In earlier seasons, How I Met Your Mother has told the same story multiple times from the varying perspectives of different characters when Ted, Marshall, Barney, Lily, or Robin debate how they remember certain events. This week’s episode of How I Met Your Mother, “The Ashtray”, told the same story three times with increasing clarity and comedy.
Ted’s version of his encounter with The Captain was amusing, but even before we found out the truth, his version of the story didn’t seem very coherent. When Robin stepped in and explained that his memories had been fogged because he had just shared a “sandwich” with Boats-boats-boats-Becky, things actually started to make more sense.
I loved Robin’s memories of The Captain’s attempts to seduce her – his weird Chapstick application, his bizarre pick up lines, and his seductive posing on his bed all made me laugh out loud. Of course, it turned out that Robin’s memories were also less than reliable as she was under the influence of the few dozen shots she downed before she met up with Ted and Lily at the art gallery.
Obviously, Lily’s version of the story made the most sense, and her clear headed version of Ted and Robin’s inebriated night brought the most laughs. Robin’s Chapstick fantasy was just as funny when she was the one doing the awkward seduction and her failed attempts to woo The Captain were a crack up, especially when her night ended with her passing out rather aggressively.
Lily’s version of the story led into the heart of the episode which was Lily’s crisis about her feelings of failure. After The Captain had belittled her for her “poor taste” in art, Lily admitted that she had retaliated by stealing his crystal ashtray. This reveal led to Lily breaking down and explaining to Marshall that she felt like she had lost sight of her dreams. As luck would have it, Lily returning The Captain’s call and his ashtray would change her life and give her a way to bring art back into her life professionally. (I’m hoping Lily’s new job also means The Captain will be a more permanent fixture in future How I Met Your Mother episodes.)
Throughout the episode, Barney had been trying to insert himself into everyone else’s version of the story. It was a nice running gag with a great payoff when they revealed that Barney had really been at the art gallery for one of his playbook moves, “The Royal Archduke” which he used to seduce the art consultant, Shelly.
Although this was a new episode of How I Met Your Mother, there was a lot about “The Ashtray” that felt familiar. Seeing The Captain again, Lily breaking down about her feelings of artistic failure, seeing Barney’s fears of abandonment and irrelevance bubble to the surface, and the use of that multiple perspective storytelling style all made “The Ashtray” seem like we were watching an episode of How I Met Your Mother that might have fit into an earlier season. It didn’t propel us towards that inevitable moment of Ted meeting the mother of his children but it was still a solid stand alone episode that delivered plenty of laughs with just the right amount of sentimentality.