How I Met Your Mother is facing the possibility of change beyond what’s confronted in “Farhampton,” tonight’s eighth season premiere. For at least a year, rumors of Jason Segel’s departure have grown in stature, even as representatives of the show continue to make assertions to the contrary. And now, with recent reports that this very well may be the show’s last season, the series is now, more than ever, compelled to finally confront the central conceit of its premise. It would be a lie to say we meet the titular Mother in “Farhampton,” but it feels we’re a lot closer now to that eventuality.
But I’m burying the lede here, as “Farhampton” is actually among the funniest episodes in a good, long while. As we pick up from last season’s finale, Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Quinn (Becki Newton) are engaged, Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel) are new parents, and Ted (Josh Radnor) is on the lam with runaway bride Victoria (Ashley Williams), easily the best of Ted’s many girlfriends (and if that appears intentional, it probably is, since Victoria was designed as the backup Mother in the event that the show was canceled during the initial 13-episodes of its first season). The episode pushes Lily and Marshall to the sidelines, though the running gag of their sleep deprivation causing them to view everything through an aquarium-esque filter is worth solid laughs, particularly with a bit I’m surprised made it past censors, where we learn they misheard Robin’s desire to lick her new boyfriend’s abs. Lily and Marshall’s role as sleep-deprived new parents is well-worn sitcom territory, but it works here because it’s kept brief and out of the spotlight. With that out of the way, the episode pretty much sticks with two central plots.
In the flashforward to Robin and Barney’s wedding day, both bride and groom are getting cold feet, and the task falls to Mosby to talk them off the ledge. But we don’t stay with that reveal long, as we transition to “a little way down the road,” as Ted is caught in a torrential downpour outside the train station at Farhampton, reading a soggy book and recounting this tale to a bystander. Flash to present day, where Ted is appalled that Victoria didn’t leave her fiance, Klaus, a note before ditching him at the alter. Victoria writes an impromptu note, and Ted attempts to climb the drainage pipe to sneak back into the church and leave the note behind on her behalf. What follows are a series of mishaps involving Ted’s inability to get this right: he gets in but is prevented from entering Victoria’s room by Klaus’s brutish sister; then, he gets in and leaves the note, but forgets his car keys, necessitating Ted climbing up all over again.
The story is fine, in itself, but it’s really just window-dressing for Ted’s encounters with Klaus (Thomas Lennon), who is also fleeing, not realizing that Victoria has already left. When Ted later asks Klaus why he’d leave Victoria, Klaus responds that while Victoria is great, she’s not his “lifelong treasure of destiny” (a loose German translation). Klaus’s speech is surprisingly heartfelt, as he explains that the feeling he’s looking for doesn’t develop over time, it’s something that happens instantaneously. When you meet that one person, you’ll know then and there. And it wasn’t there with Victoria.
It seems to get Ted’s wheels turning, and gives us something to chew on as Ted works to figure out what Victoria means to him. It’s the strongest arc of the episode, and produces one of my favorite bits, with Ted leaving Klaus’s note behind and drizzling it with water drops to simulate tears (in a clever touch, Ted has to actually act out Victoria’s expected reaction to the letter to do it). Victoria has been a fan favorite with a lot of HIMYM fans, even while accepting that she’s not the Mother. It looks like the intention is to mirror that effect in Ted, amplifying his fondness for Victoria while bringing him to the realization that she’s just not the one.
In the episode’s other big plotline, Robin discovers that Barney never told Quinn they used to date. Worse, Barney has essentially deleted all evidence of their relationship, photoshopping Robin out of every picture (even replacing her with a tiger in one photo). It’s a lie by omission, but a lie nonetheless; it’s a lie Barney also needs Robin’s help to maintain. Barney is in rare form tonight, seducing Klaus’s sister over the phone (“I’d hate to perpetuate a stereotype, but German female wrestlers from Saxony are just begging for it.”), and recounting the entirety of the series in a rambling, breathless monologue that leaves me wondering how Neil Patrick Harris could be nominated for an Emmy three times in this role without winning. Maybe I’m just easily amused, but describing Ted’s iconic blue French horn that he stole for Robin as a Smurf penis is worth the price of admission alone. But the arc actually has a fair bit of heart to it as well.
Quinn accidentally discovers the truth from (who else?) Lily and Marshall, and she apparently can’t handle the deception, deciding to leave Barney, a choice that feels pretty contrived even by sitcom standards. But it doesn’t last, as Robin brings her new boyfriend, Nick (not me, though God willing…), over to MacLaren’s to prove to her that she doesn’t harbor any lingering feelings to Barney. The majesty of Nick’s rock-hard abs is enough to convince Quinn that she has nothing to worry about, but we all know better. Barney gives her a set of keys to a storage locker, where Robin uncovers a box full of all the memories of their relationship. It’s expected, but the payoff is still sweet.
The preceding is more than enough to settle the episode in “A” territory, but the coda puts it over the top, as the Mother pulls up in a taxicab at Farhampton in the flashforward, pulling her guitar out of the trunk, trademark yellow umbrella obscuring her face. The fact that we saw as much of her as we did tonight, face excluded, makes me think that the showrunners are getting closer to casting the Mother outright. It’s hard to know, though, given that many expected we’d have met the Mother by now. In delaying for as long as they have, they’ve only managed to assure that expectations cannot possibly be met by any one actress (although I’ve read numerous sites that have offered Lyndsy Fonseca, Ted’s daughter in the flashforwards, as an amusing possibility. At 25, she’s certainly old enough to make it work, built-in creepiness notwithstanding). It’ll be interesting to see if we finally get the reveal this season. I would imagine we have to, if this is indeed the show’s swan song. If this is the show’s last season premiere, I couldn’t imagine a better way to kick it off.