How I Met Your Mother, we've come a long way together. When we first started out we were both freewheeling singles living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, optimistic about finding love and figuring our lives out and laughing enough together that the first years out of college didn't seem so terrifying. 8 years later I've moved to Brooklyn and I'm getting married, while you… you're a long-in-the-tooth sitcom so exhausted that you're actually setting your entire final season over the course of a single weekend. I'm not gonna say you're the only one that's changed, but man do those 8 years look better on me than they do on you.
Most remaining HIMYM fans who remember and treasure the early days have been going into this final season fully prepared to cringe, hoping vainly that maybe the wild gimmick of setting the entire season during Robin & Barney's wedding wouldn't just be blatant wheel-spinning, and that possibly the introduction of Cristin Milioti as The Mother would finally rid us the dreaded scourge Ted the Sad Sack. After the two-part season premiere, we were half-right. The two episodes, "Locket" and "Coming Back," by necessity split up the gang, with Robin and Barney coping with some pre-wedding jitters about their potential blood ties, Lily trying to keep Ted from making one last grand romantic gesture to Robin, and Marshall Planes, Trains and Automobile-ing his way back to New York in the of Sherri Shepherd, whose very presence makes me hope that Marshall's journey is far from over. Ted is still pretty pitiful and more obsessed than ever with finding the right woman… but hey, at least we know she's right around the corner, for real his time.
A few of the plots did indeed reek of wheel-spinning, particular Robin and Barney's-- they figured out the "Are we cousins?" dilemma quickly and only got a few vomit gags out of it, and the fakeout about Barney no longer believing in love after his brother's divorce was super lame. We're supposed to still be aware of Robin's potential reservations about the wedding, and maybe even rooting for Ted to go retrieve that locket (but, ugghghghgh), but the writers have to keep that on enough of a low boil that the wedding weekend can keep moving forward. Robin and Barney have found themselves at the center of the show's final emotional moments, and it's a weird fit for the both of them, who can usually drive the most dynamic side stories.
At the same time, even without flashbacks to what I assume is Ted's flight to LA to see Stella, both Ted and Lily proved last night that they can create more than enough stories flitting around the Farhampton Inn, with Lily bribing the bartender to keep her soaked in booze ("Thank you, Linus") and Ted clashing in his prissy way with various employees. And even if Jason Segel still seems visibly exhausted to be on this show despite his burgeoning movie career, there's a ton of potential in his team-up with Shepherd, and the tension of his attempts to choose between his and Lily's dream careers could definitely stay interesting for many more episodes, especially since the final season means it's totally possible that they really will move to Italy.
And then, of course, there's the still-unnamed Mother, who has actually been introduced in the best way possible, as her own person separate from Ted but also with Ted, in a neat flashback that closed out the episode. Her bonding with Lily on the Long Island Railroad felt utterly authentic, and her willingness to both crack a weird joke and share cookies with strangers established her as likable even before Ted's voiceover chimed in to describe all their similarities. By the end of the episode, when she and Ted sat mooning over each other at the very same table where present-day Lonely Ted does crossword puzzles, it was sentimental but it also feels right. How I Met Your Mother's power to lay on the sap has diminished in recent years, but now that we really have met this lady Ted's been building up to, it's hard not to revive a little bit of that early-season excitement, when you never imagined it would take this long to get there.
Other little moments, like Ted giving Robin the photo we see in the opening credits, hinted that the show itself is aware of what a long 8 years it's been, and with only a wedding weekend to fill an entire season in real time I would count on many more flashbacks and moments for Ted-style nostalgia-- which, to be fair, the show has pretty much earned. Many of HIMYM's best late-run episodes, like last season's "The Time Travelers", have played with the way nostalgia can alter your memories and creep into your present time, and as HIMYM wraps up there's a great chance to use what we've actually seen in the past 8 years to add meaning to the final episodes-- and for the characters to recognize it. "The Locket/Coming Back" wasn't exactly vintage HIMYM, but it had some of the same sparks of life, and a potential promise that a weary series may finally grow up and move on in the style it deserves.