*EDITOR’S NOTE: This post has been imported from my Tumblr page, where it originally appeared, and may contain broken links.*
How I Met Your Mother’s ninth and final season came onto the air with a world of expectations on its shoulders. The series had somehow defied typical television trajectories and became more popular towards the end of its run, thanks in large part to syndication reruns and its availability on Netflix after the sixth season. Also around that time, the writers had intentionally begun building towards the conclusion of its titular narrative, revealing that Ted Mosby would meet his future wife on the day of Barney and Robin’s wedding. Perhaps because of this, viewers were more eager than ever to see the actual event. So when the premise of the ninth season was announced, taking place entirely over the course of the three-day wedding weekend, more than a few people were not completely enthused. Adding the fact that the titular mother was actually introduced at the end of the eighth season, HIMYM had given itself a herculean task of satisfying its viewers.
Creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas certainly challenged themselves for this season, perhaps overly so. The first half was very hit-or-miss with its many pre-wedding disasters. While fans like me sat back and enjoyed the final moments I had with a show I loved for many years, many people cried foul that these stories ultimately did not serve a purpose in the overall storyline conclusion. Still, there were a couple of misfires in that first half that I’d argue were hard on all fans regardless. The sparing glimpses of The Mother, amazing as they were, were simply not enough to satiate our desire to see more of her. And because Jason Segel was filming a movie on the opposite side of the country during most of the first half, Marshall was separated from the gang and given a Planes, Trains and Automobiles-type story that would have been fine for just two or three episodes. But stretched out, it became a trademarked “ROAD TRIP FROM HELL”.
Fortunately the second half of the season corrected these mistakes and began to wrap up not just the season but the show in its entirety. (It’s no surprise that Bays and Thomas personally wrote all but three of these episodes.)
When I created a countdown for the top 15 HIMYM episodes of all time before the debut of the final season, I was concerned that not waiting would compromise my list after all was said and done. But it turns out that the ninth season was so wonderfully weird and unique in its own right that it really deserves a separate list to itself. And to my surprise, narrowing it down to five was still a small challenge. It was tough to cut episodes like “The End of the Aisle” (beautifully written, but largely predestined conclusions) and “Knight Vision” (the one with the most pure laughs, but see aforementioned “ROAD TRIP FROM HELL”). But I ultimately decided that the elite of this group best married sentiment and comedy—which is fitting given the wedding theme.
I have complete belief that the final episode, “Last Forever”, will be the best episode of the season, and the whole series in some cases. In fact, I’d love to put it on this list, but since no one has seen it, it’s completely unfair to do so. And thus, I present the top five (non-finale) episodes!
5) “Coming Back”
As one half of the season premiere, this episode started out the season strongly and set up recurring themes, none of which were better than Lily’s joke of the season. Exacerbated by Marshall missing his flight back from Minnesota (and also, as we would later discover, her potential pregnancy), Lily heads to the bar and orders “the Kennedy package,” meaning if she was ever without a drink in her hand, the bartender Linus would make sure to put one there. It was instantly meme-worthy.
This episode also introduced the front desk attendant, Curtis, who in one episode pulled off an amazing final-hour feat of making me wish he had been there since the start of the show. When it came to Ted being single during a wedding weekend at a romantic inn, Curtis somehow managed to be both condescending and genuinely sympathetic to Ted’s plight. It made seeing him in future episodes a complete joy. (And, as we come to see later on, very essential.)
But the episode was capped off with what has come to be one of my favorites scenes of the entire series. As Ted sat at a table and seemed potentially forlorn, we simutaneously see a year into the future as Ted and The Mother sit at the same table and he tells her how determined he actually was back then. It’s a scene that in most people’s hands would be confusing and off-putting. But in the hands of Bays and Thomas, it’s perfection.
4) Bass Player Wanted
This episode offered one of the first extended looks into The Mother, as she was fully integrated into the primary story. While driving on the road, she runs into Marshall and offers him a ride to the inn. She proceeds to freak him out by pretending to be psychic, giving him details about his life that she actually learned earlier from Lily. It’s completely adorable and one of the scenes that makes you fall in love with her more. She then tells him about her despicable bandmate, Darren, and his propensity for causing major rifts between best friends for his own amusement, which he was doing to the others at that same moment. Through these actions, we got to see Barney discover that Ted is intending to move to Chicago immediately after the wedding.
We’ve seen a lot of the Ted/Barney dynamic throughout the years because of their relationships with Robin, and each time it’s been very strong. This episode was certainly no different. Maybe it was the haze of the final episodes, but their friendship and love for each other was never more apparent than in this episode. Even better was when Ted punched Darren and then narrowly misses The Mother as she bought him a celebratory drink. Those kinds of teases just made us want the two of them together all the more.
Mother: “I always cave and side with the other person. I can’t handle confrontation.”
Marshall: “Yes, you can!”
Mother: “You make some good points.”
Barney: “You’re moving to Chicago? Is that even a real place? It’s a style of pizza. Ted, you can’t live in a pizza!”
3) “How Your Mother Met Me”
HIMYM celebrated its momentous 200th episode by putting its titular mother front and center. It was a huge reward for loyal, longtime fans who were itching to know just who this person is that Ted Mosby fell in love with. We had gotten bits and pieces throughout the years, and this episode promised to fill in the blanks–and boy, did they.
The show certainly pulled no punches regarding this highly-anticipated moment. The episode begins on the same night as the pilot, with The Mother celebrating her 21st birthday, and no later than TWO MINUTES into it, the bombshell drops that The Mother’s great boyfriend Max has tragically died. It was a bold and risky move to attach The Mother with such emotional heft, but it was a very wise decision for a particular reason. I’ll get to that in a moment, but needless to say, viewers were drawn in immediately.
Fortunately, the middle part of the episode was packed full of charm (that English muffin song!) and humor as we saw The Mother’s perspective from the many near-misses we had learned of previously: the club on St. Patrick’s Day; the class Ted accidentally taught; when she came out of the shower while Ted glimpsed her ankle. (The Mother’s reaction to Cindy telling her that Ted likes her is priceless.) Plus, the episode wonderfully expanded the HIMYM lore. Raise your hand if you saw the Naked Man coming. Anyone? No one? Yeah. In a season where we saw the return of many memorable guest stars, it was especially pleasant to see Mitch again.
As the episode winds down, and we make our way to present day, we discover that The Mother’s erstwhile boyfriend Louis proposes to her on that wedding weekend. She hesitates before heading out to have a one-sided conversation with Max and tearfully comes to terms with being in peace about his passing, before breaking up with Louis.
And this is what made Max’s death a crucial element in the story of The Mother. For years, we’ve heard Future Ted talk about how much he needed The Mother in his life, and how grateful he was to have her. But through this episode, we learned just how much she needed to meet Ted as well. And so, as The Mother tells front desk clerk Curtis that she just broke up with someone, Curtis gives her a knowing smile and hands her the key to a very special room that happens to be next to a certain someone. And unbeknownst to them, Ted and The Mother share their very first moment together. (Courtesy of Max’s birthday gift to her.)
Not a dry eye in the house.
With an entire season taking place in the small Farhampton, it was inevitable that sooner or later the writers would take advantage of HIMYM’s frequent time-warping and have some kind of full flashback episode. And so this episode, taking place approximately six months before the wedding, most closely resembled a normal episode from earlier in the series, with the gang back at the familiar spots of MacLaren’s and the apartment. Robin had recently broken up with Nick, and Lily, catching Ted being cutesy with Robin, suggested that Ted still has feelings for her. Marshall agreed and urged him to try to be with Robin, but Ted denied the notion on account of him believing that she’ll reject him again.
I must admit, it was difficult to get too wrapped up in Ted’s emotions if only because of the setting. The debate between Ted and Marshall took place at an exhibition game between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals, who are known for their horrendous losing streak to the Globetrotters. Naturally, the boys are Generals fans, so much of the time was spent berating the officials for letting the Globetrotters do all of their extravagant tricks like tucking the ball underneath the jersey or sitting on the hoop. I spent a great majority of these scenes laughing my butt off. The best line comes from Marshall: “Open your eyes, ref! The ball hasn’t touched the ground in seven minutes!” It’s ridiculous, but it works.
