Time flies when you’re connecting all the dots, doesn’t it? That felt like the fastest episode of this season, zipping from year to year, incident to incident, clue to clue, in an effort to weave the Mother into Ted’s life from season one, episode one on. It’s hardly a triumph of comedy; with all the marks it has to hit, “How Your Mother Met Me” feels more like a Arthur Murray dance diagram than an episode of television. Yet it’s exactly what we need as we enter this final stretch of the series.
For months—or more—we’ve been waiting to spend time with the Mother. There’s no way we were going to spend as much time with her, or get to know her as well, as we have with Ted and the gang. But we still need to feel like we know her, in order to give our final assent to the premise of the show. We need to agree with Ted that she is the one he’s been waiting for, and trying to turn other women into, and sometimes despairing of ever encountering, for nine years. How it is possible to get us to believe it? Originally, some people suggested that the first time we’d see the Mother would be the first time Ted saw her. But in retrospect, this would have been an awful betrayal of the emotion we’ve been asked to invest in Ted’s quest. With no way to judge whether it was all worth it, we would be in that frustrating position familiar from movies’ fictional genius artists. A character looks at the artwork and exclaims “Extraordinary!”, and we’re supposed to take his word for it.
On the other hand, it would be too much to ask us to spend a whole series of episodes with the Mother’s arc, abandoning the people with whom we tune in to spend time. (Heck, it was almost disastrous to marginalize just one member of the gang, Marshall, for the first half of the season.) No, what is needed is a clip show of sorts, or maybe the exact inverse of that. We see the moments in between the fateful intersections when the Mother and Ted crossed paths and missed connections—the moments that show why they kept proceeding on parallel tracks. The ones that reveal, long before they meet, whom they will be once life brings them together.
So “How Your Mother Met Me” begins on the same night as the How I Met Your Mother pilot. While Ted is falling for Robin in MacLaren’s on the west side, the Mother is waiting for her true love Max at the other MacLaren’s—and then getting the phone call about the accident. For the next few years, she refuses to socialize (preferring to work on her series of paintings about robots bowling). She even ditches her friend Kelly at the St. Patrick’s Day party (“No Tomorrow”) in order to give her cello to “Naked Man” inventor Mitch for his underprivileged orchestra students; in return, he tells her to do whatever it takes to realize her dream of ending poverty. That’s how she ends up in an economics class, explaining to fellow student Cindy that she’s not in the romance market since she’s already had her one winning lottery ticket (and inviting Cindy to become her roommate). After Darren worms his way into her band Superfreakonomics, the Mother initially turns down romantic overtures from Louis, but then decides it’s time to give relationships a chance.
Throughout, we are treated to bits of dialogue and business showing how similar the Mother and Ted already are (she gets why a bar would be called Puzzles; she owns a calligraphy set, a coin collection, and a chainmail corset from the Renaissance Faire; she laughs at his “because it would be shellfish” joke). But it’s in the final act, when the anti-clipshow gives way to the Mother’s motivating emotion and own legacy of heartbreak and doubt, that the episode truly brings the two of them together. When the Mother returns from picking up Marshall and Marvin, Louis is waiting at his Farhampton beach house with a wedding proposal of his own, and the Mother asks Max’s permission to move on. Even though she gets it, she turns Louis down and decamps for the Farhampton Inn, where she gets the room Robin’s mother should have occupied.
And in a beautiful scene, the kind that HIMYM has always managed to find whenever it threatened to get lost in its own mythology, she sits on the balcony, with the ukelele that Max gave her on the night he died, and sings “La Vie En Rose.” This is a scene that takes its time. After the breakneck pace of the dot-connecting in the first two acts, we almost hold our breath while she sings quietly to herself. Everyone in our gang, separated from each other by a fight or by the artificial conventions of the night before a wedding, is seen alone. But Ted is on the next balcony listening—the first of thousands of times he heard the Mother sing that song, we find out, and his all-time favorite.
What really connects the Mother and Ted isn’t driving gloves or a knack for knowing the exact right quirky gift or a weakness for the big romantic gesture. It’s the courage, shaky though it may be at times, to live with the knowledge that what you want most might always be out of your reach. Max is taken away from the Mother by cruel fate, and she’s pretty sure that she doesn’t get another shot at love. Robin is taken away from Ted by Robin’s own choice, and Ted’s tragedy is that he’s not sure whether there’s something more he could have or should have done. Both are at their lowest ebb. They are giving up what they think is their last chance at happiness, for someone else’s benefit, in the name of friendship. If they can just stick out a few more hours, they’ll find each other. The fear that gnaws at me is that Barney’s empty rollaway will lead Ted to lose his determination. Will he be able to carry through as best man, and as Robin’s friend, without heedlessly making it all about him? Or is there still farther down for him to sink?
- So much fun with the title sequences this season. I love how Kelly rushes past Pilot Ted and Pilot Barney and hails a cab over to the other MacLaren’s, where the Mother sits in a booth with her gang and gets her own sequence of party photos.
- “Can I tell you an embarrassing story?” Naked Mitch asks the Mother. “Is it this one, taking place right now?” she wonders.
- Oh, Darren. The way he bursts into the grandstanding “Well, maybe just one soooooooong!”, after the Mother generously suggest he join Superfreakonomics on stage at their next gig, tells you all you need to know.
- And the way Louis is not completely charmed by the Mother’s English muffin song (“One tasty English muffin is what I am/One tasty English muffin with raspberry jam!”) tells you everything you need to know about him. C’mon, dude. What are you, made of stone?
- “Bye, Max.” (Sound effect of my heart breaking.)