How I Met Your Mother Season 9, Episode 16 “How Your Mother Met Me”
Written by Carter Bays & Craig Thomas
Directed by Pamela Fryman
Airs Monday at 8pm ET on CBS
At some point in our adult lives, we all face something we can’t let go. An ill-fated relationship, a traumatic experience, a regrettable decision… whatever it may be, it burns itself into our subconscious, an idea or a feeling that exists perpetually in the backgrounds of our lives – and it holds us back for a long, long time. The ninth season of How I Met Your Mother – particularly the last few episodes – have delved into this idea, presenting its cast of characters as a bitter, resentful group unable to enjoy one of the best (and thanks to the show’s narrative hindsight, most significant) weekend of their lives. Ted won’t give up on Robin, Marshall finally expresses the resentment he’s had towards Lily since she left eight years ago… even minor characters like Barney’s brother and mother show their ugliest sides when they can’t reconcile the emotional chasms within themselves. After the dramatic ending of “Unpause”, “How Your Mother Met Me” is an important turning point – not only for the season, but for the show and its characters, a manifestation of what can happen when you refuse to give up hope, and finally resolve the things keeping you from living and moving forward.
What makes “How Your Mother Met Me” such a triumphant episode for HIMYM is how its able to balance a number of major tasks: it not only lays out eight years of The Mother’s life, connecting the dots from The Naked Man to the St. Patrick’s Day club and The Mother’s roommate, as it speeds from 2005 to 2012 in a matter of minutes. The callbacks are nice (if not a little anti-climatic… I mean, how could they not), but the material is elevated by its opening: on The Mother’s 21st birthday, her boyfriend Max dies before he can deliver her birthday gift, a ukulele he left wrapped on their living room table. It’s a heartbreaking opening sequence – and even though we’ve only spent a few scenes with The Mother, it established her emotional arc of the next eight years in one quiet, painful moment.
As the episode speeds through its Rolodex of references, guest appearances (hey Rachel Bilson!), and callbacks to previous episodes, that introductory moment looms larger and larger. Just as Ted was out there desperately searching for The One, The Mother was at home avoiding meeting The Next One, still holding onto feelings for a person ripped out of her life without warning. Their lives and goals paralleled each other for years, both of them clinging onto old sensibilities that only kept them from growing as people – and ultimately, towards each other. I’ve talked all season about how none of the show’s characters will find happiness until they’re able to let go of what’s holding them back: “How I Met Your Mother” poignantly paints the other side of the picture, capturing The Mother’s internal struggle to find (and be able to enjoy) love and happiness after a long, shitty run of luck. The Mother has to let go of Max, just as Ted has to let go of Robin: and although Ted is serenaded by the sad strumming of The Mother’s ukulele (as she sings Ted’s favorite song The Mother would sing to him over the years, “La Vie En Rose”, hearing it for the first time), the two of them don’t actually meet each other on that night. First of all, good things aren’t happening after 2am yet (The Mother herself just rejected a proposal from her boyfriend Louis), and more importantly, Ted and The Mother still aren’t ready to meet each other yet: until they’ve reconciled with themselves over the decisions they’ve made (Ted chasing Robin one last time, The Mother not letting go of Max for so long), they aren’t yet the people who fall in love (though with 16 hours left, they sure will be soon).
Now, none of this would work at all without a great Mother: and the show’s casting of Miloti pays its dividends in this episode. She delivers a knockout performance as The Mother, delivering all the quirk we’ve seen hints of in earlier episodes this season, with the underlying anxiety of a person wondering if they’ve already met and lost the person they’re ‘supposed’ to be with. It’s really an impressive task, given the whirlwind of scenes, emotions, and situations she has to act her way through in a single half-hour: Ted’s emotional journey has been 199 episodes and counting, and we’re given the equivalent of that in a single half-hour. But thanks to the writing and the performance, none of it feels rushed or unearned: and it culminates in two beautiful closing scenes, where The Mother finally says goodbye to Max, then plays a somber tune on her birthday ukulele, emitting beautiful music from the most painful memory in her life.
And isn’t that what How I Met Your Mother is all about? That the lowest moments in our personal and professional lives are the most important, that our tragedies lead us to the light? Everything in this season of How I Met Your Mother – and the series – has been about getting Ted Mosby to a very specific moment in time, where all the regret and failure would become something meaningful, a false note hit on the path to finding inner harmony in life. Given that, it makes sense that The Mother’s ukulele – the phsyical manifestation of every professional and personal boundary she’s come up against her entire adult life – would be the instrument of change for both of them, turning her tragedies and sad feelings into mesmerizing melodies of beauty and hope for both her and Ted. It’s our worst moments in life that make the best so much more precious and memorable: “How Your Mother Met Me” captures that feeling in a way it never has before tonight, in a touching, symbolic scene that, like “Unpause”, continues to restore my hope for the show’s impending conclusion.
– boy, those final two scenes…. some of the best work HIMYM‘s ever done right there.
– favorite callbacks of the night: Barney and Ted’s short-lived bar Puzzles and Ted wearing the green dress.
– sounds like The Mother’s friend Kelly caught a bad case of the Barnacles.
– I figured the show would play the “almost meet-cute” moments pretty heavily: surprisingly, they all worked well, particularly when The Mother leaves the economics class Ted is accidentally teaching, believing him when he says it’s Architecture 101.