Meanwhile, we get our final glimpse at Barney doing what he does best, being the amazing player he was before deciding to settle down with Robin. Lily and Robin were tired of Barney’s loose use of the phrase “Challenge accepted” and decided to give him real challenges to picking up women, such as talking like a dolphin or not using the letter “e”. But of all the challenges, of all the schemes in the show’s history, I’m not sure I’ve been as impressed with Barney as I was seeing him pick up a girl who was waiting for Ryan Gosling. It was brilliant.
Then came the cherry on top: During his attempt to complete a challenge, Barney runs into The Mother! My heart leaped into my throat at the thought of Barney possibly having hooked up with The Mother, but that notion was quickly dissolved as she saw through his facade and instead offered sage encouragement. It turns out she was the one that set Barney on the path to deciding to not only go after Robin, but to marry her.
It was great how it all came back to The Mother, setting in motion the events that would eventually bring her together with Ted, creating a very memorable moment early on in the season.
Oh, and I didn’t forget Bryan Cranston returning as Hammond Druthers. Nothing needs to be said about Cranston, except maybe that everything he touches turns to gold.
1) “Gary Blauman”
Throughout the season, we’ve been given glimpses of Ted’s future with the mother. We saw Ted propose to her; we saw them as their son Luke was about to be born; we even saw them as an “old married couple” running out of stories to tell each other. But none of those moments were as richly rewarding and satisfying as the story of their first date, three days after the wedding.
Until this point, most of the scenes involving future Ted and The Mother displayed a sense of bliss. Those scenes often counteracted whatever struggle present day Ted was experiencing, but more importantly, they served to show the chemistry between the two and how right the characters are together, justifying everything Ted has been through. In fact, I was purely convinced that, given the circumstances leading up to the meeting—how influential The Mother has been in everyone’s lives, how much Ted and her learned about each other secondhand from the gang, how they actually see each other at the reception—Ted and The Mother would see each other on that train platform, know each other already, run right each other’s arms and kiss without a word, falling instantly in love.
What a pleasant surprise, then, that instead of getting that admittedly over-the-top fairy tale encounter, we got an episode that opened with the all-too-familiar awkward hug, the kind we’ve all experienced on a first date. As the awkwardness continued, Ted tells The Mother the story of Gary Blauman, who showed up right before the wedding without an RSVP. Robin wanted to make sure he got a seat, but the rest of the gang, who have polarized opinions of him, decided whether to keep him or send him packing–a decision The Mother finds herself making about Ted.
When it comes to what we love about HIMYM, this episode gets so many things right: the classic “story in a story” structure, complete with interruptions; the callbacks to earlier episodes (the “three days rule” and “That’s the dream!”); the episode escalating its own jokes (the increasingly dramatic pauses as characters revealed how they felt about Gary); and so on. Then there was the highlight of the episode, an ambitious and perfectly executed one-shot scene that caught us up on many of the memorable recurring characters from throughout the show’s history. I think it’s safe to say that fans weren’t clamoring for these answers, but once we got them, it became deeply satisfying. (We learned Blah Blah’s name, for crying out loud!)
And yet, the best part still comes from that first date, and in particular, Ted’s reaction to The Mother deciding it was too soon to be dating anyone. Future Ted said it directly: If it was eight years earlier, he probably would have acted differently. I think the same could be said at any point in the series. As much as Ted wanted to believe the universe had a plan for him, he spent most of his time forcing it, trying to win someone over. It worked plenty of times, of course, but they were never the one for him. But in this episode, Ted demonstrates what he’s finally learned: things will turn out the way they’re supposed to. Ted has come full circle. He has relinquished control to the universe, and in return he receives the love of his life, the one who called after him to come back, the one who made the first move and kissed him. That’s the love that Ted has deserved all along.