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'How I Met Your Mother' 'The Poker Game' Recap: All In for an Episode That Feels Like a Classic

Game on, bitch.

Those may have been Robin’s words to Barney’s mom at that end of The Poker Game, but I think they pretty aptly describe How I Met Your Mother’s bounceback with this episode after a pretty lame outing last week.

The Poker Game felt like a classic HIMYM episode. There were flashbacks, misunderstandings and even a Slutty Pumpkin reference. While I love HIMYM installments that advance the overall story, especially this late in the game, I’ll still gladly welcome an episode that hits my favorite HIMYM notes. I probably only would’ve liked The Poker Game more if it included a bit of Slap Bet action. That’s gotta happen soon, right? Would Marshall really shatter the time-slap continuum during Barney’s wedding?

Despite still taking place during Barney and Robin’s wedding weekend, last night’s episode of HIMYM spent a ton of the time in the past, making use of flashbacks to Marshall and Lily’s wedding, Ted’s almost-wedding to Stella and one of the gang’s many rooftop Halloween parties. Now that HIMYM is on 24 hours a day thanks to its syndication deals, I’ve found myself frequently watching old episodes, and The Poker Game gave me a chance to reconnect with those versions of Ted, Marshall and Lily.

During Barney’s wedding poker game, Robin brings up the fact that Ted got them a framed photo of the gang together at MacLaren’s, which leads Ted to gush about his love of giving wedding gifts. According to Ted, he wishes he could marry giving wedding gifts, so he could then get himself and marrying wedding gifts a wedding gift. Lily silently fumes during Ted’s boasting, as she and Marshall believe that Ted never got them a wedding gift.

Cue multi-layered flashback.

After Marshall and Lily’s wedding, the couple thought Ted failed to get them a wedding gift. Over time, Marshall began dropping hints that Ted owed them a gift, even going so far as to dress up as a wedding gift for Halloween one year. According to Ted, though, he got them a coffeemaker for their wedding, and was actually ticked himself since Marshall and Lily never sent him a thank-you note. Ted in turn spent months and years dropping his own hints about Marshall and Lily stiffing him on a thank-you note, countering Marshall’s wedding gift Halloween costume with a thank-you note costume of his own.

The best part of this slice of the flashback was that Ted, after consuming too much coffee to prove a point to Marshall, had to leave the rooftop Halloween party to go the bathroom. As Ted stepped away, the camera revealed the Slutty Pumpkin standing right behind him. While it seemed to be Katie Holmes playing Naomi, the woman Ted finally and awkwardly dated during Season 7, Entertainment Weekly’s Henry Goldblatt posted on Twitter that the scene was just a postproduction trick. Still, nice callback to HIMYM’s history. I'd like to believe that this season will give us some flashbacks for The Mother, showing us all of her close calls like this. Not just coming out of the shower when Ted was in her apartment, but also at that St. Patrick's Day party and maybe even waiting for Ted after getting matched up through a dating service.

Marshall and Lily eventually discovered that while they thought the coffeemaker had come from their friends Stuart and Claudia, Stuart actually took Ted’s name off the wedding gift and put his on instead. See, Ted’s a good guy after all. He doesn’t forget to get his best friends a wedding gift. Mosbys even have a saying about giving wedding gifts: “Wrap it before you tap it. You know, wrap the gift before you tap the person on the shoulder and say, ‘Here’s your gift.’”

Thankfully, Ted’s storyline pushed Robin and Barney’s part of the episode to the background. You’d think I would complain about that, seeing as how it’s supposed to be their wedding weekend, but this late in the HIMYM game, I’d prefer episodes to stick to Ted’s story.

James, burned by his divorce with Tom, spent Barney’s poker game crapping all over marriage, even going so far as to label the hotel room’s toilet as the receptacle for marriage. Fed up with James’ hatred of marriage, Robin got him to bet his wedding ring (which James was still wearing) in the poker game. After Robin won James’ ring, James cried to his and Barney’s mom, prompting a Stinson family crisis. Barney tried to get Robin to let his mom win James’ wedding ring back, which Robin responded to by winning Loretta’s clothes in a hand of poker.

Look, I thought this was a great episode, but do we have to keep finding new issues to come between Robin and Barney? His apartment, Ted’s lingering feelings, getting old and maybe not having sex and now Barney’s attachment to his family? Thankfully, HIMYM didn’t rustle up this issue just to wrap things up nicely by the end of the episode. After realizing that his allegiance lay with Robin, Barney didn’t just tell his family that — he completely broke up with his brother and mom, even going so far as to tell them he was doing so because Robin told him to.


