How I Met Your Mother "Vesuvius" Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Sad

By Kaitlin Thomas

Mar 04, 2014

How I Met Your Mother S09E19: "Vesuvius"


As How I Met Your Mother enters its final handful of episodes, it comes as no surprise that the series is choosing to pile on the emotional drama that has truly made it a series worth investing in over the years. People say dying is easy and comedy is hard, but I would go one step further to say that successfully meshing comedy and drama into a 30-minute window for 22 to 24 episodes a season is even harder. And yet How I Met Your Mother has been doing it to varying degrees of success for the last nine years. The show has stumbled in its later years, sure, but I would never say the show's problems were the result of poorly done drama, but rather a combination of cheap, lazy jokes and poorly plotted seasons in the writers' room. It's a given that not every episode is going to be great. Not every episode can be as funny and entertaining as "Slap Bet," for instance. But the episodes that have explored the dramatic as well as the comedic are almost always the series' best.

Tonight's "Vesuvius" is probably one of the most emotional and dramatic episodes the series has done since Marshall's father died in "Bad News" or when we found out Robin couldn't have children in "Symphony of Illumination." And like those episodes, it wasn't until we'd nearly reached the end of the episode that the rug was pulled out from under us and the seriousness of the situation became apparent. It's long been suspected and theorized by fans of the series that Ted is telling his children the story of how he met their mother because she has died or will die in the near future. I've personally never put much thought in to why we're on this journey, choosing rather to enjoy the ride alongside the children. For all I knew or cared, they were going out to dinner and the Mother was taking an exceptionally long time getting ready.

It probably sounds odd, but the destination was never that important to me as a viewer. I knew we'd eventually meet the Mother, and I looked forward to that day, but my goal when watching How I Met Your Mother wasn't to find out the identity of the woman who would become Mrs. Teddy Westside, because I feared that once that day came, the show would be over. So my goal was to spend as much time experiencing life's most wacky adventures through these five friends. This means that rather than feeling some sort of validation or fear as I think many fans did when the theory was all but confirmed tonight, I just felt an overwhelming sense of sadness mixed with a hint of surprise. I was sad because a show that has made me laugh continuously over the years appeared to be based on a very sad, emotional time in Ted's life. I was surprised not because the series would go there, but because the series went there in "Vesuvius," an episode that was, for all intents and purposes, a setup episode in the present.

No one in their right mind believed that Robin's mother wouldn't come to her wedding. As the Mother said in the increasingly important flash-forward, what mother wouldn't be there on their daughter's wedding day? Unless, of course, something horrible happened and prevented her from attending. But we knew that wasn't why Robin's mother wasn't coming, so when she arrived in the form of Tracey Ullman near the end of the episode, it wasn't all that surprising. But that's okay, because it wasn't meant to be a surprise, it was meant to pull Robin out of her listlessness. She was the catalyst that would eventually lead to Robin's own special wedding day freakout, a moment that would show just how important this wedding actually is to her. We knew this was coming, and now we know what sets it off, which means we can finally, truly get on the train for the last few hours of How I Met Your Mother

The love story between Ted and the Mother is the reason we're here, and knowing Ted as we do, it kind of only makes sense that this long, meandering story has a greater purpose. There's a reason he's telling his children about all the women he's met and banged in his search for their Mother. It's not because he turned into a crass man in his older years, it's not because he's a bad father, it's because Ted is a romantic. And although all signs from the flash-forward at the Farhampton Inn in the year 2024—10 years after they meet and six years before Ted begins to tell the story—seem to point to a world entrenched in a great sadness, I want to point out that we purposefully don't have all the facts. I think it's suspicious that the series would dare reveal something like this with four episodes remaining. If that's truly where we're headed, then it's a sadder ending than I'd have liked, but would also like to point out as silly as it sounds, many believe that true love stories have no endings.

One of the most important things to remember when watching How I Met Your Mother is that it's a lesson in storytelling, in which time is not linear and the narrator is not always reliable. But it's also important to remember that this is a series of stories, snapshots of Ted's life leading up to and after his meeting the Mother. But Ted's life didn't begin or end when he met the Mother. He continued living his life, albeit a different chapter than the one he was leading prior to their meeting, but it was still his life. Ted's once harmless stories might eventually take on a new light as the years go on, but they are still the stories that define him. And even if we're heading to an ending in which the Mother is no longer living, Ted's life isn't going to stop anymore than ours will once the series signs off for good at the end of the month. 

The Mother had a point when she told Ted not to live only in his stories and to keep moving forward with his life, because when we dwell on the past, our lives have the tendency to stall. But there's also a good argument to be made for telling these stories. We tell them because they're important to us, and we want to remember them. We tell them because we want other people to know the love and joy they brought into our lives. We tell them because they are what define us. So while I think it's important to remember to live life and make new stories, I don't think we should ever forget the past either. And I have no intention of forgetting the journey that How I Met Your Mother has taken me on over the last nine years. Some of the stories were good. Some were bad. But all of them were worthwhile.


