Storytelling has always served as the gimmick of HIMYM’s premise. “Kids, let me tell you …” the narrator begins, and we’re off into one of hundreds of stories about Ted and his friends, stories that sometimes seemed to explain some aspect of the central premise (how Ted met the kids’ mother) and sometimes seemed to just pass the time. If “Vesuvius” does nothing else, it takes that storytelling exoskeleton and relocates it to the thematic center of the show. Ten years from now, the framing flashforward reveals, Ted and the Mother are back at the Farhampton Inn in a snowstorm, and are beginning to wonder if they’ve run out of stories about their respective pasts to tell each other. There’s a sting at the end, an indicator that stories that were once harmless acquire new, poignant meaning as lives change.
“Vesuvius” isn’t as overflowing with humor, joy, or pathos as the strongest episodes this season. In fact, unlike “Rally” last week, it deploys its copious allusions to earlier continuity (including “Arrividerci,” “Fiero,” “Three Days of Snow,” “Symphony of Illumination,” and “The Playbook”) more like a clip show than a creative remix. The plotlines aren’t brimming with comic possibilities, and the staging that sticks all the characters into hotel room sets for the duration feels more limiting than usual.
But then there’s the constant reminder that we’re hearing about this because it’s part of the story that brought Ted and the Mother together, and because the recitation of that history, with all the details that made it memorable or significant to the teller or to the people the teller cares about, is part of living out their happily ever after. Including the realization that the recitation has grown rote, and the details that remind them that the happily isn’t ever after. This isn’t a great sitcom episode; it’s not even a great episode of this sitcom. But it contains a seed, something that sticks with you and puts everything around it in a different context for a moment. The story doesn’t end when Ted met the Mother, and the stories that they’ve accumulated since must include some tragedy.
Even the thinness of the storylines in “Vesuvius” seems to be part of the point. Reminded of the lamp Robin broke on her wedding day (trading slapshots with her sister Katie), Ted tells the story of trying to help Barney pick out his suit from the many racks of suits he brought along. (He’s narrowed it down to “these ones, and these ones, and these ones, and all the other ones in here and in the adjoining room.”) Tim Gunn made him a bespoke suit just for the wedding, but Barney says it doesn’t fit and feels itchy; in a lovely understated moment, Ted assures him that once he sees Robin and says their vows and dances at the reception, it will be a perfect fit. It’s a nice metaphor for the discomfort of contemplating a life completely different from the one you’ve led, one that you’re not sure is you, and then becoming the person that inhabits that life—accompanied by a slow push-in to Barney in the mirror, then a pull-back that shows the suit now tailored and perfect.
Meanwhile Lily is trying to get Robin to freak out about it being her wedding day, because she’s personally offended that Robin seems to be acting like it’s no big deal. When Robin settles in to watch the forbidden sequel to The Wedding Bride (“There Goes The Honeymoon!”), Lily goes so far as to put on her wedding dress and to order Marshall to wear the suit from their wedding, in an attempt to goad Robin into caring what anybody wears or does. The futility of this exercise is best expressed by Ted’s reaction when the two plotlines merge; he claims to care about Lily’s dress, then carefully moves a wineglass away from her vicinity so it’s not in danger of tipping onto the precious garment, announcing, “Now you’re good.” When they realize, though, that the wedding is the last time they know that they’ll all be together, they avoid the unknown future by watching a movie version of their past, one written by an outsider and goosed up with gorillas and pratfalls.
When Robin runs into her mother (played by Tracey Ullman) in the hallway, it’s a reunion that reveals how much Robin does care about her wedding day, despite her dismissal of her mother’s absence on many occasions in the past few days. But when the Mother asks rhetorically what mother would miss her daughter’s wedding, Ted chokes up. Something has happened to interrupt the perfect picture of children and parents we saw in last week’s flashforward, perhaps. Time doesn’t always heal the wounds and turn the raw emotions of the moment into a great story you’ll tell someday. The Mother says that she doesn’t want Ted to only live in his stories, but to live life moving forward. They’re an old married couple who can finish each other’s stories now, but is Ted still looking ahead to what comes next, or has something gotten him stuck in his memories?
- Ted questions whether the Mother heard the story about Marshall and the Christmas lights from him or from Lily, and the Mother settles it with: “Yeah, Lily used the word ‘ragamuffin.’”
- I wish now I could have at least a season of the Mother’s stories about the gang, especially the one about “how Dong Nose got her nickname Dong Nose and it had nothing to do with the dong-smacking incident” at the strip club that time.
- The Mother is adorably intolerant of Ted’s douchey build-up to the lamp story: “It’s got everything! Intrigue! Betrayal! Lamps! It is a ripping yarn so buckle your seat belt!”
- Trying to find out who is in the hotel room that Barney slips into, Ted tries bribing the desk clerk: “Maybe Mr. Lincoln can emancipate that information?”
- Katie says that Robin isn’t going to “lose her Timbits” over it being her wedding day.
- If Ted didn’t want Marshall (or Narshall) to eat that cake, he should have put a note on it.
- “That’s not a toy, you ragamuffin! That’s an authentic flail I won at the Renaissance Faire!”