions. They may be utterly sketchy, but they’re part of who Barney is. Robin realizes she loves Barnery completely, “even the grossest, creepiest, most sociopathic parts of you,” she says, remarking if he lost what made him who he is, she wouldn’t love him anymore. Barney also shares his feelings, but it turns into a more comedic bit when attempts to compare how he feels to the Superman films and can really only come to the conclusion those movies were uneven. Still, the effort – not to mention the laughs – is appreciated.
Meanwhile, Marshall is struggling, feeling like a single parent now that the Captain has Lily chasing after every vaguely art-like painting he can find, robbing her of the time she would normally spend with Marshall and Marvin. What’s even more troubling is she doesn’t seem to notice the negative affect it’s having on Marshall or herself – she dresses increasingly more artsy as the episode plays out, at one time remarking “I ate a lot of caviar, but it didn’t soak up any of the champagne.” “Mondays, right?” Douchey Ted replies with empathy. More than anything else, Lily’s absence has been keeping Marshall from catching the latest episodes of Woodsworthy Manor, a Downton Abbey-like Bristish drama he, Lily and Ted are addicted to and Lily had forbidden Marshall from watching it without her.
Ted plays the part of the tempter outside of Marshall and Lily’s marriage, luring Marshall to watching Woodworhty Manor without her. He uses such subtle trickery as casually stretching, allowing his arm to fall across Marshall’s shoulders to the remote, enabling him to turn the TV on. “Oops,” says Ted. When Marshall protests, Ted gently brushes it aside. “Just let it happen.” As if this “affair” wasn’t funny enough, at Barney’s open house, the two are mistaken for a gay couple and readily accept the confusion, using the pro-gay vibe of the room to turn on Lily, who Marshall paints as being anti-gay. As is the case with the Robin/Barney storyline, things are resolved; Lily apologizes and puts her job on hold to spend time with Marshall. The status quo is restored.
As I said, this is exactly what we needed. “The Fortress” had the perfect amounts of everything that makes HIMYM enjoyable. Nothing ever got out of hand, staying within a believable realm of wackiness – and I only now realize I think Barney’s inventions are believable as far as his character is concerned – and not getting bogged down by the season’s bigger story. Next week, when viewers will likely be more aware of the show’s return, will be able to tell a bigger story – indeed, I see it’s supposed involve future versions of Ted and Barney time traveling – with bigger consequences. “The Fortress” was a good warm up to get us back in the game.