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How I Met Your Mother Season-Premiere Recap: The Closer She Gets

"The Locket" -- Sherri Shepherd guest stars on  the ninth season premiere episode of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER

The countdown begins. Last May, when creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas announced that the ninth and final season of How I Met Your Mother would be framed by Robin and Barney’s wedding weekend, nobody knew whether it was a great idea or another gag. I’m feeling the former. Many fans (myself included) weren’t sure the series could sustain another 24 episodes, but for a show that’s toyed so cleverly with time, slowing down the clock makes a lot of sense — and based on these first two episodes, there’s reason to be optimistic.

For one thing, the big event referred to in the series’ title deserves microscopic treatment. Bays and Thomas took a big risk telling this story in the chronologically complex way that they did from day one, and ruling Robin out as the mother after only 22 minutes. Naturally, the audience immediately identified her as Ted’s true love, and despite stark evidence to the contrary, some of us had trouble divorcing ourselves from the notion that “Aunt Robin” could somehow be Ted’s wife. This season gives us the chance to see exactly how and why things change for Ted, although there’s certainly plenty of fatigue here from plotlines past.

Also, it’s not going to unfold exclusively in real time. What surprised me most last night was that we actually saw Ted with the mother (Cristin Milioti) in a flash-forward at the end of the second episode. I figured part of the genius of the 56-hour plan would be that the writers could introduce her without actually shoehorning her into the gang, which was always a problem, because there wasn’t emotional room in the cast for a sixth, and her character risked potentially bad chemistry with Ted. I liked Victoria and Stella okay, I couldn’t stand Zoey, but they all felt equally wrong with Ted (partially by design, I’m sure). The writers could have side-stepped that issue by letting her gradually matriculate into the group, meeting everyone individually, like she did while sharing her Sumbitches with Lily on the train, and waiting until the very last second to have the two meet. As promised, they didn’t do that.

It was a shock to see Ted interacting with her already, but it was also exciting. Their coupling has momentum now, finally, after all these years. And we have the advantage of getting to know the mother apart from Ted, which is perhaps the key to this execution: flattering the egos of an opinionated fanbase by letting us in rather than having her foisted upon us. The mother learns a little bit about Ted (“nerd alert”), and we learn a little bit about her (kinda twee, but then look at whom she’s marrying). It’s working; I liked her. And she’s the first to spot the fakery of Lil and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, calling out Lady Tedswina Slowsby’s aggressively boring detour to the house of a buckle magnate (Florian Von Otterloop, did you by chance know a Van Smoot?).

A lot of minor callbacks in last night’s double feature: Lily’s “you’re dead to me” look, appeals to the universe, telepathic communication (which for a moment looked like “a weird cousin thing”), more of Barney’s bogus history. The B-plot found Marshall rushing to make it to the wedding after being kicked off the plane from Minneapolis for talking on the phone. I sided with Daphne (30 Rock’s Sherri Shepherd) here, but I sympathized with Marshall. Though it’s implausible that he would have taken a job that put the kibosh on the move to Rome without consulting Lily, he did need to get that banana gavel picture off social media, and nothing is more challenging in this regard than trying to talk a parent through the Internet, crackling modem and all. The best part of Marshall and Marvin’s day: spotting either Prince or a flamboyantly dressed greyhound.

According to the EW HIMYM cover story, it’s going to be a while until the gang is reunited at the inn that witnessed the conception of countless babies and one grisly murder, so let’s talk about the more interesting story lines. Fifty-five hours away from tying the knot, Robin and Barney were anticipating the weekend’s wild cards and hurling at the prospect of being related. Barney: “King Joffrey’s parents were brother and sister, and he was a fair and wise leader.” Crisis was averted, but there was still the issue of the Ring Bear (fingers crossed) and, more important, Robin’s very clammy feet. She offered Barney’s brother James (Wayne Brady, so conspicuously absent from the bachelor party) a bisexual Mountie if he kept quiet about his divorce, since it was only his union that gave Barney faith in the institution of marriage. James spoke for all of us when he asked: “Do you really think what you and Barney have is that fragile?”

Clearly Robin will be reconsidering her feelings for Ted this season, and vice versa. Ted gave her that sweet picture from the opening credits instead of the locket, but we have to think he still has it, and that there will be an entire episode dedicated to his retrieving it from Stella. I’m not sure how this wedding could come off in light of Robin’s serious last-minute reservations, and even if it does, their marriage can’t be the only reason Ted finally lets Robin go. But the rehash of their relationship might be more compelling now that the mother is officially in the picture. How will she be absorbed into the story? Will there be more flash-forwards or flashbacks, like to scenes that she was technically supposed to be in (the club on St. Patrick’s Day in “No Tomorrow,” Rachel Bilson’s apartment, etc.)? And have we heard the last from Curtis and the Crab Shed? At the very least, we’ve been given what we might have once thought impossible from a series so long in the tooth: something to look forward to.

Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS