Sep 23, 2013

How I Met Your Mother: “The Locket” & ”Coming Back”

By Josh Oakley

It can difficult to say goodbye to good friends, but it’s inevitable. Sometimes you simply grow apart, as some have with How I Met Your Mother, when you realize your interests no longer line up. Other times the separation can be more abrupt, when one friend is shuttled to another part of the country. You call, or at least text, every once in a while, but as good those relationships can be, they never capture what a lack of proximity took away. We only have so many hours to spend with everybody we know before work, family, death, or any number of other obstacles brings an end. This is why I never subscribed to notion that HIMYM’s format for its final season was a waste. I get to spend an entire weekend, almost every minute of it, alongside the people I’ve grown up with. When the weekend concludes, Ted will have finally found the woman his entire life has been leading him towards, I’ll be graduating college, and both lives will go on, whether in actuality or just in the hearts of fans. But before that brutal farewell, one last weekend, one last chance for every catchphrase, running joke, and relationship to remind us why we began this journey almost a decade ago.

The first two episodes of the ninth and final season of How I Met Your Mother are promising if far from perfect. There’s a lot of table-setting done here, launching stories that will continue for either a handful of episodes or the entire year. Marshall will be spending a good deal of time with Daphne (Sherri Shepherd), as they make their way to New York City. Lily will await her husband and child, and then begin to come to terms with the news that Marshall brings. Robin and Barney seem settled in, but as previous flashforwards and threatening voiceover spell out, the wedding will not go as smoothly as planned. And Ted, the beating, sometimes pretentious heart of the show, will finally find The Mother, and live, as it seems, happily ever after.

I’ll dig into the various plots above in a minute, but first want to discuss the structure of the season as a whole. As I said, the news of the final year taking place over 56 hours produced many groans from the Internet (Internet be groanin’). But I think it’s a bold, exciting move in a show that has proved what it can do while playing with time and expectation. “Three Days of Snow”, my favorite episode of HIMYM, beautifully pulled out a winning ending after using its format to tell three hilarious and distinct stories. “Symphony of Illusion”, a latter day classic of the show, broke hearts through a reveal that many sitcoms wouldn’t even attempt. This is a well-rated show going out however it wishes. The fact that it chose something different than just another year of McLaren’s and giant apartments should instill faith, not doubt. HIMYM has no need to do such a thing; clearly the writers believed was the best way to tell the final leg of this tale.

That being said, the structure doesn’t work magnificently in “The Locket” and “Coming Back”. The episodes are a little too scattered, lacking cohesiveness in favor of setting up what is to come. The jokes are fine, with only one or two lines producing big laughs, but more importantly the thematic heft isn’t there. These episodes do, from scene to scene, what they have to do for the rest of the wedding weekend to work properly. Luckily, there’s enough good here for it not to be a failure, but a promise of what is to come. And, even better, the second episode ends with a moment perfect in a uniquely HIMYM fashion.

The most troubling aspect of these episodes, and, it seems, a number of episodes to come, is the journey of Marshall. First, he’s kicked off of a plane, and then after some antagonism, teams up with Daphne to road trip to New York. Shepherd is fine in roles such as this, but all it really works to do is keep Marshall away from the others, which is last thing any of us want from a final season. This is a character best at bouncing off of the other leads, whether it be a discussion with this wife or trading friendly barbs with Ted and Barney. Let’s hope his journey doesn’t take too long, because it could hamper every episode it is a part of.

Robin and Barney spend “The Locket” with a fairly irrational fear that they may be related. The show loosely ties this to larger issues the two may have, but it’s mostly used for humor in place of pathos. That sentimentality does arrive in “Coming Back”, though it feels a bit flaccid, as the fear that Barney will bolt has been seen numerous times before. I look forward to this emotional story reaching its apex, but hope there’s more variety this season than “Robin becomes scared that Barney will leave”. Lily, in the second episode, is mostly around to drink a lot (the gag that involves a bartender immediately refilling drinks pays off with overindulgence).

In “The Locket”, however, Lily plays a fundamental role, as she becomes the first character to meet The Mother. Their exchange is sweet, and it sets up Ted’s future spouse to be both similar to him, and different enough as to not be overly written. Cristin Milioti is an absolute treasure, rounding out her character in just a handful of scenes. This could just be my hope for a good Mother, but I truly believe Milioti can be the exact person that Ted should be with. It’s a hefty feat, given his track record, but she sells intelligence, quirkiness and cuteness without going too far in any direction. She’s so good that this could be a pilot episode for a new television show, and I would likely commit to an entire season just for her performance. I think we’ve got something exceedingly special on our hands here.

There are numerous other stories set up in the premiere and second episode (most importantly, Ted’s trip to LA seemingly to obtain Robin’s missing locket and win back her heart), but what’s most important here is that the guiding principles of the show have followed it to Farhampton. The final scene of “Coming Back”, showing future Ted and The Mother alongside present, dispirited Ted, is the exact sort of thing my love of this show is built upon. Like last season’s stunning “The Time Travelers”, it offers immense hope without diminishing the loneliness overpowering Ted currently. The scene was a promise that even though we’ll be saying goodbye to these characters soon, there is more for them, and for us, than we could possibly imagine. Like present-day Ted sitting alone at the table, I don’t know what awaits us in the season to come. But I do know however we say goodbye, nothing will take away what the past eight years have given me. And that, my friends, is pretty legen-wait for it…

Grade (for both episodes): B

  • “Well, if you turn your binder to the section labeled Mennonite windmills…”: A great reminder of why I love douchy Ted.
  • Barney thinks Joffrey was a “fair and wise leader”. Considering his reading of The Karate Kid, this is hardly a surprise.
  • “Countless babies conceived inside these walls, and one… grisly murder”: I’m not sure who the actor is playing the hotel clerk, but I quite like him and hope he’s around all season.
  • When Robin marvels at the picture Ted gives her (“Wow, that was eight years ago?”) it’s a nice punch in the gut, even though it’s a fact I’ve hardly forgotten.

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