Wow. A pretty upsetting conclusion last night, assuming we’re all assuming the same thing. The Mother and Ted are once again weekending at the Farhampton Inn, this time in the winter of 2024, and realizing with a mix of pride and sadness that by now they know all of each other’s stories. I was tempted to make a crack about cheapskate Ted (“Maybe my old friend Mr. Lincoln can emancipate that information”) and his refusal to take his wife on a real vacation — by my count, this is their fourth return to Farhampton. Then the destination took on a new significance.
At one point, amid the bantering, the Mother says, “I just worry about you. I don’t want you to be the guy who lives in his stories. Life only moves forward.” It was an oddly sobering sentiment. Was she jealous of a past she wasn’t a part of? That doesn’t jibe with the character we’ve come to know. Is she worried that his nostalgia is somehow dangerous? Maybe, but Ted’s stories are the framework of this series, so it’d be strange to pathologize them now.
Somehow, Robin’s mother finally showing up (and being played by Tracy Ullman) was only the second biggest surprise of this episode, because the audience was punched in the stomach a second later when Ted and the Mother start crying: “Of course she showed up. What mother is going to miss her daughter’s wedding?” I can only assume that the Mother is sick, and that the speculation is right: She’s gone by the time Ted tells this story. This might not come as a shock to those of you who bought the theory to begin with, but I always figured that was too dark a turn for a sitcom, even one that hasn’t shied away from the harsh realities of getting older.
Then again, this could be a health scare, and maybe at the time of this trip, she wasn’t out of the woods. From reading some initial reactions, it seems a lot of people think shuffling the Mother off this mortal coil is a manipulative move on the writers’ part. I get that, but I don’t necessarily agree. (I’ll certainly be more annoyed if this was a major misdirect and Ted was thinking of his own mother. Why Dylan’s “If You See Her, Say Hello”?) The storytelling device makes sense this way — no wonder the kids have patience with their (possibly widowed) father — and even if the title would suggest a living character, the series has always been about the core five friends. For several seasons, I didn’t even care about meeting the Mother, because I didn’t want the show to end. And as much as I like Cristin Milioti, who can cry a hell of a lot better than Josh Radnor, I’m comfortable with, if saddened by, the idea that her character’s time with Ted might be relatively brief, much like our time with her. (Though I’d be frustrated if this leaves the door open to Future Ted and Aunt Robin, because we’ve moved beyond that. Cobie Smulders tweeted and deleted a picture of Robin wearing the locket. Did Barney scuba dive for it, did Ted retrieve it, what?)
Either way, it’s a potentially devastating development. It’s no coincidence that the writers chose this momentous episode to call back to some of their best material — finally, a shout-out to Swarley (Swarlize Theron!), the botched nickname inadvertently bestowed upon Barney in season two by Crazy Eyes (Homeland’s Morena Baccarin) in what may be my favorite HIMYM ever. (Or maybe my favorite is “Three Days of Snow,” which also got a brief mention last night. There were so many excellent episodes back then.) And though the callbacks were perfunctory, they fit the message here: At some point, our stories become so familiar that other people can tell them for us.
What I liked:
• The intimacy between Ted and the Mother. This is the most we’ve seen of them together, talking like old souls. I especially liked “Yeah, Lily used the word ragamuffin” and the mysterious story of Dong Nose, “the greatest coincidence of the 21st century.”
• “It’s got everything: intrigue, betrayal, lamps.” There’s one story the Mother thinks she hasn’t heard, and with that setup I anticipated more high jinks and stalling, but the plot had very little to do with the lamp. And it was great to once again see Robin’s sis (Lucy Hale) after a long, perplexing absence.
• Robin’s wedding-day ambivalence. The Robin we knew back in season one was never getting married, certainly not at a quaint hotel with so many guests. But it wasn’t that long ago that she got worked up about Jeanette wearing white to the wedding, so it’s good to see Robin back to not caring about all that weird egomaniacal etiquette. Also, Lily’s sentimentality here took on more meaning in light of Alyson Hannigan’s farewell cryfest. And how perfect that it’s Robin’s mom’s arrival that brings out her own emotional side?
• The Wedding Bride Too. Full disclosure: I’d almost completely forgotten about this franchise. More disclosure: A friend called my attention to the meta-ness of Narshall’s cake-eating. In an old interview with GQ, Jason Segel complained that there was nothing left to do with his HIMYM character, and that he was probably going to be dealing with story lines that had him eating his wife’s birthday cake, which was repeated in This Is the End, and is now being parodied in TWBT as a trespass against Jed. (Thanks, @gbchow.) Also, Segel left to shoot a movie before the final day of filming, so I guess he was more than ready to go.
• The metaphor of Timmy G.’s ill-fitting suit.
• The clown whose carpet matches the drapes.
• Ted moving the red wine away from Lily’s wedding dress.
• Sue Tup.