NOTES

- The Mother's comment about not living in stories keeps reminding me of Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: "It does not do to dwell on dreams, Harry, and forget to live." The Mother is basically plagiarizing Dumbledore, guys.

- It's entirely possible the Mother is fine and perhaps Ted is dying, or someone else like his mother has just passed away. We won't know until the end of the series. I also think it's possible we're getting yanked around, and the only reason Ted's telling his children this story is because the Mother is sick and tired of hearing it. 

- While Barney's plot seemed a bit silly on the surface, I think the metaphor worked very well. But um, CBS, would it have killed you to release photos that included the Mother this week? All the suits don't really scream, "OMG DEPRESSING."

- In addition to meeting Robin's mother this week, "Vesuvius" also saw the return of Lucy Hale as Robin's younger sister Katie. Barney also suited up for the last time. That's three items from my wish list for the rest of the season. I even got a bonus wish when they brought back Barney's Swarley nickname. That was something I'd hoped would happen because "Swarley" is a personal favorite of mine, but I didn't actually think it would happen, despite the abundance of callbacks to earlier seasons. It fit in well now that Marshall has his own nickname, Narshall.

- I don't really want to take sides, but Marshall was totally right. If Ted didn't want him to eat that cake, he really should have put a note on it. Cake is serious.

- I understand why Lily was freaking out that Robin wasn't freaking out, but the scrapbook was out of character for Lily, no? 

- We're all in agreement that the callback to The Wedding Bride is something we could have done without, right?

- "It’s got everything! Intrigue! Betrayal! Lamps!"



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  • noelveiga Mar 09, 2014

    Yeeeah, the Mom's dead.

    The catch, though? They will never outright say it.

    That whole weirdly offhand remark about how when you're about to see big change and can't cope sometimes you just have to hang out and leave it unsaid? This episode is probably code for "yeah, we condone your cool theory, we're just not saying it".

    The show will end with the meeting, that much is clear. While they could just pull out and show that the living room is in the middle of a funeral or something and just pull a Roseanne, it would feel callous and a bit of a jerk move.

    Instead, they are dropping a pretty clear admission a few episodes before the finale, let the "deathers" have their cake and everybody else eat it too by ending the show on an uplifting note.

    Gotta say, though, nice job on Josh Radnor and Cristin Milloti. It's hard to pull off quiet sadness so down low for the first few flashbacks, where you can sort of tell something is off but you're not sure what, and it's not easy to tune that "can't hold it in anymore" moment at the end, either. I've seen people have that in funerals and I was kind of shocked at how naturally Radnor played it. It was a completely different register than everything else on the show so far. Casting reel moment, maybe? Either way a gift to him and Milloti by the writers.

  • tamaracassill Mar 08, 2014

    I think the setting behind this episode is very simple. Ted and the mother have gone back to the place they first met, away from the kids, to spend some time together alone as it is likely to be their last opportunity. Some people's thoughts that she might already be dead, that she hasn't aged, and that the guy who works at the inn was wearing the same clothes and that therefore this is Ted living in his stories, or something like that, is all a bit of a stretch. Why can't it be the very simple situation above? For those that don't think this refers to the mother, and that it might mean Ted's mother or Robin possibly, there is another simple answer. The phrase used was "what mother would miss her daughter's wedding?". For a start, ted is not his mother's daughter, so it is not Ted's mother that it refers to. Robin cannot have children, that has been heavily emphasized, therefore she cannot have a daughter, so it does not refer to Robin. As far as we ever know, Lily only has a son, so no daughter their means it cannot refer to Lily either. Someone suggested it could be the mother's mother. But as the scene is set in 2024 (If I remember correctly), and I assume their wedding was at least 8 years before that, it must be a very sore point for it to bring Ted to tears that much later. A bit of a stretch. It must therefore be the daughter that we met way back in season one episode one: Ted's. THE mother is the one with the terminal illness. For those that feel that this was just false hope for the happiness everyone wishes Ted, and that the writers are being cruel and swaying away from the point of the series, I have to disagree with you. It is definitely a crying shame that the mother has a terminal illness, but Ted found the long awaited "the one", and from the little we have seen of her, and the screen time they have together, I already love her and think they are prefect together. So let's be happy that he had this for 10 whole years (although we wish it was longer) and has two children now. And maybe, after searching for 9 full years, and loving each other for 10, she has sadly passed away, so he has sat down his children, and told them 9 years worth of stories, storied he loves, with every last tiny detail, about how he met their mother, that all three have now sadly lost. :( It feels like a full circle, and while sad, is quite beautiful.

