2.20 - Perfidy
Updated: Jun 17
There are really four plot lines moving through this episode. Marshall and Lily are grappling with their codependence, Lily is struggling to keep her weight up to fit in her dress, Ted is struggling to write a best man’s speech for the wedding, and Barney is training - literally, training - to be on The Price is Right.
Early in the episode, Ted and Robin show up at the apartment, covered in sauce, but Lily is stressed and distracted and tells them not to bother her with that story. She’s two weeks out from the wedding, so her stress is understandable. She’s also planning to stay with Robin, in order to make the wedding night more special.
Once she gets to Robin’s (spoiler: there's no blue french horn on the mantel), she tries on her wedding dress, but she’s lost too much weight due to stress and it doesn’t fit. She can’t afford the rush tailoring, so she tries to pack on the pounds, but it backfires.
As this is happening, Ted is trying to write his best man’s speech, but Marshall keeps criticizing it. It’s too personal, it’s too embarrassing, it’s too boring. Eventually, we see Ted settle on something current, rather than embarrassing memories. Marshall had been sneaking out to meet Lily at a hotel, where she would eat with him, the only way she was able to actually put on the weight she needed.
Just as Ted is going to start talking about the wedding, he says “that’s it’s own story, let me tell you what happened with Barney”. So it flashes forward to several weeks later and Barney is showing them his episode of The Price is Right. The reason Barney was training for this is that he thinks Bob Barker is his biological father. This false belief changes his behavior, especially in the short term.
All of us are carrying around false beliefs, though most of us probably aren’t carrying around anything so egregious as thinking one of the most famous game show hosts in the world is our father.
When we identify these false beliefs for our characters, we have to extrapolate how these beliefs change their behavior.
In the short term, Barney is working way too hard to be a success on The Price is Right. He’s memorizing prices, building weighted wheels to spin, brushing up on his math skills. It isn’t just that he wants to win, it’s that he wants Bob Barker to be proud of him. To praise him.
This starts to shed some light on Barney’s behavior overall. He craves positive reinforcement. We know he was hurt badly by his only serious girlfriend. Combine that deep, personal humiliation with the emptiness of not knowing his father, and his craving for positive praise becomes more understandable.
Barney chases a good time not because he just wants to have fun, but because he needs to be the star. He needs to be “the best man” in the room. The greatest guy, the funnest guy, the sexiest guy. He’s delusional and selfish, but as long as he gets the win sometimes, he figures it’s all worth it.
At the end of the episode, he seems to come to terms with the fact that Bob Barker isn’t his dad. He says, “If you've lived your whole life thinking one thing, it would be pretty devastating to find out that wasn't true.” But he doesn’t actually come to terms with it. He’s entertaining the idea of it being false; but if he had confronted Bob Barker and found out explicitly it was false? How would Barney have handled that? What’s more, Barney could have just gone to his mother, as an adult, and ask her point-blank.
Barney was recently praised as Marshall’s co-best man. He’s found a friend group that genuinely supports and loves him. Maybe he’s ready to let go of the delusions? But also, maybe not.
Your characters’ false beliefs might affect their behavior like Barney’s. He craves praise, he craves positivity, he struggles to make real connections. This has made him deeply competitive and toxic.
False beliefs can be a lot more simple and only take a few minutes to really unravel. Ted believes that a best man’s speech is supposed to be embarrassing or funny or reliant on illegal shenanigans. It’s a common misbelief, but Ted unravels it pretty quickly.
For what it’s worth, the episode also challenges the widely-held belief that there’s no such thing as “too skinny,” though I don’t think they really were trying to take on the diet industry or anything. It was just an unexpected play on a trope.
What are other stories in which characters carry around false beliefs, and how do those beliefs inform their decisions?
How do you work these in without being heavy-handed?
Writing Prompt: Your character wakes up with the ability to tell truth from lies. What happens in their day, what changes as they suddenly learn the truth about something that has been a lie their whole life?
Listen to the episode here