I know I got out of the weekly “How I Met Your Mother” review business, but I said I would make exceptions for episodes that were notably very good or very bad. We got one of those two tonight, and I have a review of it coming up just as soon as my old friend Mr. Lincoln emancipates that information…
Because I'm putting my kids to bed when primetime begins, I virtually never watch “HIMYM” live anymore, and by the time I get out my laptop to watch, Twitter is already asking me leading questions about each episode. In a season like this, the advantage is that I get early warning if an episode is going to be especially dire – or, on occasions like “Platonish,” early enticement to watch and surprisingly enjoy myself. It also means I've gotten spoiled from time to time…
… and in the case of “Vesuvius,” I think being spoiled on what's happening with the Mother is the only thing preventing me from having a volcanic eruption of my own. I had a half-hour to brace myself for perhaps the most misguided decision in the history of a show that has made many terrible decisions over the years, and thus was spared the “Oh, for the love of God, really?!?!?!” reaction I am positive I would have had if I had seen things unfold live.
Now, I know that “The Mother is dead in 2030, and Ted winds up with Robin, and this is why all of Ted's stories to his kids have been about his obsession with a woman who is not their mother” has been one of many fan theories floating around for years. I always dismissed it because I couldn't imagine that Bays and Thomas – who, for all the flaws of the show's later years, have had a fairly steady hand when it comes to romance (or, at least, romance unrelated to Robin and Barney) – being foolish enough to do it.
Why would they think it was a good idea to keep the audience waiting for seven seasons to get a look at the woman of Ted Mosby's dreams, to then sprinkle enough of her through this final season to make us fall for her too (and be annoyed that they're not using her much more than they are), and then right as the present-day story is closing in on the moment of the eponymous meeting, tell us that in the not-too-distant future, the Mother is going to get sick and die?(*) Why would they think it was wise to drag out the happy ending and then tell us that it's all headed for tragedy?
(*) I also got some confused tweets – plus a very concerned text from a cousin who has never felt the need to text me regarding anything about TV – wondering what the implication of the framing sequence is. Short version: the Mother is worried that after she's gone, Ted will get too lost in stories of their past together to actually live a life (and maybe find a new woman), and when she mentions the idea of a mother missing her daughter's wedding, it hits Ted that she won't live long enough to see their own daughter's. It's possible that things will change in the remaining flashforwards, but the implication was very strong that in the not-too-distant future, before Future Ted's voice turns into Bob Saget's, the Mother will develop a fatal illness.
Look, I understand that this is a show that has had dark moments, like the death of Marshall's father, or Stella jilting Ted at the altar, or Robin's infertility. But they were not the point of the entire series. The show is not about the elder Marvin Eriksen enjoying a long life helping Marshall and Lily raise little baby Marvin. It's not about Stella. It's not about Robin's kids – unless we really are heading for a conclusion where Cobie Smulders is in old age makeup as the kids' stepmom. The show is about putting Ted on a journey where he is going to meet this woman who's going to make it all better, and instead, their time together looks like it'll only last slightly longer than the Mother's time with the boyfriend who died in the 200th episode. It's not technically a cheat on the series' title – the show's not called “How I Got To Spend Decade After Decade With Your Mother” – but it's a violation of the spirit of the law, if not the letter. It's a dark, misguided turn in a show not built for it.
You can point to the Mother's own backstory as a reminder that love isn't eternal, tragedy strikes, all this has happened before, and all of it will happen again, and time is a flat circle, and THEY REALLY THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?
It could be a bit of misdirection (which would be cheesy in the extreme, but at least would undo this stupidity), or it could be that what we saw tonight is exactly what it is, and the moment when we finally get the kids' reaction to the story of their parents' meeting will be bittersweet rather than comic(**), and maybe Future Ted will be with Future Robin. (Presumably, she and Ted could hook up after Barney dies in a magic show explosion, and it'll be slightly less gross than if she and Barney simply split.) Or maybe Ted is just a sad single guy in the year 2030, and this is why the kids have been indulging him, even as his stories had virtually nothing to do with their mother and everything to do with a series of annoying women he banged.
(**) And, if so, it would mean that Bays and Thomas knew all along they were going to end the show this way, since they filmed the kids' reaction back in season 1 before the actors got too big.
I know watching a series is much more about the journey than the destination, but the journey's been pretty crummy for several years, and the only thing offering hope was the destination, as represented so well by Cristin Milioti in all these flashforwards and flashbacks. But if we're barreling not for a happy ending, but something sad, and/or something that renders the Mother as a footnote in the story of Ted's life? Well, even given my lowered expectations for this final season, that's awful.
What did everybody else think? Were you moved by this twist of the story, or annoyed that the entire series has been building to this? Did the clips of “The Wedding Bride Too” make you laugh with all the references to past episodes, or did Chris Kattan only underline Ted's more irritating qualities? Did you like the casting of Tracey Ullman as Robin's estranged mother? Or were you so surprised the writers remembered Robin's sister existed that nothing else in the episode mattered?
UPDATE: Woke up to many comments and tweets from people insisting that Ted gets upset because his mother died before their wedding – or that Robin is dying or has died. That's not it. There are multiple clues pointing very strongly towards Cristin Milioti's character being ill: 1)She tells Ted she's worried about him getting lost in his own stories, suggesting she won't be around to help pull him out. 2)When the gang observes that this day may be the last one they spend together for a long time, Ted in the future begins talking about how you deal with something like that, and the Mother finishes the sentence for him, suggesting you just don't talk about it and enjoy the time you have. 3)When the Mother suggests that no mom would voluntarily miss her daughter's (daughter's, not child's) wedding, Ted begins to cry, and the Mother does not apologize as if she has made a faux pas by bringing up a bad thing that happened to him in the past. It's something that's happening to her right now.
There is still time for the show to pull out of this, and perhaps reveal that Mr. and Mrs. Mosby are preparing for a worst-case scenario that doesn't come to pass, but the show was very strongly trying to imply that when they are at the Farhampton Inn on that snowy future day, it's with the belief that they have very little time left together.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com