Part of the major allure of How I Met Your Mother is how the show unfolds. By now you know that it’s Future Ted recounting how he met his children’s mother over one long evening in the future. The show employs flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks, and sometimes it’s confusing, but it works and really is a fresh perspective on storytelling. Then there are episodes like this week’s where the present-day characters recount things from different perspectives and all hell breaks loose.
“The Ashtray” reintroduces The Captain (played by the hilarious Kyle MacLachlan) who calls out of the blue and forces Ted to remember his last awkward encounter with the man. Back in 2011, after Ted had just broken up with Zoey—The Captain’s recent ex-wife—and was on the rebound with a girl in a boat advertisement, he ran into The Captain at an art gallery that he was at with Robin and Lily. He found The Captain to be extremely rude, but he handled it cooly, even when he was assaulted by the man with a harpoon gun.
Ted cannot for the life of him understand why The Captain is calling him, and Barney cannot believe he wasn’t there during this crazy story and keeps injecting himself into it. The retelling of this incident was a hilarious opening and set-up for a great episode, and I thought the writers were going to leave it at that. But they didn’t. They take it a step further, and we learn that Ted’s account of the story isn’t quite right.
Robin informs Ted and the rest of the gang that Ted had just “eaten a sandwich” and wasn’t in the right state of mind when he met The Captain. Robin replays the events from the art gallery with a different twist. The Captain wasn’t being rude to Ted, but was overly nice and blatantly hitting on Robin.
This works so well because it really makes you question how many of Ted’s stories have been altered because of his altered state of mind. Of course the writers could have stopped there. But they didn’t. It turns out Robin was at a work meeting (read: slamming shots with fellow journalists) and her judgment was off as well.
Lily finally reveals the truth, and it turns out neither Ted or Robin got the night remotely correct and reveals The Captain had called Ted to find out where Lily was. Lily explains that at the art gallery she liked a painting of an elephant and suggested that The Captain put it in his apartment. He called her “just a kindergarten teacher” so she enacted some Aldrin Justice and stole his ashtray, so he probably wants it back.
It was a slapstick half-hour that turned into the happy/sappy ending HIMYM has mastered so well. Lily is upset that she’s still “just a kindergarten teacher” and wants to do more with her art, but she realizes sometimes it’s too late to keep dreaming and she’s happy with where she settled. Meanwhile Barney reveals why it’s so important that he be there for all the crazy stories, saying that he wouldn’t know who he was if “crazy stories weren’t my thing.”
The show could have left it at that, but it adds one more vindicating twist. It turns out The Captain purchased the elephant painting and it’s now worth $4 million, and he wants Lily to become his art consultant. She gleefully accepts, and good things are finally going to happen for her. It’s a shame Lily hasn’t been built up these past few weeks. It’s been known for years now that she wants to be in the art field, but I feel she’s been underwritten in regards to her dissatisfaction.
Regardless, it was a nice way to begin the final character development, and the rest of the episode was so well put-together that this was probably one of the best of this show’s season. The multiple storylines are used sparingly but perfectly in the HIMYM universe.