How I Met Your Mother: “The Time Travelers”
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How I Met Your Mother: “The Time Travelers”

B+

How I Met Your Mother

“The Time Travelers”

Season 8, Episode 20

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I love Barney and Robin together. I know a lot of you disagree. But it occurred to me just the other day that the really important thing about their engagement and impending wedding is that it leaves Ted as the only person in the gang who isn’t in a relationship. That’s been mentioned before, most notably in the aftermath of the Jeannette breakup, but what a wonderful touch to make it the entire subject of tonight’s episode. Ted’s solitude underscores the agony of his wait. He’s the only one of the group who has spent the entire eight years of this series looking for true love; everyone else already had it (Lily and Marshall), didn’t want it (Barney), or vacillated about whether they needed it (Robin). And here he is, the only one left without it.

“The Time Travelers” begins as a farcical fantasy, with Ted and Barney surrounded by future versions of themselves offering different advice about how to handle the next few hours. In 20 years, 20-Years-From-Now Barney and 20-Years-From-Now Ted promise, the events of that night would make a fantastic memory. The promise of still telling stories about the night the two of them went to see Robots Vs. Wrestlers: Legends would be worth all the pain that might occur in the immediate aftermath…pain from a wicked hangover and a sprained wrist, 20-Hours-From-Now Ted warns (or the embarrassment of spilling spaghetti on yourself, or even ordering spaghetti in an Irish bar, 20-Minutes-From-Now Barney portends).

Meanwhile, Marshall and Robin are engaged in an epic battle of oneupsmanship over trivia, the kind their highly developed senses of pride, competition, and general manliness always seem to get them into. A drink Marshall contends should be called the Minnesota Tidal Wave (which he invented, though he modestly footnotes it “origin unknown” to Carl the bartender) has been immortalized on the MacLarens menu as the Robin Scherbatsky because she orders it so frequently. Marshall challenges Robin to a dance-off for the naming rights but settles for a bathroom Sharpie battle when Lily forbids him to dance lest he injure his dance hip.

It’s all very upbeat and fast-paced, with virtuoso doppelganger special effects undercut by the general sense of sitcom craziness. And I was worried that that was all it was going to be. There was a relentless shallowness to the conflicts. A deliberate, underlined vibe of stakelessness. So all the folderol felt a bit manic, just a touch shrill and self-congratulatory and strained underneath the usual well-crafted gags and top-notch timing.

The ending to “The Time Travelers” moved me, and not just Ted’s speech to the unseen mother. What precedes that last sequence is a thesis statement for the end of this season and the end of this show (whether it were to come sooner, as might have been expected when the episode was conceived or written, or whether it were put off for a year), and it does a terrific job at articulating what I’ve been arguing, in one form or another, for the last few seasons. The process of reliving one’s personal history is a mixture of regret and profound gratitude. All the untaken paths remain mysterious, their potential value as legendary memories or painful mistake completely unknown. We all spend time wondering what might have been.

But deeper and more resonant are the times in our past that will never come again. For Present-Day Ted, that’s the gang hanging out at the bar getting into crazy arguments. It’s the girls drinking at the bar that all came framed with possibilities. Missing those moments because his friends had all paired up and because that coat-check girl is long gone these seven years, Present-Day Ted is feeling sorry for himself, drinking alone, contemplating going to see Robots Vs. Wrestlers alone.

What 20-Years-From-Now Ted wishes Present-Day Ted would have done, though, was enjoy everything that he actually had at that moment, rather than mourning what he had lost. His bachelor apartment. His friends. His nephew Marvin. And the anticipation, almost unbearable in retrospect knowing how close she was in space and time, of everything changing.

Stray observations:

  • The Robin Scherbatsky: coconut rum, peach schnapps, vanilla vodka, strawberry creme liqueur, cranberry juice, sugar maraschino cherries. (They should just call it the Diabetic Coma.)  Also on MacLaren’s cocktail menu (in an appropriately Celtic font!): the Shaun Wheeler (Irish whiskey and creme de methe), and the Colclasure (amaretto, vodka, apple schnapps, lemon and lime juice)
  • “When my 26-year-old third wife asks me about this,” (Present-Day) Barney begins a sentence about the future, and a disturbed Ted points out, “You make a lot of those jokes.”
  • Robin swaggers into a full men’s room warning the occupants to zip up and get out. Marshall backs into an empty ladies’ room covering his eyes and announcing “Ladies, put your blouses on; I’m coming in!”
  • The complete bathroom wall manifesto: “Did you know that for the first two years of my life, my dad treated me like a cat? Seriously. I wasn’t permitted on the furniture, I had to bathe myself, and I was only allowed to poop in a box. Ironic that this all comes out in a bathroom. A place that for so long I yearned to be. This tiled prison that eluded my saddened grasp was a haven. The unreachable. When I finally did demand a bathroom visit, my dad applauded my moxie. And that’s the only time my father ever said he was proud of me. Maybe that’s why I stole credit for your drink. Maybe that’s why I needed to pour my heart out like this. Or maybe I wrote this so you’d be in here long enough for a lady to walk in, causing you to freak out and hide in the stall.”
  • Marshall can’t one-up Carl the bartender about naming a broad-generalization move after him, because he doesn’t know Carl’s last name. “I will name every drink in this bar after you if you tell me my last name,” Carl challenges. Leave it to Lily to be the voice of reason, piping up: “Well, that’s just confusing, how will you be able to tell what people are trying to order?”
  • Future Coat-Check Girl, Two Ways: “I made you muffins because of your nickname… Muffin!” “Stop DVRing the news; you’re never going to catch up!”
  • Exactly 45 days, huh? That's May 9, 2013.
  • I doubt the show will ever top this episode's "The Longest Time" tag scene for pure joy.
  • Twenty-Years-From-Now Ted knows the best way to mess with Present-Day Ted: “When I get married, sure, that’ll be the greatest night of my life, but who knows when that will happen?” 

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