HIMYM Time Travelers
Credit: CBS

The end game is in motion.

I mean, you could say it’s BEEN in motion for 8 seasons, but now we have a countdown that is arguably even more daunting than the Slap Bet Countdown: The Mother Countdown.

Let me explain.

It all started when Ted began arguing with future versions of himself and Barney about whether or not he should attend Robots Versus Wrestlers. (According to Barney, thinking about decisions from the Twenty Years From Now perspective helps guarantee a good decision.) Twenty Years From Now Ted and Twenty Years From Now Barney were totally in favor of Ted’s robot adventure because, simply put, you can’t lose by going to Robots Versus Wrestlers. (Always listen to the guys in the shiny, futuristic suits.) Twenty Hours From Now Ted, however, thought going to the event was a terrible idea because Current Ted (or just Ted) would drink too much and have a awful hangover with which to contend.

What to do, what to do…

Hold the phone! Twenty Minutes From Now Barney had a special bulletin: Coat Check Girl at 3 o’clock! Yes, Jayma Mays — you know, from season 1.

You could practically see Ted’s relationship-loving brain salivating. AFTER ALL THIS TIME!? IT’S FATE! MUST DATE. MUST DATE. BLEEP-BLOOP.

But just when he was about to approach her, Future Coat Check Girl pulled him aside with a warning: This wasn’t going to end well. She explained that if Ted approached her, there were two possible outcomes. 1) She would either becoming a crazy, obsessed girlfriend nightmare (Think Jeanette but with baking) or 2) She would grow tired of him. After all, that’s how all of his relationships eventually ended, she zinged.

Honest as her words were, no one should ever hear that kind of criticism without a drink in their hand/in a public place with nowhere to hide. So I felt deeply for Ted, and the look on his face crushed me. Because Ted’s our friend. And, admit it, we’ve all also had our own Ted moment.

Had it not been for the storyline involving a feuding Marshall and Robin, I would have called this episode a Grade A soul-crusher. Luckily, these two — and an amazing end-of-episode musical number — provided some much needed levity.

So what was the nature of this feud? It all stemmed from the fact that Robin had a drink named after her at MacLaren’s, but it wasn’t just any drink — it was a beauty Marshall called the Minnesota Tidal Wave. Angry that his drink was essentially stolen from him, Marshall tried to challenge Robin to a dance-off, but Lily stopped him because of his dancer’s hip. So instead, he and Robin launched into this mini prank war — he wrote her number on the men’s bathroom and she tricked him into getting caught in the women’s bathroom like some gross peeping Tom. After the latter resulted in Marshall getting unflattering recognition (the act of peeping on women in the bathroom = pulling a Marshall Eriksen) Lily finally allowed the dance-off to take place. And it was pretty epic. Quote of the night: I’m Sparkles, Bitch.

So that brings us back to poor, truth-bombed Ted, who after deciding to head home instead of heading to Robots Versus Wrestlers, gets another hard truth: He’s all alone. Literally.

It turns out that the entire episode was in Ted’s head. Barney and Robin were actually at their apartment trying to find a caterer, and Marshall and Lily were upstairs trying to put Marvin to bed. And Ted was alone.

The end of the episode is something you truly have to experience on your own, but I’ll try to explain:

For a brief moment, Narrator Ted imagined what he would do if he got a chance to relive that night. Maybe he would have made himself at home with Marshall and Lily or gone over to hear Robin and Barney bicker. He would have made himself a part of his friends’ lives instead of being alone, and they would have welcomed him. But let’s face it, Current Ted has hit a point where he doesn’t want to be an accessory to someone else’s life. He wants his own. So I understand him walking away at the time, but I also understand him looking back on it 20 years later and wanting a do-over.

Plus, said Narrator Ted, if he really had a chance to relive that night, his first order of business would have run to his future wife’s apartment on 115th street and explain the future. “Hi. I’m Ted Mosby,” Narrator Ted imagined himself saying, “and exactly 45 days from now, you and I are going to meet, and we’re going to fall in love and we’re going to get married and we’re going to have two kids. We’re going to love them and each other so much. All that is 45 days away. But I’m here now, I guess, because I want those extra 45 days with you. I want each one of them. If I can’t have them, I’ll take the 45 seconds before your boyfriend shows up and punches me in the face. Because I love you. I’m always going to love you. To the end of my days and beyond.”

That’s when — in Ted’s imagination — the mother’s boyfriend Louis shows up and punched Ted back into reality, where we saw Ted walk away — alone.

I feel like everyone will have a different way of interpreting this ending, and mine’s probably incorrect but here’s it is anyway: How I Met Your Mother has always been a story about hope. No matter how bad things get, we know it ends with happiness. I remember the clarity I felt the first time executive producer Craig Thomas told me that; I saw the show in a whole new light. I saw it as one big, “It will be OK.” And I saw this imagined-reality, this second-ending-that-never-was in a similar way; it was Narrator Ted telling past Ted that everything’s OK. He was speaking to the Ted who felt so hopelessly alone that one night, 20 years ago. Don’t you sometimes wish you could do that? Go back to a low-point and tell yourself about how you get through it? Seems nice. Maybe I’m reading into this too much.

Anyway, I was touched, kind of baffled, kind of sad (comedy my butt!), very excited, and overcome by a need to have a dance-battle with someone.

The episode concluded with the Future Teds and Barneys performing an amazing rendition of Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time,” which, wouldn’t you know, is about taking a chance on love after experiencing a lot of hurt. Actual lyric: “Once I thought my innocence was gone/ Now I know that happiness goes on.” It really does — in 45 days, Ted.

I’m eager to hear your thoughts. How did you read the final act? What did you think of the episode? And WHAT’S CARL’S LAST NAME? (Hint: It’s not “[Carl]’s Junior”)

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