It's the 200th episode of this show, and you'd think that given that huge milestone, it would be focused on the five main characters we've spent so much time with. Instead they opted to redo the opening credits and focus on the mysterious sixth character that we've been desperate to know more about for the past nine years. And it was a wise decision, because even if they'd done a full puppet episode, or staged another musical, or sent Barney into space, I'd have likely been underwhelmed. Instead, I ended up being pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed this episode... and all it took was getting rid of almost everything we know about the show.
We start back in 2005 with The Mother at a different MacLaren's celebrating her birthday. Of course there's another MacLaren's in New York, so that makes total sense. Well, in this alt-verse that The Mother is in, she finds out that her true love Max has just died (though we never get the full story) and that his last perfect gift to her is a ukulele. She then mopes around for a while, has a run in with that guy who takes his clothes off to get women to sleep with him, befriends Cindy (Rachel Bilson) during their economics class (which is briefly led by Ted when he was in the wrong spot), meets the devilish Darren (Andrew Rannells, who has really been one of the best things about this season) and finally dates some pleasant, if boring new "not Ted" guy who maybe doesn't love the way she makes her English muffin sing or truly appreciates her calligraphy collection.
There's a lot of clever moments with the yellow umbrella, references to that time Ted and Cindy dated and how he only liked the stuff that belonged to The Mother and a confused Cindy kissing The Mother before she met her cute girlfriend. And we finally return to Farhampton, where we get an unnecessary rehash of all the moments that we've seen so far this season. Then we see The Mother staying at the house of Not Ted, and him proposing. She asks permission from Max (the dead boyfriend) and he seemingly gives it (and there are some shots here where she's staring up at the camera and looks so much like Alyson Hannigan that the two could be sisters... is that the big twist? Does Lily have a secret sister?), but she still turns down the proposal as she just wasn't feeling it. This is clearly setting us up for the big finale.
Then she gets back to the Farhampton Inn, Roger Bart is there giving a callback to when Ted checked in by himself (while also reminding us of the fact that Robin's mother is not there) and we see a sad Mother sitting on her porch playing "La Vie en Rose" on her ukulele while Robin and Barney settle in for their pre-wedding night, Marshall sits in shock after the "un-pause," Lily drives off and Ted sits on the other side of the wall just listening.
Giving credit where credit is due, they did an effective job of working in old story lines while giving us a quick 22-minute look at The Mother's pretty much entire backstory. Showing scenes we've seen before, shot from The Mother's perspective, was all slickly done. It almost feels like... progress? It's just too bad that we had to go 16 episodes into the final season before we finally got to this point. I would have been thrilled to see this at episode 100, or hell, even 150, or even 175. Episode 200 just seems really late in the game.