Episode 1.2 - Purple Giraffe
Updated: Jun 16
This episode I want to talk about unreliable narrators. We have to set that up from the beginning because the first example I want to point out is in the first fifteen seconds or so of the episode.
This whole show revolves around an unreliable narrator. Ted is recalling events that are decades old and he has a motive in telling this story. It’s NOT just “let me randomly tell you something”, he is telling his kids THIS story RIGHT NOW for a very specific reason, and that reason taints every single aspect of the story.
The writers hang a lantern on this later on, they call a minor character “blah blah” and they refer to another one as “honey” because he can’t remember their names. They use this unreliability to tease out future reveals: Ted will be telling the story of his thirtieth birthday and say something specific and then realize, “oh wait, that had to be later on because THIS HUGE THING hadn’t happened yet” and the audience now know that sometime next season THIS HUGE THING is going to happen.
That brings us back to the purple giraffe episode. Ted’s memories are all tied up in his future motivations. The way he sees the story is colored by the way he wants his kids to see the story.
So when Robin says she has to go back to the station and makes goo-goo eyes at Ted, we have to wonder, how much of this is Ted wanting Robin to make goo-goo eyes at him? How much of this story is real, and how much of it is just how Ted remembers it. This show masterfully handles this unreliable narrator. They remind us of his unreliability often enough to show that everything might be colored by this perspective, but rarely enough that we forget how unreliable he is and believe everything he tells us as truth.
As we get close to the end of this episode, Ted chases Robin up on the roof after he sees the montage about the kid trying to grab the purple giraffe. We come back to the idea of WHY is he telling THIS story NOW? As regular people moving through our everyday lives, we rarely - if ever - sit and have these existential montages that tell us exactly what we need to do to get what we want, but in retrospect we do this all the time. We assign meaning to things that were mundane and Ted does this ALL the time through this series.
Test your memories. Think of a significant memory in your past, one that involves someone you’re still in contact with. Write down exactly how you remember it happening. Use as much detail as you think is necessary to tell that particular story, no more, no less. Ask the other person involved to do the same and then compare and contrast them. Or, if you don’t think they’ll want to write it down, have them read your version and respond to it.