I didn’t expect to have a lot to say about the How I Met Your Mother hour-long premiere. I wouldn’t say I’ve been eagerly anticipating its return, but I wasn’t dreading it, either. The season 8 finale set up some questionable things (Ted searching for Robin’s locket, Marshall and Lily inexplicably deciding to move to Rome, Marshall getting the job he’s always dreamed about ever since mid-season) but it also promised a lot of great stuff (Barney and Robin’s wedding, meeting The Mother).
Then over the summer, we got the news that the entirety of the ninth and final season would take place during Barney and Robin’s wedding. At first, I groaned, because it seemed like the sort of thing a group of writers would pull when they don’t have anything good to fill their final season. But then I remembered that this is HIMYM, the whole show is told in flashbacks, flashforwards, even a questionable attempt at parallel universes… and I thought, “You know, maybe this could work.”
Well in the first episode, “The Locket,” I don’t think it worked. We started out with a title card informing us that it was 55 hours before the wedding, which means we are in for the longest weekend in television history. Still, with this gang, it’s probably gonna be a weekend filled with booze, gambling, a pineapple, and another trip to Philly to lick the Liberty Bell, right? The world is our oyster! Why else would these writers stretch out a weekend into an entire TV season? They must have a good story to tell!
So it was extra-super-double disappointing to sit through a cringe-filled Barney and Robin storyline where they wondered if they were distant cousins. Let me tell you, after eight solid seasons of cheering for these crazy kids–yes, even after “The Rough Patch,” still one of the weirdest and saddest TV breakups I’ve endured–after sobbing my face off during “The Robin,” where Barney orchestrated a beautiful proposal–after all of that, what I really wanted to see was two people, a mere 55 hours before their wedding, who were ready to throw up at the sight of each other. It wasn’t romantic, and it wasn’t funny. (At any given time, I find myself wondering if these writers actually like Barney and Robin together, or if they subscribe to the Dan Harmon philosophy of continually putting together the fan favorites only to tear them down. Some showrunners just want to watch the world burn.)
The flipside of the Barney/Robin stuff was the stuff with Ted. The ever-elusive locket that Robin was oddly attached to (but now she seems over it) has turned into some kind of symbol for Ted: If he finds that locket for Robin, she will recognize that he would go to the ends of the Earth for her, and maybe she’ll leave Barney. (Is that what Ted is expecting? It’s unclear.)
At the end of the episode, we are led to believe that Ted flew to Los Angeles to ask Stella if she has the locket (you know, because it was in the pencil box… never mind, I don’t feel like following that thread) but we still don’t know if Ted has it in his possession. What we do know is that Ted is still harboring romantic feelings for Robin even at this late hour.
I love Ted, but I think that’s because I know a Ted in real life, and my Real Life Ted married his Stella, and it’s not going to end well. I know how frustrating it is to watch an awesome person chase the wrong thing. You want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them and tell them that they deserve better than what they’re settling for, that everything’s gonna be okay, that “You might have to wait a little while more, but she’s on her way, Ted. And she’s getting here as fast as she can.”
Sure, on this show, we have the advantage of knowing that Ted ends up happy with The Mother, but in real life, we don’t know these things for sure. And when you stare across at someone you care about and try to tell them, for the billionth time, that you just know she is out there, eventually that stops feeling true… for all of us.
But that’s not why this Ted, our fictional Theodore Evelyn Mosby, is so frustrating. He is frustrating not because we know what’s waiting for him at the wedding reception, but because he keeps going back to the same failing formula even though it didn’t work any of the other times he tried it. He wasn’t happy with Robin. He loved her very much, he’ll always love her, but I’m willing to bet that Ted won’t even realize how unhappy he was with Robin until he meets The Mother. Ted is the sort of person who knows exactly what he wants, and all of the things he wants have always been the opposite of what Robin wants. He wants to settle down, have kids, live in the suburbs of New York, and grow old comfortably. He wants to be around the same people and tell the same stories all the time, and he hopes to one day sit down his two children and tell them the world’s longest “how we met” story. And we love that about Ted! That is his version of romance, and it sounds pretty dang great, even if it’s not what each of us want.
But Robin never wanted those things; she wanted to travel and move constantly, she wanted to work, she doesn’t dream of growing old, and she likes to meet new people and try new things. Not only can she not bear children, but she’s not interested in adopting or raising children at all. At the end of the day, no matter how fantastic Robin is as a person, a wife, or a reporter, Ted still would have been settling for her, because he was sacrificing nearly everything that made him happy just to be with her.
