(SPOILERS AHEAD, so proceed with caution, you Mother lovers!)
Season Nine, Episode Five: “The Poker Game”
Written by: Dan Gregor & Doug Mand, Directed by: Pamela Fryman
After some great episodes, it seems inevitable that there would be a mediocre one. “The Poker Game” puts us a full 48 hours before the wedding — my how time flies. Yet we still don’t feel any closer to anything interesting – except, perhaps, the return of Frances Conroy as Barney’s mother.
Friday 6 p.m., 48 hours before the wedding.
Marshall and Daphne are driving through Chicago, and Marshall is eager to stop at his favorite pizza place, Gazola’s (which we visited in the season five episode “Duel Citizenship”). Marshall deliciously describes the pizza for Daphne who is eager to stop there too, until she finds out that they had a rat infestation. She tells him they will not be stopping for pizza. “This road trips sucks!” Marshall exclaims, and I’ll be the first to agree with that.
Meanwhile at Farhampton, the gang is playing poker – Tim Gunn has lost and left, but Ranjit and Zabka are still around. Robin is lauding Ted’s wedding gift-giving skills, and Ted is the first to pat his own back. But Lily is fuming. Future Ted informs us that after Lily and Marshall’s wedding, they discovered that Ted hadn’t given them a present. Thus begins an epic grudge feud that we’ve come to expect from the gang. When Lily calls Marshall to tell him that Ted is giving Barney and Robin three presents, Marshall goes ballistic.
Also unaware of Lily’s fuming, Robin is annoyed that James keeps “crapping” on marriage. Barney tells her to solve the problem herself since they’re basically family now. Her solution is to win his wedding band during poker. James, while pretending not to care, tells his mommy on her. Enter Frances Conroy in a bawdy, sequined top.
Lily confronts Ted about the gift, but Ted swears he bought them a coffee maker. He then describes his side of the grudge feud — his grievances result from not receiving a thank you card. But Lily remembers the coffee machine, except that it came from Stuart and Claudia. Ted runs off to rectify the situation immediately.
Barney’s mother plays Robin to get James’ ring back, but ends up losing her sequined top instead. Robin can easily see their tells because they all accidentally squeeze the word “bluff” into their sentences. After Barney’s mother storms off (in just a bra and pants), Barney and Robin tell everyone else to clear the room so they can discuss something in private.
Robin and Barney’s mother have been pitting themselves against each other for Barney’s affection/attention. He holds out as long as he can from choosing a side, until he decides to take the items back to his family. However, as Barney returns the ring to James, he realizes that James is now divorced because he didn’t treat his husband like a teammate. Just like that, Barney switches sides and takes the ring back to Robin. How quickly he seems to have learned how to make marriage work.
Lily goes to Stuart’s room at the Inn to ask about the coffee machine. He confesses to having misappropriated the gift as his own, which inadvertently led to his marriage to Claudia. (Why are these people friends with such a jerk like Stuart?) Lily apologizes to Ted about the scarring mishap, but not before Ted has worked out a way to have a Gazola’s pizza delivered to Marshall in the Monstrosity on the freeway. Just like that, they’re best friends again.
While Barney did bring the ring back, he also mentions that he told James and his mother that they would be nothing to him from now on. He will only do what Robin tells him. Only Barney would have such an extreme reaction to advice. Mortified, Robin goes to Barney’s mother to return the sequined top as a peace offering. But she wants nothing to do with that top. She tells Robin she may have won the battle, but she will win the war for Barney. Robin’s apt response is, “Game on, bitch!”
This episode felt tedious with all the extremities of feelings being expressed. Everyone’s strong opinions about wedding presents and thank you cards makes you wonder if these people care about anything other than weddings. The set up for a “Game of Barney” between his mother and Robin mirrors the feud between Ted and Zabka for the Best Man role. Will the season devolve into all-out war for Barney’s affections? Does he deserve such adamant loyalty? This, like most of the episodes so far, feels like one with a bigger pay off down the road. Here’s hoping that road ends soon (as if!).
Now for some random thoughts and my favorite moments of the night…
“It is a good time to be gay.” – James after shallowly, yet somewhat accurately, describing all the many, easy ways for gays to hook up nowadays.
In the flashbacks to Marshall and Ted’s doubletalk at Halloween, you can catch a glimpse of the Slutty Pumpkin the background. Was that just a fun sight gag or a harbinger for future involvement from Katie Holmes?
“Please don’t play strip poker with my mother again.” –Barney to Robin
Best gag: After Barney storms out to return the ring to James, Lily pops up from under the bed. Ranjit and Zabka also subsequently come out of hiding, all having eagerly eavesdropped on the argument. It was so random, yet that’s what made it so great.