  • Redecle Mar 08, 2014

    It's sad, really sad, but the pointers towards this theory just keep increasing. In 'Vesuvius' There's another moment that supports that the mother is dead, early in the episode the mother states that she wishes that Ted doesn't only live inside his stories, it just sounds like they both know at that current year 2024 that the mother is terminally ill, and the ending supports this with the phrase 'what mother is going to miss her daughter's wedding', Ted's facial expression after that sentence is heartbreaking. Even the series sub title now refers it, 'love story in reverse', even though the love may not have died, but the story will end and death is an ending. I highly doubt this is the end that anyone who's followed the show wished for Ted, but even with all the jokes and puns it's still a story about life. A story that many people can relate to and find similarities in their own life. Maybe the point of revealing these bits of information about the ending before it ends is good and really something the writers are absolutely doing intentionally, dropping a bomb like that straight in the final 15 minutes of final episode is not really rewarding at all. They are easing in the ending for the watchers so they can be prepared. Even though the characters are fictional, we've grown with them and took them to be part of our lives. I know tears will be shed no matter what the ending, happy or not. 10 years of Friends taught me that already, the last 20 minutes is going to be intensive.

  • BrbaraCoelho1 Mar 07, 2014

    I hadn't even thought about the possibility of the mother dying until I read this. I thought Ted's mother had died or something.

  • jerlouvis Mar 07, 2014

    If they end this series with his wife dying it will be the all-time worst finale for a sitcom.First and foremost this show is a comedy and to end a nine season story arc with the death of the "mother" would be a bummer of epic proportions.

  • adamdempsey1 Mar 06, 2014

    I think it's about Robin's mum that doesn't make her daughters wedding.

    I think the real reason she couldn't make Barney and Robin's wedding was because she was too ill, but Robin didn't tell her friends that she just told them she couldn't get a flight (I think that was the reason, may be wrong?).

    Then at the end of this episode her mum shows up, but maybe she dies before the actual wedding, which would fit in with Ted and the Mother talking about a mother missing her daughters wedding, particularly because they are at the Farhampton Inn at the time.

    Bit of a long shot but it all fits?

  • Wimbledon Mar 06, 2014

    The only death that was really evident in this episode was that of fashion sense....that sweater...come on Ted.

  • reinrose Mar 06, 2014

    Maybe it's just a scare. Maybe they're waiting for test results that MAY say she has terminal cancer. We were only seeing into a small window in their marriage, Narrator Ted confirmed nothing.

  • noviembrita Mar 06, 2014

    To leave it unspoken and just enjoy each other's company instead... oh man,,, -that was my favorite part of the episode, by the way, because I've felt that, that moment when you realize things are about to change completely, that you will be away from those you love...
    So it seems that in that when Ted and the mother are back at Farthampton's there's some unspeakeable sadness... yet I don't understand how that relates to the story we've been hearing for 9 years to the kids. If she were dying, it would make more sense to me for Ted to tell their children all the wonderful things the did together, and not about his loneliness before her. Besides, how could they tell the story of how the mother met Ted if she were dying?
    I don't know. I share Kaitlin's opinion, I'd like to enjoy the ride of the series great finale for as long as it is...

  • DROT Mar 06, 2014

    Not sure why everyone assumes that Ted got weepy because future mother is dying. I took it as he got emotional because HIS mother missed his wedding. This would also explain why he is telling the kids about THEIR mother. He wants them to appreciate and love their mom the way he appreciated and loved his.

    In any case, it is to be sincerely hoped that neither explanation is the reason as it would be a very dour ending to the series.


  • oxenden332 Mar 06, 2014

    Except that they specifically say "What mother would miss her daughter's wedding?" It also seems less believable to me that Ted would be getting openly weep about his mom missing his wedding after ten years had passed. I would think by then that, while still sad sometimes, he wouldn't break into tears at random happy moments.

  • Lady_Jay Mar 06, 2014

    agree. I don't think the mother is dying... I think Ted's mother missed his wedding and that's why he cried.

  • fliptu Mar 07, 2014

    a long while back, when they showed the symphony of illumination, i had thought that maybe it would be robin that ended up dying. the whole speech about how she never did this, never did that, never was alone, and perhaps they were being bad-ass and edgy (which we'd later find out) by playing highway to hell at the end. now i could be completely mistaken, but i can't think of a flash forward where robin is made to seem much older than she does now. maybe robin had died by the time we see that crying scene, and just the general memory of her makes him periodically break down. but if that were the case, i guess the mother's reaction was a bit unsympathetic.......or, maybe it's a fake out, and it'll be revealed that they just watched the "steel magnolias" of that year.

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