We have a confession to make: After watching a preview for this episode, we scripted the first line of the recap in our head. “Didn’t the idea of Future Barney and Future Ted colliding in MacLaren’s, even in a dream, cheapen the whole conceit of the series?” we wrote. Yeah, we’ve lost a little faith as of late. Did last night restore it? Sort of. It definitely surprised us. There was something so comforting about seeing the whole gang together at the bar for this bottle episode, yet things did seem a little cheerily off. That’s hindsight, of course, but we found ourselves wondering: When did Marshall have time to invent a new drink? Is Lily oddly angelic? And why is this conversation between Barney and Ted happening apart from the group?
In truth, Twenty Years From Now Barney and Twenty Years From Now Ted didn’t bother us as much as we thought it would — “The Time Travelers” held us in its grasp for the first fifteen minutes, and the interplay was fun, but we preferred the subplot of the Minnesota Tidal Wave. Marshall had at some point concocted a drink of coconut rum, peach schnapps, vanilla vodka, strawberry crème liquer, cranberry juice, sugar, and maraschino cherries (not girly at all), and apparently Robin loved it so much she started ordering it at MacLaren’s — and they ended up naming the drink after her. “You Zuckerberg-ed me!” Marshall accuses. This led to a fight that culminated in Marshall besmirching her on the men’s room wall, and Robin countering with a long graffiti apology in the ladies’ room that served to trick Marshall into staying in there long enough to get caught. (Savvy use of daddy issues.) And Carl — the trusty barkeep who has taken over as a regular tertiary character where Wendy the Waitress left off — played an enjoyable role for the first time in a while. It was almost as if MacLaren’s was a sixth character again, like it was in the old days (ding ding ding), and a highlight from this interaction was Marshall guessing that Carl’s surname was Jr. and, obviously, the dance-off that Robin said Marshall couldn’t win, “cause I’m Sparkles, bitch.”
Meanwhile, in a pretty seamlessly integrated yet somehow completely different story line, Barney tries to talk Ted into attending Robots vs. Wrestlers: Legends (elderly wrestlers fighting old timey robots). Ted declines, Barney invokes Twenty Years From Now Barney to help convince him: “What’s this I hear-slash-remember about you not wanting to see Robots vs. Wrestlers?” Given Barney’s recent lamentations about how “crazy stories are [his] thing” and his usual role of enthusiast, it made sense that he was lobbying hard. But the time-travelling got even more confusing/entertaining when Twenty Hours From Now Ted showed up to caution Ted against a hangover, and when Twenty Minutes From Now Barney showed up to somewhat warn Barney about a messy meatball — and they all chime in in unison to identify “that coat-check girl from the dance club seven years ago” (Glee’s Jayma Mays, returning from the first-season episode, “Okay Awesome”). Twenty Months From Now Coat Check Girl gets her own funny bit when she discourages Ted from trying to talk to her on the grounds that he knows how it will turn out (with Future Her baking muffins and faking a pregnancy).
But it all came together in what we thought was a pretty gut-wrenching moment. Those of you who remember the season-five episode “Robots vs. Wrestlers” might recall that it had a similarly sad ending — one that doesn’t quite square with the plot here: Future Ted tells us that the gang did drift over the years, but that they got together annually for the titular event. (Maybe that was later in life?) Anyway, it turns out that parts of this night — the Minnesota Tidal Wave incident — happened a startling five years prior, and the multiple future characters were, as we understand it, Ted’s lonely interior monologue as he tried to decide whether he should attend Robots vs. Wrestlers by himself, because everybody else was busy. This speech of Barney’s struck us as pretty devastating: “Ted, this moment already is gone … Marshall and Lily are upstairs trying to get Marvin to go back to sleep. Robin and I are trying to decide on a caterer, and you have been sitting here all night staring at a ticket for Robots vs. Wrestlers because none of us could come out. Look around, Ted. You’re all alone.”
Ted is an unreliable narrator after all, and in the end, we’re left to assume that he did go to Robots vs. Wrestlers and sprain his wrist and smoke and hurl even more than he did after his mom’s Price Club beef (he really put a firm end to that “vomit-free since ’93” streak). But he tells the kids all the things he would have rather done: go back to his apartment to all his old stuff (that Jeanette was supposed to have destroyed!), toss little Marvin over his head (a nostalgic bit of schmaltz given that Marvin is now — in Future Ted’s present — six-foot-seven). We can’t help it, though: We like when the series plays upon our sentimentality over the passage of time. (It makes this recapper think about Richard Dreyfuss in a truck, and how sad it still is that Chris Chambers dies in that knife fight.)
Now as for the part where Future Ted says that, most of all, he would have liked to have traveled the short distance uptown to see the Mother and make an impassioned speech about meeting her in 45 days — okay, just relax, Ted. But we liked that it brought us closer to this moment/person, in a sense. We’re likely to only see part of Robin and Barney’s wedding at the end of this season, so the meeting is presumably a ways off, but any time the show circles back to the Mother and learning a little more about her, it feels like it’s at least on course. “The Time Travelers” was unexpectedly moving. Who’s with me?