I said it during the episode and I stand by it now: I don’t know how the Ted/Robin fans are able to stand this storyline. Even if something happens and Barney and Robin don’t get hitched, we still know that Ted/The Mother is definitely endgame. Don’t the Ted/Robin fans feel jerked around at this point?
There were still some good parts to this episode, though: Barney saying “ringbear.” The Mother. The Som’bitch cookies. And most of all, DAPHNE. But we’ll get to her in a minute.
The second half-hour, “Coming Back,” was a completely new episode, and it functioned a lot better in the concept of the ninth season. The locket storyline was temporarily dropped, and Barney and Robin moved from their weird incest worries to actual relationship-testing stuff. The only storyline that continued from the premiere was my personal favorite: Marshall’s wild attempts to get from Minnesota to New York in time for the wedding.
In the previous episode, Marshall had gotten himself and his seat mate, Daphne, kicked off of their flight for fighting. This episode followed them as they tried to book new flights, but to no avail. They both ran to rent cars, but thanks to a ridiculous set of circumstances, Marshall rented a car (The Monstrosity) that lacked a baby seat, and Daphne needed a ride.
A lot of people don’t like the episodes where Marshall goes back to his naive Midwestern ways, but I really enjoy them. As much as I was cheering for road trip shenanigans with Marshall and Daphne, I also like that there is a character on TV like Marshall, who always unwaveringly believes in the goodness of humanity. It could’ve ended badly for him, and by all accounts, it looked like it was going to end badly… But at the end of the episode, Daphne rolled up in The Monstrosity, carseat in tow, and I did a happy dance. As voiceover Ted says, “When you believe in people, people come through.”
(I really want Daphne to stick around at least for the first half of the season. Jason Segel was funnier in these two episodes with her than he has been for the last two or three seasons, and I like the dynamic between them.)
Meanwhile, Ted grappled with his singleness, but not in annoying Ted-ish way, while earning the overbearing sympathy of the front desk clerk, Curtis, who was the other stellar guest star that really made his mark. Not only did he have great scenes with Ted (“We don’t get a lot of singles here. I mean, look at this place. Countless babies conceived within these walls, and one… grisly murder”), he also had a particularly funny scene with Barney where he pointed out the closest, dirtiest strip clubs and added, “If you do go, maybe you could take Ted. I’m really worried about that kid.”
The major storyline of the episode was James’ divorce announcement. It’s doubly sad for Barney because it was James who made Barney believe in marriage (all silly gypsy curse storylines aside, because really, HIMYM? Gypsy curses?) and it’s triple-y sad for Barney because it was James who cheated on Tom, lending credence to the idea that Stinson men can’t handle commitment. But instead of freaking out like everyone expected, Barney took it stoically and told Robin, “I don’t need them to make me believe in true love anymore. I’ve got you for that now.” That’s the sweetest thing Barney’s ever said.
Perhaps the only truly sad part was this line from James: “I’m trying to be happy for my brother, but I guess a person has a different perspective on weddings when he knows what’s down there at the end of the aisle. It’s not all champagne and frosting.” Ted looked deeply affected, even near tears, when James said that, and I can’t figure out if it’s because he’s just so sad for James that it didn’t work out; if he’s sad for himself that he hasn’t even gotten to the point of failing at a marriage; or if it’s because he’s still losing hope with every passing day. But when James got up to leave, Ted said, “You’re not giving up, James. And neither am I.”
It’s disappointing to see a character like James, who was so happy with his kids and his husband and his life, sit down with Ted and have such a solemn moment, where he can’t even really muster up some excitement for his brother.
But we ended with a highlight, a scene that might make my Top 5 Favorite HIMYM Scenes of all time: present Ted, sitting alone at a lounge table with his crossword, while one-year-from-now Ted and The Mother sit down and talk about that day. “One year ago today, I made a promise to myself, right at this table: I’m coming back, and I’m bringing you.”
Other highlights of this episode: “Bondage high five!”, the caramel and chocolate marzipan erotic cakes Barney had made for James and Tom, Herm the car rental salesman, Ted’s “Vesuvius! Booyah!… Oh wait, that doesn’t fit,” and I think Curtis and Daphne deserve second mentions because they really were fantastic.
On a completely shallow note, I am loving the sets they’ve created for the Farhampton Inn. The lobby/reception area is my favorite, but the lounge and what we saw of the guest rooms were beautifully designed and fit the gorgeous exterior they are using as the inn.