Flashback episodes are a normal part of the TV landscape, used to fill in important backstories that've somehow affected someone or something in present time. How I Met Your Mother is technically an entire series built out of flashbacks, given that Ted is relating all of the stories we're seeing to his two children in the year 2030, but the series itself doesn't necessarily use flashbacks the way most series use them. HIMYM has made a name for itself in the way it jumps through time, sometimes flashing back for a joke punchline, sometimes flashing forward to hint at something to come that will inevitably be mishandled (the goat) or that will shape the rest of the series (Barney and Robin's wedding). The series jumps around a lot, but it's not all that common for the series to have entire episodes that take place in the past as "Platonish" did tonight.
The episode, which fell in the series timeline sometime between the Season 8 episodes "Splitsville" and "The Stamp Tramp," according to co-creator Carter Bays, flashed back to just before Barney proposed to Robin, when Ted's relationship with her was being questioned by Marshall during a Harlem Globetrotters game against the Washington Generals. Of course, Ted and Marshall were the only two fans of the Washington Generals in attendance, and in between yelling at the team, the referees, and the coach, Marshall attempted to convince Ted that he and Robin were not platonic friends, but only 20 minutes away from getting back together at any given time. It was an odd episode setup, one which completely confused me for most of the episode, until the moment came when Barney hit on the Mother in a drugstore as part of one of his silly "Challenge Accepted!" bits.
"Platonish" had several reasons for being framed this way. It showed viewers how Barney met the Mother and why he decided to make the bold move to concoct The Robin and win her back. The Season 8 episode "The Final Page" both explained Barney's extravagant plan to propose, and the outcome of the play, but we never knew what pushed him to do it in the first place. There had been hints dropped here and there about his lingering feelings for Robin, but Barney was also thisclose to marrying Quinn not that long before he proposed to Robin. And until tonight, the writers never really explained what happened for Barney to decide to make his move.
Most of us probably wrote it off thinking we'd never find out what changed for Barney, but tonight we learned that it was the Mother who pushed him to right his wrongs, to fix the problems in his life, to win back the woman he let get away all those seasons ago. The fact that the Mother is the reason Barney and Robin are where they are is remarkably fun, and possibly gives us a hint as to why she is at the wedding in the first place. But despite knowing all of this, she's still just a mysterious stranger Barney met in a drugstore when picking up samosas and diapers for Robin and Lily, and she's still just a friendly face on the train who shared her cookies with Lily on the way to Farhampton.
Everything we know about the Mother—including that she had a boyfriend six months ago, but that she didn't think he was the One—we know from Lily and Barney's encounters, the two scenes in which she's interacted with Ted (in "Coming Back" and last week's "The Lighthouse" when he proposed), and the few tidbits Rachel Bilson's Cindy blurted out about her so long ago (and of course whatever Ted's mentioned over the last 8 seasons during his story to his kids). It's nice to see that we're learning a bit more about the Mother, and it's nice to see that she's been influential in the overall storyline of the series as well. I sincerely hope that Barney runs into her again and that she becomes his personal life coach, because so far she's done a really great job.
But that's not the only reason "Platonish" was set in the past. It also provided some background for Ted's impending move to Chicago. He'd received a phone call from his former boss, Hammond Druthers—once again played by Bryan Cranston in what I believe is his first on-screen post-Breaking Bad role—and I applaud the writers for refraining from making any Walter White references. Cranston was hilarious as he begged Ted to move to Chicago to join his firm, and now we know why Ted is ready to pack up his belongings and head to the Windy City immediately following the wedding. While he was beaten down by Hammond's insistence and originally told him he'd think about the offer, he ended the episode by declining the job because he finally believed that maybe his relationship with Robin wasn't as over or as platonic as he'd made himself believe. We can now infer that once Robin accepted Barney's proposal of marriage, Ted realized his mistake and most likely called up Druthers and accepted the job offer as a way to escape.
All of these flashbacks were told by Barney as a way to stop Robin from crying in the present timeline after finding out that her mother wasn't going to attend her wedding. And for a series that usually favors the quick time-jumps flashing back and forth between the past, present, and future when telling stories, this full-episode flashback was pretty great. It didn't really move the present story forward, but it allowed the gang to spend some time at MacLaren's, allowed Marshall to interact with Ted, and it introduced another member of the principal cast to Cristin Milioti's Mother, while filling in a lot of blanks. I could probably point out how silly and unbelievable some of Barney's accepted challenges were, but the story came full circle when he met the Mother on his last challenge (which was actually just an errand neither Robin or Lily wanted to do) and we've seen that although Barney is still the Barney we all know and love, his challenges are no longer motivated by wanting to sleep with anything with boobs, but rather by his desire to make Robin happy. And that makes me happy.
– Some of Barney's challenges: Get a woman's number while only speaking dolphin, pick up a woman while wearing a trash bag and without using the letter E (he got surprisingly good at that), and pick up the woman waiting for Ryan Gosling after convincing her he was Ryan Gosling after plastic surgery.
– “Check your voicemail, I think you’ve missed some calls!” —Ted, to the referee during the Globetrotters game
– “I need you to take a year, a full year, and just be celibate. You know I’m right.” Robin, to the woman who gave Barney her number after he talked to her like a dolphin
– Can the Mother be my life coach, too?