How I Met Your Mother Ep 9.01/02 ‘The Locket’/’Coming Back’: an uneven opening with a lot of potential

HIMYM 9.1

How I Met Your Mother Season 9, Episodes 1 & 2 ‘The Locket’/’Coming Back’

Written by Carter Bays & Craig Thomas

Directed by Pamela Fryman

Airs Monday nights at 8pm ET on CBS

 

Comedy or drama, long-running shows always look to go big in their final seasons (or when contracts run out, change completely): the final score, the biggest case, the most dangerous manhunt ever… these kind of things are common place for the end of a series run, a way for everyone to go out with a bang. The results are often mixed (at best): and the ninth season of How I Met Your Mother is like three or four of those seasons wrapped into one, with major story lines for all five of its main characters (and in the case of ‘Coming Back’, another supporting character) playing out over one hectic weekend – a weekend that’s been alluded to for seasons as Ted Moesby’s defining moment.

Ultimately, this show will be judged on how it handles Ted Moesby in these 24 episodes: for the last few seasons, the show’s refusal to find new ground for its character has turned him into a shell of his former self, a self-involved asshole who sabotages every relationship he’s ever been in with his impulsive ways. It’s the charm and the curse of ol’ Moesby: where early story lines like Stella (season three only, please) showed the positive and negative to his over-romanticized mind and compulsive, self-serving tendencies. There was an important balance between naivete and self-sabotage that eroded over the years, replaced by a Ted who ruins weddings the same way his was (the show’s lowest moment, in my opinion) and can’t let go of the Canadian girl who he hasn’t dated for five years.

Season nine is the show’s only opportunity to reconcile this: and for the most part, ‘The Locket’ and ‘Coming Back’ don’t show us a Ted who has made any big realizations about his life. The big reveal of ‘The Locket’ is that Ted flew to LA to find Robin’s old locket (an event I’m sure we’ll see more of this season), a clear tip of the hand that he’s not completely honest when he talks about Robin needing friends right now. As always, it appears to be a Ted acting out of his own fantasies, rather than moving forward with his life.

That portrayal in ‘The Locket’ is very dissonant with the future Ted we see in the closing moments of ‘Coming Back’, arguably the strongest Ted scene we’ve seen in two or three seasons. In it, present Ted sits alone at a bar, doing the crossword puzzle alone. He’s at a low point in his life, knowing that he’s contemplating breaking up the relationship of his best friends because he believes in something, yet still hoping that the front desk manager is right when he says “She’s right around the corner” (though he was only talking about the housekeeper).

While present Ted sits there alone, future Ted and the Mother sit down at the same table, and make jokes about the man sitting there just one year earlier. They watch him and laugh at him nursing a gin and tonic, bitter about love and life as he usually is when he’s Sad Ted (not a character I particularly enjoy; this is when the writers make him do dumb shit, trying to pass it off as romantic-but-misguided), and future Ted reminds us that even though he’s acted like a dick for a long time, he still hasn’t lost faith on meeting the woman of his dreams not named Robin Scherbatsky.

Cool factor aside, Ted watching Ted is a moment I hope we see more of in the final season: these are the moments that can help define Ted as a three-dimensional person again, narrating the mix of turmoil and hope and showing us the man that emerges on the other side. Future Ted is so relaxed, so settled – he looks like a completely different person from the guy we’ve watched fuck up relationships left and right for eight years. It’s a very daring scene, and one that shows the creativity and passion still remaining in this show, even after some uneasy riding in the last few seasons: it’s much more than an easy gimmick, serving meaningful purpose to Ted’s character, planting the seeds of growth I hope the writing of future episodes doesn’t try to contradict time and time again.

As a whole, ‘Coming Back’ is a better episode than ‘The Locket’, though a dreadfully unfunny Marshall subplot dragged down the great material in both of them. ‘The Locket’ serves its purpose to establish the stakes for the season, bringing Lily and the Mother together to connect the first dots between her and Ted (Lily complains about Ted’s quirks on road trips, which are just like the Mother’s travel oddities), sharing Sumbitch cookies and hugging a lot. It’s light-hearted and amusing – and although it goes a little heavy-handed on showing us what a perfect match Ted and the Mother will be (something we already know, though I suppose the show does need to show this), it’s nice to Ted will end up with a girl who has some spunk to her.

But the best material of both episodes comes with Robin and Barney in The Locket’ (let’s just forget about the whole incest thing that leads up to it: that was Charles Barkley turrrrible), avoiding the obvious “we broke the curse instead of James” thing and just showing us that Barney and Robin love each other, despite all of Barney’s preconceived notions. The one thing I’ve really, really enjoyed in the last four seasons has been Barney’s transformation from horny womanizer to horny family-wanter. Sure, it’s convenient to do that to him for the sake of having more dramatic relationship story lines (yes, the hooker fiancee story mostly sucked), but they’ve done a great job really showing us how Barney’s changed. He doesn’t even want to have sex in the back of a limo!

When he tells Robin that he no longer has to “wait for it” when saying “legendary” because he’s found her, How I Met Your Mother reminds us all what it can do in its greatest moments, turning sappiness and meta-reference into poignant, emotional resolutions. Barney doesn’t need The Playbook anymore: and with that, he doesn’t need to hold onto this fantastical idea that marriage will only work for him if it works for his gay brother. He’s got Robin – and who wouldn’t want to marry a woman who would eat marzipan penises with you?

 

Other thoughts/observations:

– hey, we’re writing about How I Met Your Mother this season!

– interested to see where Marshall and Lily are taken this season, although it does feel like this friction is being created for the sake of having friction, not because it’s something organic to the story of either of their lives (Marshall wanting to be a judge is still weird to me).

– lots of drunk Lily this season? I’m in.

– Robin: “she’s Canuckin’ nuts… she would ride a moose.”

– is the Mother going to write a children’s book called The Lonely Unicorn?

– Robin: “Vince… off the table.”

– decade-old internet jokes delivered by Judith? No thanks.

– “Bondage five!… I can’t, I can’t!!!”

 

 

 

 

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