'How I Met Your Mother' recap: Marshall's back, The Mother's in play, and the future looks bright

Whether “Bass Player Wanted” was good or bad, satisfying or not, at least we can finally breathe a sigh of relief that Marshall has reached the Farhampton Inn and all of our characters are once again in the same place together. No more road tripping with Sherri Shepherd; no nursery rhymes on the Farhampton Jitney. Marshall is BACK, baby, and the How I Met Your Mother cast is reassembled for the first (present timeline) time in three months. So that’s a positive! And on TOP of that, this last episode of 2013 also featured some very sweet moments that… if they didn’t completely redeem the show, in line with our demands last week, at least suggest a more human, compelling story in 2014. What did we get?

Barney and Ted hug it out

At the epicenter of most critical frustration with this season so far is definitely Barney, and behavior that vacillates between cartoonish and incomprehensible and deplorable. He has not been a great dude, which has made rooting for his wedding to Robin — the narrative framework for the entire season — pretty difficult. On Monday night, Barney learned that days after the wedding, Ted would be moving to Chicago. And he was petulant about it at first, expectedly. But rather than launch into a prank war with Ted or break into a song and dance number… they talked about it. Barney doesn’t want to be “some guy” from Ted’s past. Ted, in turn, knows that it’s time for him to make something of a fresh start. Both sides make human sense! They hug, and you remember that hey — these characters actually love each other.

Marshall and Lily do NOT fight

Not yet, anyway! One of the early 2014 episodes will inevitably play out like a wacky courtroom drama between Marshall and Lily, arguing for the supremacy of their respective career choices, but for the moment? Lily, like us, is just very, very happy to see her husband in the flesh. No more weird body pillows meant to simulate the embrace of your tall, pillowy man! Just Marshall, Lily, and their baby — together at last. Awwwwwwwww.

The Mother buys Ted a drink

You know who else finally arrived in Farhampton? The Mother! We’ve seen only bits and pieces of her throughout the season, but this was arguably her biggest outing yet — first picking up a hitchhiking Marshall, and then sidling up at the bar to buy her future husband a drink. We like her. We want more of her. Hopefully this is a harbinger of more (and more involved) scenes to come.

The episode did end with Marshall’s hand just over Barney’s face, prepared to dole out one of the last “slap bet” slaps, which doesn’t thrill me. But if we can knock out the slap early in 2014, handle the Lily/Marshall argument? Then friends — we could have a perfectly wonderful finish. Here’s hoping!

Image: CBS