9×16: “How Your Mother Met Me”
Sometimes, when writers want us to feel sympathy or camaraderie with their characters, they make said characters go through something negatively life-altering: embarrassment, failure, loss. We can’t identify with characters when they’re happy all the time, which is why all our favourite stories start out well, get really awful, hit rock bottom, and then go back up to being great again.
If the situation is too unsubstantial or not sufficiently devastating, we won’t feel the emotions we’re supposed to feel. But if the situation is too severe, we can become angry with the writers, thinking, “I see how you’re trying to manipulate me, and it’s not going to work. I’m smarter than you. I’m not going to feel anything.” It’s a constant challenge we writers face: how to write a compelling story about an engaging character that doesn’t make the audience want to smash their own faces in with a hammer.
Say what you will about this week’s How I Met Your Mother, but I think the writers, flawed as they’ve been in the past, succeeded in that goal.
This week, we met The Mother on her 21st birthday. She was at a bar–another MacLaren’s, actually–waiting for her boyfriend Max to show up. She was excited, waiting for the birthday gift she knew would be just right, because that was the sort of guy Max was. So when her phone rang, she answered it, expecting it to be him. She wasn’t expecting the phone call we all know will come for us one day, the phone call that tells us we’re never going to see that person again.
We see the next few years of The Mother’s life after that. She spends two years mourning her boyfriend, unwilling to “buy another lottery ticket” when she knew she’d never win the “jackpot” again. But finally she follows her friend out on St. Patrick’s Day, and it’s at that point that her life begins to intersect with Ted’s. She ends up taking Mitch (The Naked Man!) home that night, although just to give him her cello for underprivileged music students, and he pulls his move on her (and that’s when The Naked Man becomes successful “two out of three times,” bee-tee-dubs).
They have a serious conversation then, and Mitch asks her what she wants out of life. The Mother decides she wants to end poverty, so the first step is to enroll in economics–the class Ted accidentally walks into on his first day of teaching. The Mother meets Cindy, who becomes her roommate but moves out shortly after when she and Ted break up, and there’s a bit of an awkward moment there.
Then The Mother meets Louis, and she realizes that, even though she still misses Max, she doesn’t mind dating again. So she and Louis date for a while, but she starts to understand that he might not be the right guy for her (to be honest, I felt a little embarrassed for her when she started singing show tunes with an English muffin, although her lyrical improvisations are dynamite).
The weekend of Barney and Robin’s wedding, The Mother trains out to Farhampton to stay in Louis’s beach house. After meeting Ted’s friends and getting her band back, she returns to the house only to find Louis waiting with an engagement ring. She asks to be excused for a moment and stands out on the front porch, looking up at the night sky. And The Mother asks for Max’s permission to move on, because she’s holding herself back from being happy again.
She’s scared, and uncertain, and not entirely sure she wants to move on, but she has her moment of closure with the man she loves. She goes inside and tells another man that no, she won’t marry him. And she leaves for the Farhampton Inn, where, alone on her room’s balcony, she pulls out the ukulele that was supposed to have been her birthday present eight years earlier–“so you don’t have to sing to your breakfast a cappella”–and sings a sad, quiet rendition of “La Vie en Rose.” And unbeknownst to her, Ted is on the balcony one room over, listening to her sing.
If you wanted to summarize this episode in the strictest terms possible, you could say this episode was about moving on. If you had a bit more room to work with, you could say it’s about love and loss and uncertainty and bewilderment and possibility and hope, and at the end of all that, a bone-deep sadness that marks the end of something you thought would last forever, something you weren’t willing to say goodbye to.
Sometimes we have to say goodbye to things to make way for better things. That’s something that’s been said before, so many times it doesn’t really have any meaning anymore. And I think that’s partly because whoever said that either A) never lost anything important and just got the good things first, or B) had the remarkable foresight to see something incredible coming just over the horizon. Either way, it’s not particularly comforting for people in the moment.
We have the benefit of knowing that The Mother will meet the love of her life–the second chance she didn’t think she’d ever get–in just eight episodes. Eight episodes until all the pain and the heartache and the loneliness are worth the wait. But here’s the thing: despite how gut-wrenchingly sad that moment with the night sky was, The Mother understood the nature of loss and recovery. When she met Barney in the drugstore, she told him that things were going to get better. She knew. She’d been there herself.
And maybe that’s part of why this episode struck me the way it did. Even though she had every reason to be the saddest person in the world, and even though she definitely was at that moment, The Mother was strong enough to know it wouldn’t last forever. When people say things don’t last forever, they’re usually referring to the good things, expecting that everything will eventually get worse. But it works the other way, too: no matter how terrible things get, no matter how dark your life has become, there’s a light up ahead. You just have to trust that it’ll come.
Final Grade: A+
Items of Note:
- The opening sequence with The Mother! I love it when they do that.
- The Naked Man is back!
- Oh my goodness. The Mother has a coin collection and a calligraphy set and a chainmail corset from the Ren-nay-sance Faire. It’s like she was made for Te–oh, right.
- It’s nice to see all these references to things that Ted’s mentioned in the past, like The Mother getting her yellow umbrella back, being at the club on St. Patrick’s Day, painting pictures of dinosaurs playing sports, singing show tunes with breakfast food…
- I guess Cindy was only half-right when she said, “Guys are always falling in love with her.” Apparently it’s not just guys!
- Ted that partition between your balconies is only higher than your head because you’re slouching all over the balcony. Would you just stand up and say hello already.
- Annnnnd Barney’s gone. Great. I suppose that’ll be next week’s shenanigans, huh? That is all.