A review of tonight's "How I Met Your Mother" finale coming up just as soon as I'm the crazy speakerphone judge...

Well, I'll be darned.

The Mother.

On my TV set.

In a very clear shot.

Looking like this.

The actress, by the way, is Cristin Milioti. She is primarily a theater actress (she's the lead in "Once"), but has done a bit of TV (she played the faux-Sarah Silverman in the "TGS Hates Women" episode of "30 Rock").

More interestingly, though, she is not a name. She is not Sarah Chalke, or Rachel Bilson, or Jennifer Morrison, or any of the other would-be Mothers the show has teased us with in seasons past. My assumption — and all we can do is assume, as I'm told that Bays and Thomas aren't talking tonight (but there will be a quote from them in the morning that I'll plug in here) — is that they went with a relative unknown (for TV) for three reasons: 1)To keep a lid on the usual casting news mania that blows up around any part like this; 2)Because she and Josh Radnor tested well together (which shouldn't be too hard, actually; Radnor's greatest strength through eight seasons of "HIMYM" is how well he works with Ted's love interests, so long as they're written even slightly sympathetically); and 3)So that we would have no preconceived notions about the Mother. We didn't spend years watching her on "Scrubs," or "The O.C." or even a few months on "Good Morning, Miami." She is a blank slate, onto whom the show and its audience can project whatever qualities we feel should be in Ted Mosby's ideal woman, without insisting that Elliott Reed or Summer Roberts or Chris Elliott's daughter would act that way, play bass that way, etc. She is the Mother; she has put on this world to cross Ted Mosby's path on the night of his best friend's wedding and make him forget all about Robin Scherbatzky and a move to Chicago. Earlier knowledge of her is not required and maybe not even preferred.

And if I'm spending this much time speculating on a character whose face we see for only a few seconds, it's because up until the Mother walks up in those cool boots that Lily predicted she would borrow one day, "Something New" was representative of a lot of the cartoonish, obnoxious, unlikable comedy that's typified so much of season 8.

Casey Wilson's appearance as Krirsten, for instance, only reminded me of how much better "Happy Endings" wrote for her than anyone has before, and Keegan Michael Key's role as her fella only made me want to cue up the Liam Neesons sketch, and yet as awful as both those characters were, I wound up sympathizing with them because the show had so thoroughly turned me against Robin and Barney this year. Marshall not telling his mother about Italy was dumb, even if it was trying to set up a more heartfelt moment later where he used the same "face to face" line about telling Lily about his judgeship offer. And that conflict isn't really a fair one, because we know the show needs them to stay in New York for the final season.

But seeing this woman at least fills me with hope that things could be even a little better next year. Bays and Thomas didn't close this season with a shot of her boots, or her shoulders, or something else non-descript. They showed us her face, which means they're done playing games with who the Mother is, and roughly how long before she and Ted cross paths. I still wouldn't be surprised if the final season takes a few episodes to get through the wedding and to the moment where Ted sees her on the bandstand (or earlier), but I feel like it's less likely now that we know who the actress is and the creative team no longer has to lean on mystery the way they have for eight years.(*)

UPDATE: (*) Of course, that hasn't stopped people in the comments and on Twitter from speculating that most or all of the final season will occupy the 56 hours between now and the wedding. Given the way the show has played things for years, I do not blame you for thinking that way and will be cursing the heavens if it becomes clear that's how the final season is going to roll out. So I'm either being a wildly naive optimist or simply refusing to believe that Bays and Thomas would be that self-destructive in the final season to be afraid to put Ted and the Mother (whom we can now identify) in a scene together before the very end.

It's perhaps a sign of how much "HIMYM" has withheld from us for how long that I'm this optimistic, after a season I mostly disliked, by barely more than a snapshot of an actress I barely recognized. But this was, like the title of the episode says, "Something New." This was her. And that's not enough to solve a lot of the problems "HIMYM" has suffered from the past few years. But maybe it's enough for the show to finally move forward into its final season. No more secrets. No more games. Ted meets the woman of his dreams, gets to be the charming, romantic guy we liked way back when, and we sail into the sunset, maybe with another Shins song (after the fine use of "Simple Song" here).

 

ANOTHER UPDATE: For those who missed it, or want to watch it again, here's the scene:

 


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What did everybody else think? Would you rather they went for a big name to play the Mother? Was the brief glimpse of her here enough to satisfy you? Is there anyone who feels like they can cut the cord now that they've seen her, even if Ted hasn't?