This week's How I Met Your Mother was an ode to Barney. For most of the season, Barney has functioned as a supporting character, offering side comments and side plots that are simultaneously ridiculous and sublime. In "A Change of Heart," he's a leading man who appears to be in the process of rapid maturation thanks to the lure of Norah, the beauty he's been pining over since Valentine's Day. In his brief courtship of Norah, viewers are teased with two different versions of Barney: the vulnerable, sentimental version who declares that he does intend to get married and retreat to a vine-covered home with a pool and a fence, and the predictable, non-committal, hedonist version who tells Norah that his only objective was to "get in her pants." In the end, Barney takes a wholly unsatisfying yet realistic route—realizing that he does like Norah enough to change, actually imagining his inevitable happiness as this changed man, and still choosing his old self.
What is so arresting about Barney Stinson is that he succeeds as a character at all. In a show that draws much of its charm off of the commonness of the characters and their everyday dilemmas, Barney is the unrelatable outlier, a caricature of the soulless womanizer: smart, handsome, superficial, and single-minded. Even in his moments of depth, he displays a childish ignorance (i.e. truly thinking that that Ben Vereen was his father in "Cleaning House") that is more infuriating than funny. On the surface, it's difficult to understand why we as an audience would ever like him. The answer is simple, obvious, and perhaps isn't mentioned enough —Barney works only because of the talent, charisma, and comedic timing of Neil Patrick Harris.