NOTE: This episode contains slight spoilers for last night’s episode of How I Met Your Mother.
I don’t know how others reacted, but “Shelter Island” was, for the most part, my kind of episode: funny, sweet, and using the narration and time jumps to add layers (comedic and emotional) to a linear story that is strong in and of itself. The first few episodes of the season were a little iffy, but now that they’ve wrapped up the Stella arc, as well as finally doing an episode where Ted is less of a jerk than someone else (in this case, Stella), prospects seem pretty bright, especially if they focus a little more on the other, better characters after this very Ted-centric run of episodes.
I especially liked how, as a sort of parallel to the way Ted missed the “real” story behind Stella’s behaviour, the episode played with our expectations of what the ending would be. Anyone who had ever seen more than one sitcom wedding episode probably knew that at least one part of the ending was not in doubt: we knew that Ted would not get married, unless they were planning on getting him divorced real quick, and the episode even told us fairly early on what we suspected: Stella isn’t The Mother. The only question was how they would arrive at that point, and just as Ted focused completely on Robin and ignored what was really going on, the episode was one long misdirect, constantly making it seem as if the wedding would fall apart due to the unresolved tension between Ted and Robin. When the Jason Jones character popped up, it actually did occur to me where they might be headed, but the subsequent scenes placed so much emphasis on Ted/Robin that it was hard to believe that that wouldn’t be the key to the ending. Yet it wasn’t a cheat, because that was the point of the episode, that Ted thinks everything revolves around him, when there are things going on that he doesn’t know about or notice.
One more thing about HIMYM is that it’s very retro in one way: it may be the only multi-camera sitcom on the air today that can get away with long, serious stretches with almost no laughs, like you’d get on something like Family Ties or Night Court (speaking of which, Barney seemed even more like Dan Fielding than usual last night — wasn’t every other episode about Dan trying to resist the temptation of some girl who’s coming on to him?). The big Robin/Ted scene was almost entirely serious, with an occasional throwaway joke, a “treacle-cutter” in the old terminology. Another example of the odd paradox, that this show’s fragmentation and other hip trappings allow it to get away with some sitcom devices that would normally be considered very old-fashioned.