Friday, November 15, 2013

Strong Female Character Friday: Robin Scherbatsky (HIMYM)

I've talked before about how much I enjoy Lily on How I Met Your Mother, despite the sometimes overwhelming masculinity of that show, but today I want to look at the other chick on there. The tall one. Let's talk about Robin.

But, before we get going, in case anyone here doesn't know it already, this is what the show is about: How I Met Your Mother is a New York set sitcom about five wacky (white) friends who laugh and love together. The story follows Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) as he goes through his New York life searching for his soul mate. It's told kind of weirdly, with Ted (also played by Bob Saget) narrating the story from the future as he tells his kids how he met their mother. Presumably those kids have really good attention spans and Ted has a lot of money saved up for their therapy funds, because this story is both long and also kind of something you wouldn't want to know about your parents.

Anyway, when the story starts, Ted lives with his two best friends, Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) in a tiny two bedroom apartment above a bar. Marshall and Lily have just gotten engaged, which has Ted thinking about his future. I mean, he's already the dreaded twenty-seven years old (I think, it's been a while since I saw season one), and he wants to be married by thirty. What's a guy to do?

Well, according to his good friend Barney (Neil Patrick Harris, playing basically the same character from Harold and Kumar, which, yes, I have seen), the thing to do is avoid getting married at all costs. Also, to hit on that cute brunette by the bar. That cute brunette? Well that's Robin (Cobie Smulders). And as the first episode of the show makes incredibly clear, Robin Scherbatsky is not the mother.

She is, however, important.

She's important because Robin is completely different from any other woman Ted has met before. She's different from Lily, which is only good writing, since they're the two main female characters on the same sitcom, but she's also just plain different. Robin is brash and kind of butch, and while she's incredibly hot, she's also really abrupt. Oh, and Canadian. Did we mention that she's Canadian?

Robin becomes one of the main characters on the show partially because Ted wants to get into her pants (which he does, and then they break up, and then they get back together, and then they break up, etc etc etc), but also because she's just genuinely really cool. In fact, she's so cool that when Ted wusses out on him, Barney calls Robin and makes her stand in for Ted on a guy-date. They smoke cigars and drink whiskey and play laser tag and we as an audience just sort of sit back in awe because she is so incredibly cool.

Which is not to say that Robin is without faults. Or sitcom-level foibles, which is all any character really gets in the first few seasons of a show. Robin has a dark and mysterious past. Well, a weird past, at any rate. It seems that as a teenager in Canada she rebelled against her overbearing father (who raised her as a boy) by becoming a Canadian pop star and later acting in a series of educational (and innuendo laden) videos. But I actually do mean real faults here too, not just backstory ones. As the show goes on, we get to know Robin better, and we find out something really interesting: Robin has no idea what she's doing.

Like, none at all.

You see, after her Canadian pop stardom faded, Robin wanted to go into journalism. But because she was such a known face in her home country, she came to New York to get a fresh start. She wants to be a broadcast news anchor, and to that end we see Robin struggle through dead end job after dead end job, hosting morning news shows that no one watches, falling in horse poop for fluff segments, and sharing air time with a monkey. And she does it all without giving up her dream. Partly because she's determined, and partly because she has no idea what else to do.

Believe it or not, I actually think that's a good thing. Because it gave us something new in her character. You see, the archetype Robin embodies is pretty standard. She's the super cool unattainable girl. In any other story she's the one the protagonist would end up with, and it's very much to this show's credit that they make it clear that was never going to be the case. But still. Robin is awesome. She's just one of the guys, she smokes cigars, she plays hockey, she drinks like an angry Canadian, and she loves poker. All of that would be boring if she were also put together. But she isn't. Robin has no idea what she's doing, and that's what makes her work.

It's not just at work, but that's where her frustration is most apparent. In her home life too, Robin is uncomfortable with normal situations. She's constantly getting confused about her childhood as opposed to everyone else's and seems to have happily buried the whole "My father raised me as a boy until puberty made that really confusing and I ran away," thing, but somehow it keeps coming back up. And here's the thing: it works. It doesn't make Robin a woobie or a girl who needs to be saved, it makes her a person. It also serves as the most reasonable explanation for why the cool girl knows all about guy stuff and can't deal with human emotions I've ever seen.

This is just the framework. What really makes Robin shine is that while her character starts out here, this isn't where she stays.

I would have been perfectly happy if Robin had stayed a commitment-phobic, child-hating, career-obsessed madwoman throughout the show's run. I mean, I like character development, but I wasn't expecting much of it. Much to my surprise, then, that Robin did develop, in spades and in ways I wasn't expecting.

I wasn't expecting Robin to fall in love, and certainly not with someone outside the main cast. I wasn't expecting her to give up a career dream to stay with him, and I really wasn't expecting him to dump her. I never thought we'd see Robin humbled like that, and not in a good way. And then, I never really expected to see her pick herself up and try again with someone like Barney. I really didn't expect them to get it right.

I didn't expect Robin to find herself possibly pregnant and realize that babies aren't so bad, and I wasn't prepared for when she found out she could never have children at all. I was surprised, but happy, that there was no magic cure, and that through it all Barney stuck to her side.

I was thrilled when the two of them made it to the altar, but I didn't really expect how emotional it would make me. And, to be fair, can you blame me? I mean, after eight years of development and change and growth and Robin turning from a very funny caricature into a woman I respected and loved, it was freaking emotional.

Which brings me to now. Or rather, to the start of season nine. And to why Robin Scherbatsky is on our list of Strong Female Characters. At the start of season nine, while Lily and Marshall angst over future job prospects, and Ted deals with some lingering feelings for Robin, Robin and Barney are in a limo, driving off to their wedding. There are a couple of bumps along the way (like finding out that they may or may not be blood related), but the real point of the story seems to be the two of them. Sitting in the back of a limo. On the way to their wedding.

They made it. More importantly, Robin made it. She grew up, changed, and matured. Not to say that everyone has to change their minds on the whole marriage and kids thing, but to say that I like that Robin did. She got past a lot of the crap that was bogging her down, and got to be happier for it.

And what's a sitcom for, if not a happy ending?

I have this picture above my desk. Because of reasons.

1 comment:

    So, she's cool because "she is one of the guys"?
    I clearly see here that you praise Robin (which I adore♥) because she's "like a man", anti-feminine, not because she's somehow an awesome woman...