Episode 1.13 - Drumroll Please
Updated: Jun 16
This was written as the possible series finale, which would have been both a CRIME and a VERY SATISFYING ending, honestly. That's hard to pull off.
In the opening scene, where Barney is lying about joining the peace corps, we see Marshall in the background, eating something and making this face like the food is a symphony in his mouth. He does this REPEATEDLY throughout the series, but this is the first time we’ve seen it, and as a re-watcher I laughed really hard.
So Ted meets this girl at the wedding, and they spend the first act, the first 7 minutes, building up the connection with this girl, Victoria. At the end of the first act, Ted says, “dammit I have to see her again” and we have a call to action.
Ted spends the second act trying to track her down.
They call Claudia to ask her who Victoria is and I love that Claudia is justifiably FURIOUS about this. Then she tells Ted that there was no Victoria.
They call Barney, asking him to call the bridesmaids to find out if they know who Victoria is. Barney is being a douche and says he won’t help. He finally does, but it doesn’t work because the bridesmaid doesn’t know Victoria.
Right at the end of the second act, Lily tells Robin the whole story, including the throw-away detail of the brown shoes with the snowflakes, and we go into the commercial break with Robin saying, in a panicky kind of voice, “I know who she is”
They rewind time a little bit and show that Robin made it to the end of the reception and saw Ted and Victoria almost-kissing and then Victoria ran into Robin crying in the bathroom, so the only thing Robin saw of Victoria was the shoes.
Now we have a conflict: Ted has loved Robin for months. Robin cares about Ted. Robin doesn’t want to get married, Ted does. Ted wants to move on with Victoria, and Robin knows who Victoria is.
Then all three stories collide at once:
Claudia calls Ted to apologize, but Marshall asks where the cake came from 16:42
Flashback to Robin asking Victoria’s shoes “are you with the bride or the groom?”
Back to Claudia, she tells Ted the name of the bakery, which was Victoria’s fake name
Back to Robin, Victoria says she made the cake 17:08
Marshall has victory, Ted has victory, and Robin’s decision is made for her, all in 26 seconds. That’s a little less than half a page of script. I honestly don’t think you can make all your climaxes come together more uniformly than that.
Every clue up until now has built to this moment:
When Ted ran into Claudia to ask about bringing Robin to the wedding, Claudia was yelling at the cake decorator
We see Marshall being obsessed with the food, and particularly the cake, at this wedding in multiple scenes across both episodes
“She wasn’t on the guest list” - Claudia didn’t say “I don’t know anyone named Victoria” (Claudia’s been kind of a bitch, this mind game isn’t out of character)
The last couple minutes are an absolute testament to Ashley Williams’ acting. She packs so much emotion into it: she’s so scared of hooking up with a dude at a wedding again, she’s so scared of losing Ted, she’s really falling in love with him. She’s incredible.
They spin this moment out, having Ted dither about whether or not he actually wants to risk this amazing thing they have. Does he actually want to go for a relationship, or does he want to preserve that night the way Victoria said she wanted to?
This was written as a possible series finale, and that’s the question that Ted has to answer again and again in this series: Do I want to risk what I have for something better, or do I preserve the magic in my memories?
On Writing Excuses, way back in Season 2, they talk about this very thing that we’re talking about tonight. They talk about how the first act (before the first commercial break) is setting up our story, introducing the conflict, and then we have a call to action (or a realization that this problem is BIG). Then in Act II, we have all the try-fail cycles: Ted calls Claudia, fails. Ted asks Barney for help, fails. Ted decides to give up, and unknowingly fails because Robin and Lily have accidentally schemed behind his back. That’s the Act II Twist: where your MC gets the one piece of information he needed to fix the failures of Act II.
Sanderson talks on writing excuses about how and why he learned NOT to do this with climaxes, but let’s keep in mind that he’s writing series that are 3 books long with 400,000 words in each book (that’s over a million words - if we translated that into screen time it would be a movie 2 years and four months long, so … his “don’t do this” doesn’t really apply to a 20-minute episode).
This episode works so well, and even would have worked as a series finale, because the resolution is so satisfying. A big reason for that satisfaction is that the three storylines all come together at once. Another reason for that satisfaction is that you, as the audience, figures it out just before Ted does. It's surprising, but inevitable.
Writing Prompt: Pull out one of your favorite stories. Identify the A-plot and the B-plot (Ted searching for a girl, Marshall searching for a cake). Flag where the A-plot resolves and where the B-plot resolves. How close together are they? What could have been cut from the intervening pages to make them come closer together? (Bonus: do this on more than one story to compare and contrast)