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How I Met Your Mother, Ep. 9.19 “Vesuvius” interrupts a terrific episode with troubling allusions

How I Met Your Mother, Ep. 9.19 “Vesuvius” interrupts a terrific episode with troubling allusions

Vesuvius

How I Met Your Mother Season 9, Episode 19 “Vesuvius”
Written by Barbara Adler
Directed by Pamela Fryman
Airs Monday nights at 8pm ET on CBS

 

Between Ted’s stories, Lily’s book of memories, and Barney’s collection of suits (each with their own story), “Vesuvius” is a very sentimental episode of How I Met Your Mother, centered around a late night conversation in 2024 between Ted and The Mother, snowed in at the old Farhampton Inn. But as the callbacks pile up, and the stories grow more and more intricate (and to Future Ted and Mother, more familiar), the episode’s tone begins to shift as the volcano it’s named after – and given the two big revelations at the end of “Vesuvius”, clear signs that all is not calm, in 2013 or 2024.

There’s a common undercurrent running through all the stories being told (and in the case of The Princess Bride Too, being watched) in “Vesuvius”, one summarized neatly by Future Mother: while there is comfort to be found in the memories of the past, change isn’t something we can hide from in life. It’s the reason why Lily is so offended by Robin’s behavior; knowing the change awaiting the group when Robin and Barney get married and Ted leaves for Chicago, she’s suddenly facing an emptiness in her life she hasn’t had to consider since running away to California at the end of season one (and we saw how well that went). It’s also why Barney isn’t willing to put on his wedding suit (and why he says it feels so uncomfortable when he finally does wear it): living in the past is much easier than facing the uncertainty of the future – on some level, we’re all trying to re-capture a sentimental piece of our past, afraid to embrace whatever lies in the darkness ahead of us.

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The title of the episode takes this idea step further, however: as an agent of change, volcanoes are often surprising, unforgiving events that fundamentally change the landscape around them once they’ve erupted. Robin’s mother – the one person who didn’t show up at the wedding, something Robin’s tried to blow off all season – arrives at the end of “Vesuvius”, and there’s no telling what kind of impact she’ll have on Robin in the hours before her wedding (given her un-Scherbatsky like response to seeing her, it’s clearly a deep, emotional one). Robin’s avoids her impending wedding for the whole episode, playing hockey and watching Ted’s Forbidden Sequel with Lily (and eventually, Narshall) – but when her mother shows up at the inn, it shows just how unprepared Robin is for what awaits her at the end of the aisle only hours away. As an uniting event, a wedding is also a time of reconciliation – and it appears that Robin’s finally going to face the most important reconciliation of her adult life, with a mother who’s remained unseen (and mostly unheard about) for the last nine seasons.

Which brings us to the part of the episode everyone’s been talking about, the other building eruption of this episode: as the Mother explains to Ted that she doesn’t want to see him living in memories, the tonal shift of their flashforward completely changes. All of a sudden, both Ted and his wife begin getting emotional, particularly when Robin’s mother arrives – the Mother referencing how no daughter should be without her mother on her wedding day, which brings them both to tears. The mention of Robin’s mother is a major catalyst for the closing moments of the episode, connecting 2013 to 2024 in ways unknown as of now, but clearly in a way that has a significant impact on their lives. So what are they so upset about?

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I’m assuming the most popular theory about these scenes is the one that’s been floating around the internet for most of the season: that the Mother dies before Ted starts telling his story in How I Met Your Mother‘s pilot episode. It certainly gains plausibility in the episode, given Ted’s sentimentality and the Mother’s remarks and behavior in the second half of the episode. And given the episode is about the stifling nature of sentimentality and how it leaves us unprepared for the future, their scenes throughout “Vesuvius” are ripe for dissection.

As interesting as it may be to try and parse details out of their scenes together, I gotta ask: doesn’t the ominus nature ruin their scenes in this episode? There’s clearly some hints towards something dark, and it takes away from the adorable, endlessly rewarding scenes of Ted and the Mother enjoying being a “married old couple” (something they may never actually get to be?… ok, I’ll stop) – once they start holding back tears, it distracts from the beauty of finally seeing these two together, in the midst of the happy ending we’ve waited to see Ted enjoy for the last nine seasons. He’s got bad hair, he’s comfortable, him and the Mother are openly affectionate… it’s one of those stomach-churning, romanticized moments that HIMYM has always been so fucking good at making us invest it, but it’s all underwritten by the snow falling around Farhampton Inn, like the ash of a volcano we haven’t seen explode yet. Wondering what they’re so upset about ultimately robs the moments the episode goes to great lengths (lengths it reaches, thanks to the fantastic script), replacing it with the anxiety of waiting for the depressing other shoe to drop in the final four episodes.

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It seems… unnecessary at best, and one that threatens to emotionally manipulate an audience, if it’s the story line the writers are intending to execute in the final four hours. Why kill the Mother when we’re just getting to know her, and fall in love with her ourselves… if they commit to this move, it could fundamentally change the entire nature of the series, making Ted’s story a bittersweet, WAAAY too long story about a lonely old man trying to honor a woman he can’t let go of. To be blunt, that would be a fucked up ending.

But there’s no point in criticizing based on assumptions, right? When it’s not being facetious in the final minutes, “Vesuvius” is another winner for the back half of How I Met Your Mother‘s final season, drawing parallels between its main characters to deliver a poignant lesson about the beauty (and pitfalls) of the ‘epic’ stories we share with friends, colleagues, and lovers: you can’t spend all your time looking back because life only moves forward – live in the past, and you’ll be steamrolled by the present.

Other thoughts/observations:

– let’s not forget: there is more than one mother on this show, and Ted’s sadness could easily reflect his own about his mother possibly not being at his, or something happening to Robin’s before she walks up the aisle. Or maybe Lily died.

– I really hope to share the high five Ted and The Mother have in the cold open one day with someone. Isn’t that the goal in life?

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– The Mother: “Life only moves forward.”

– Susan Tupp was a fantastic call back to a long-running gag we haven’t heard much of this season.

– SWARLIZE THERON.

 

— Randy