I feel like a dirty trick was played on me. The rug was completely swept out from under me and I’ve now fallen on my face and I’m overcome with emotion. Not because of my embarrassment at being duped, but at how hauntingly beautiful the deception was. “The Time Travelers” could very likely go down in history as How I Met Your Mother’s most heartbreaking episode – it’s probably tied with “Bad News” – and for good reason. The days between now and when Ted finally meets the Mother are shrinking in number, but up until this point we didn’t know just how close we were. With the announcement of a new season, I’m sure most, if not all, fans were convinced the fateful meeting wouldn’t take place until May 2014, when Season 9 would come to a close. But Carter Bays and Craig Thomas don’t seem to want to wait that long and they’ve finally let us in on the plan.
The basic premise of “The Time Travelers” is a simple, yet convoluted one. Barney is trying to convince Ted to see Robots vs. Wrestlers with him and to do so he enlists the help of future versions of himself and Ted. We’re introduced to 20-Years-From-Now Ted and 20-Years –From-Now Barney. They plead with Ted to go see Robots vs Wrestlers because it will be the best night of Ted’s life. The group is eventually joined by 20-Hours-From-Now Ted and 20-Minutes-From-Now Barney, with each sharing why they do or do not think Ted should go. It seemed like it should have be a fun romp, since the episode makes it very clear early on these future Teds and Barneys aren’t really there and it’s just Barney and Ted being silly. Whenever Marshall, Lily or Robin approach the bar table, they only see present Ted and Barney. But because the time travelers are definitely not real, there is a lack of stakes to the episode, like none of it really matters. The jokes are decent, but they aren’t as polished as they could’ve been, with most of the humor revolving around “Hey, there’s multiple iterations of these characters!”
Meanwhile Marshall and Robin face-off over a drink Marshall invented, which is named the Robin Scherbatsky because Robin orders it all the time. The two attempt to one up each other by writing messages in the bathrooms with a sharpie. It’s good for a laugh or two, but it’s not strongest of plotlines. They could’ve substituted it with anything else and it would’ve worked just fine within the constructs of the episode. The same goes for the surprising reappearance of Coat-Check Girl (Jayma Mays), unseen for seven years. She adds so little to the episode, essentially any girl from Ted’s past could’ve been brought in and done the same job she did.
But what works – and it works because it’s devastating – is Barney’s reveal that Marshall and Robin’s issue happened five years ago. Marshall and Lily are at home with Marvin right now, and Barney and Robin are arguing about caterers. Ted, in reality, is sitting at the bar alone, contemplating a single ticket to Robots vs. Wrestlers, because all his friends were too busy. How crushing is that? But it makes sense. At this point in the series, Ted is the only one to have not found love yet. We needed to get to this point; the night’s darkest before the dawn. Future Ted narrates that if he could go back – largely the theme of the episode – he would’ve done that night differently. He would’ve spent time with his friends instead of being alone, cherishing what he did have even if it wasn’t what he wanted more than anything else. But before he would do that, he would go to the Mother’s apartment and meet her 45 days earlier than he was supposed to.
In case you didn’t quite catch that, Ted is going to meet the Mother in exactly 45 days from that night. That puts the meeting in May, 2013, a whole year before HIMYM is supposed to come to an end. I don’t know what this means for the series’ future, but it sure sounds like we’re going to be meeting the Mother in less than two months. I’m not saying it’s a promise, but it’s pretty darn close. I’m trying not to think how the writers will fake us out at the last second because I don’t want them to. Now more than ever, after seeing Ted at the lowest we’ve ever seen him, I want him to find his true love, get married, have kids and live happily ever after. I want this love story to end, not because I’m impatient, but because I care about Ted, even if he is just a character on a television show. I’ve been with him for eight years and I want to see him find love, like Marshall and Lily did, and Barney and Robin have. To do anything else wouldn’t be fair to Ted.