‘How I Met Your Mother’ Recap: Marshall’s “Slap Bet” with Barney nears its violent, open-handed conclusion

Slap one against Barney’s face landed seven years ago in an episode appropriately called “Slap Bet,” setting the stage for four more slaps to come over the series run. Number two arrived later that season. Numbers three and four were doled out on the very special “Slapsgiving” holiday. Complications arose at the time of the fifth slap, “Disaster Averted,” granting Marshall a total four more slaps — two of which he administered immediately. That was two years ago. Barney’s face has gone slapless since then (even with so many times he should have been slapped in the fall of 2013!). UNTIL MONDAY.

One of the show improvement points I suggested before HIMYM broke for winter vacation was less reliance on show mythology, which at this point feels more fun for the writers than it does the audience. Once upon a time, things like the goat, the Slutty Pumpkin, the pineapple — those were fun Easter eggs that gave the show an extra level of engagement, knowing that eventually those elements might be revealed or resolved. But nine seasons in, the notion of some “Slap Bet” payoff feels a little belabored, maybe tired. Here’s the payoff: Barney’s going to get slapped! And not that people getting slapped in the face isn’t entertaining, or sometimes justified, but as an endpoint — or more accurately a continuation of a long-running gag — it’s not much to hang your hat on. Really, network TV just needs fewer episodes. You feel for these creative teams that have to figure out 22 separate stories every season.

As an episode of television for a nine-year-old series, “Slapsgiving 3: Slappapointment in Slapmarra” was perfectly fine. We open right where we left off the 2013 episodes, with Marshall’s hand poised to strike Barney. Then we dive back to a night at McLaren’s earlier that year, as Marshall tries to intimidate Barney with the story of his international “slap training” — an education with wise “Slap Masters” who would teach him the speed, strength, and accuracy he might need to truly land a devastating blow on Barney’s soft cheek. So it’s a skewed story episode, almost all of the action reflecting Marshall’s goal of scaring the crap out of Barney.

You get Robin, Lily, and Ted portraying Marshall’s three Slap Masters, each of whom teaches the novice one of the “three virtues of slapistry.” Kill Bill’s influence is felt throughout with the masters’ names (Red Bird; White Flower) and their chapter title cards. It’s fun! Ten years later, the tribute doesn’t feel played-out or dated but funny in its specificity. And of course Marshall would frame the story that way for maximum effect — as a character decision, it feels completely on-point. Does the episode really go anywhere, reveal some new information about our characters or where they’re at in their lives at this moment in time? Absolutely not! So much so that Boyz II Men performed at the end of the episode for no reason. But it’s fun, and well-constructed, and not to renege on demands imposed a mere month ago but… you sort of take what you can get at this point. As long as Marshall’s road trip with Sherri Shepherd is really and truly over, we’re good.

Image: NY Post