"How I Met Your Mother" has begun its ninth and final season. A quick review of the premiere coming up just as soon as I want the Kennedy package...

There are a number of annoying little things, and a few big ones, sprinkled throughout these two episodes, but they get the biggest thing of all absolutely right: the Mother.

After this many years and this many Future Ted references to how his wife completed him, fixed his life, changed his worldview, etc., it would seem nearly impossible for any actress, let alone someone most of the audience has never seen before, live up to that idealized image. But so far, Cristin Milioti comes awfully close. Her scenes with Lily on the train in "The Locket" were the highlight of that episode, the one part I found myself consistently chuckling at as the two similar-looking strangers bonded and shared homemade cookies ("Somebitches!"). She had instant chemistry with Alyson Hannigan and seemed like someone I could imagine being part of the gang.

But what really sold the premiere was Milioti's appearance at the end of the second episode, "Coming Back," the kind of sentimental bending of time and space "HIMYM" used to do so well but hasn't as much of late. At one table, we have Ted Mosby in the spring of 2013, alone and miserable and hoping his life will get better, and right next to him we have the 2014 version of the woman we know he's praying for, and next to her is the Ted of 2014, recalling the sad bastard moment (scored to Billy Joel's "Souvenir") we're witnessing. Not only does it definitively answer the question of whether we would see Ted and the Mother together before the end of the series(*), but it's a reward for all of us who've been waiting so long to see them together, and it's just a very lovely scene, well-written and acted.

(*) Bays and Thomas spent the summer explaining that the idea of the entire season taking place at the wedding weekend was overstated. Some episodes (like both of these) will be set largely during the weekend, while others will use it as a framing device to tell stories from the gang's past or future. We'll see how the ultimate execution is, but the idea sounds cool, and gives the creative team an excuse to show us a lot of Ted/Mother scenes without undermining their desire for the series to end with the actual meeting.

The rest of it? Meh. I remain ambivalent-to-negative on Robin and Barney as a couple at this point, but the return of Wayne Brady as James — the first of many character reunions we've been promised — was interesting, given what's happening to him now. And Marshall's travel wackiness was pitched at the same super-broad level the show's been at for a while.

At this point, I'm not expecting big laughs from this final season. I'm just hoping for some good character moments, some fun glimpses into the past (particularly what the Mother was up to over the course of the series) and future (particularly more of Ted/Mother), and a sense of the sweetness and humanity that the show had mostly lost in its later years. On that level, "The Locket" and "Coming Back" was an encouraging start.

What did everybody else think?