Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sharper Than a Scorpion's Sting

I'm pretty sure I was grown when I read the fable of "The Scorpion and the Frog." Ostensibly a children's tale, it had an indisputably dark side that was really for adults, and I don't think my parents or anyone else read it to me when I was little.

I don't know if my parents made a conscious decision not to read that fable to my brother or me. If they did, I probably wouldn't have liked that when I was a child, but I would endorse that decision today. If I had any children (which I don't), that is the decision I would make.

In the fable a scorpion asked a frog to carry it across a river. The frog was wary because it feared being stung by the scorpion. But the scorpion assured the frog it would not do that because if it stung the frog, they would both drown. That persuaded the frog who agreed to take the scorpion across the river.

Halfway across the river, the scorpion did indeed sting the frog, sealing their fates. The frog asked the scorpion why, and the scorpion told the frog, "It is in my nature."

It was the perfect inspirational metaphor for the episode of How I Met Your Mother that first aired on this night in 2006. The episode was appropriately — for a couple of reasons — called "The Scorpion and the Toad."

If you are familiar with the early seasons of How I Met Your Mother, you know that, at the end of the first season, Lily (Alyson Hannigan) made the decision to break up with Marshall (Jason Segel) to go to San Francisco to pursue her dream of being an artist. Marshall was devastated but, at Barney's (Neil Patrick Harris) urging, decided — after three months of mourning the seemingly dead relationship — to start meeting new women when the second season began 10 years ago.

So Marshall and Barney started going out to meet women. Marshall, of course, was his usual sincere, honest (sometimes to a fault) self, and Barney, who was there supposedly to lend his support to Marshall, intervened each time and ended up bedding the women in whom Marshall had shown an interest.

Thus, the scorpion of the story was Barney, whose nature (to seduce women) overrode his intention to help his friend. Every time.

Well, actually, The Scorpion and the Toad was the name of a bar where Barney and Marshall went to meet young college women who, Barney assured Marshall, would be dazzled by Marshall's status as a third–year law student. Of course, Barney ended up seducing Marshall's interests there, too.

But a really good sitcom rarely depends on a single joke or story line to carry an episode, and How I Met Your Mother was a truly good sitcom. The other story line in this episode involved Lily.

Lily was back from San Francisco. No one knew until Robin (Cobie Smulders) encountered her and went apartment hunting with her. Robin was convinced that Lily was happy and had moved on with her life, but when she told Ted (Josh Radnor) he was equally convinced that Lily was miserable and wanted to be back with Marshall.

They made a bet on it, and Ted won when Lily reacted irrationally to the news that she had not gotten an apartment she wanted — and confessed that she missed Marshall and wanted to be back with him, just as Ted had said.

But Ted, who was always a much better friend to Marshall than Barney was, made sure that Lily knew how hurt Marshall had been when she left. He couldn't go through that again, Ted told Lily, so she needed to be absolutely certain that she wanted to be back with Marshall — or else leave him alone entirely.

Lily clearly wanted to be with Marshall, so much that she just happened to be on the street where she knew he would be, and they had a brief conversation. Lily told Marshall she wanted things to be the way they once were.

Marshall was hesitant to reunite with Lily, the memory of a painful summer still fresh in his mind. Longtime viewers of How I Met Your Mother know that not only did Marshall and Lily reconcile, they wound up getting married and having a baby. On this night, however, such an outcome was far from certain.

Lily seemed eager to try, though. She and Marshall sat down on some steps and had a long talk, and at one point she told Marshall that if there was anything she could do to make things up to him, she would do it. And Marshall told her there was one thing she could do — but she could never ask him why.

The next thing the viewers knew, Lily was in the bar confronting Barney, who had been not so subtly working the word "menage" into his conversation with twins. Lily accused Barney of giving her chlamydia, threw a drink in his face and stormed out. She returned a few minutes later, accused him of giving her twin sister chlamydia and threw another drink in his face. That was enough for the twins, who left Barney sitting there with the drinks trickling down his face.

And that is how Lily started making amends with Marshall — by throwing drinks in Barney's face as the Scorpion was seducing young twins, one of whom had been an interest of Marshall's.

And, thus, the Scorpion was stung.