At the end of The Poker Game, Loretta told Robin to keep her blouse as a consolation prize, because while Robin may have won the battle, Barney’s mom planned on winning the war for Barney. “Game on, bitch,” was Robin’s reply, signalling she was game to go toe-to-toe with the woman who stole sequins from Rick James’ open casket. Barney had to win over Robin’s dad, and now it looks like Robin is going to have to fight for the respect of Mrs. Stinson.

Oh yeah, Marshall’s still in the car with Daphne. Ted ordered a pizza and got it delivered to the moving vehicle. Please, HIMYM, let Marshall get to Farhampton soon.

I have only one real complaint about this episode. Where’s The Mother? Yes, we’ve spent eight years asking that question, believing that it was only logical for a show called How I Met Your Mother to show us how the lead character met the mother of his children. I thought The Mother’s reveal in last season’s finale and her presence in the first two episodes of this season were signs that she’d be a major force during Season 9. HIMYM even elevated Cristin Milioti to a main cast member, something that had never been done beyond Josh Radnor, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Segel, Alyson Hannigan and Cobie Smulders. This was supposed to be the season of The Mother. Where has she been the past three episodes? We’re running out of time here, HIMYM. We gave you the benefit of the doubt for the first eight seasons of the show — how about rewarding us by showing The Mother interacting with the gang at the Farhampton Inn?

Looking ahead on HIMYM’s schedule, the tenth episode of the season is called Bass Player Wanted. I would have to imagine that episode would require The Mother’s presence. Unfortunately, Bass Player Wanted isn't slotted to air until Nov. 18, a full month from now. Hopefully we don’t have to wait that long to see Milioti again. I’m also intrigued by the fact that Episode 16 is called How Your Mother Met Me. Will HIMYM let us see Ted and The Mother together a few episodes before the show ends? Oh, and finally, the series finale appears to be titled Daisy. Is that The Mother’s elusive name? Daisy Mosby?

Notes and quotes 
While driving through Chicago, Marshall tries to get Daphne to stop at Gazola’s, the pizza place that he and Ted once idolized. During the Season 5 episode Duel Citizenship, Marshall, Ted and Lily made it back to Gazola’s before the restaurant closed and got some pretty awful food poisoning from the pizza. Has Marshall forgotten that experience?

Also, Marshall’s poetic remembrance of Gazola’s pizza is the same way he remembered the best burger he ever ate during Season 4’s The Best Burger in New York.

I love that after Marshall folded during Barney’s poker game, Marshpillow was “fluffed and turned down.” Marshpillow was fluffed? Way to get that one by the CBS censors, HIMYM.

Ranjit is wearing a hat, which is actually a real website run by CBS. Led by “FOUNDER and CEbrO” Barney Stinson, is “the only site where you can play STRIP ONLINE POKER. Pull in chip stacks, while checking out racks!”

Ted describing his love of giving wedding presents: “I just love giving wedding gifts. I love giving wedding gifts so much, I wish I could marry giving wedding gifts, and then get myself and giving wedding gifts a wedding gift. Maybe saying things like that is why I’m not married.”

Marshall dropping hints that Ted owed him and Lily a wedding gift: “You were not wedding absent. No sir, you were wedding present.”

Ted during poker: “Call me Akira Yoshizawa … World’s most famous origamist? I fold.”

I find it hard to believe that Ted would buy Marshall and Lily a coffeemaker for their wedding. Shouldn’t he still be holding a grudge over the fact that Lily threw away Shocky?

Ted in his thank-you note to Marshall and Lily: “There’s one thing that didn’t leave me at the altar, and that’s my manners.”

Has anyone figured out the math behind Ted dressing up as a thank-you note for one Halloween? Didn't he dress up as a hanging chad every year in hopes of finding the Slutty Pumpkin again?

Barney breaking down his family dynamics: “James is my brother. But Robin let’s me do sex to her! But I have to spend eternity in my mom’s mausoleum!”

So Robin and Barney’s honeymoon will be to Belize, where Barney will get really tanned and come home with blond cornrows? After Robin’s trip to Argentina and subsequent dreads, I doubt that.

Robin describing how she can easily defeat the Stinsons in poker: “Whenever you’re bluffing you say the word bluff.”
James: “I’m hungry. Should we get some bluffalo wings? Raise you 20.”
Loretta: “When I walked in, I saw an all-you-could-eat bluffee. Raise 50.”
Barney: “Mmmmmm, I could use a bluffberry muffin. A blueberry bluffin. Sorry, a blue bluffy muffbluff. All in.”
'How I Met Your Mother' 'The Poker Game' Recap: All In for an Episode That Feels Like a Classic Reviewed by Bill Kuchman on 10/14/2013 Rating: 5

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