HIMYM's wedding weekend soldiered on in "The Poker Game," as Marshall and Daphne reached Chicago. (They must be haulin' ass in that Monstrosity, coming all the way from Minnesota.) Among this episode's several humorous bits, Marshall's lavish description of Gazzola's pizza was one of the funniest (and reminiscent of his Season 4 speech on the best burger in New York). But Marshall's whimsy was quickly diminished once he learned that Ted had gotten Barney and Robin not one, but three wedding presents.
For me, this storyline felt the most like a classic How I Met Your Mother dilemma, using multiple flashbacks to paint a larger picture. The two sides of Ted and Marshall's dispute made for some amusing interplay about wedding presents and thank-you notes, both over the phone and via flashback; for example, I chuckled at their respective Halloween costumes (anyone else spot Katie Holmes as the Slutty Pumpkin?), as well as their family sayings, "Lick it before you stick it," and "Wrap it before you tap it" -- because, hey, what's a little innuendo between friends? ("I think he got it." "Yeah, he got it.") I also thought it was a nice touch having Marshall get his revenge at Ted's wedding by getting him a wrapping station, along with Ted sending a heavy-handed thank-you note in return.
Adding Stuart and Claudia to the mix this week was also fun, as Stuart flat-out lied to Lily about the coffeemaker years prior, then later fessed up to it in Farhampton. ("That's not Claudia, goodnight.") The resolution also seemed fitting, with Ted sending Marshall the Gazzola's pizza he'd so desperately craved at the start of the episode.
Meanwhile, the titular poker game was kind of a bust, introducing a needless conflict among Barney, Robin, James and Barney's mother Loretta (again played by Frances Conroy). The idea of Robin and James playing for their wedding rings was interesting -- especially since James so boastfully assured Robin that he didn't need his -- but bringing Loretta into it seemed like an unnatural way of pitting her against Robin.
Barney's loyalty struggle was the stronger aspect of this storyline, and I liked that he eventually sided with Robin; but the fact that he took it a step further by telling Loretta and James that they were "dead to him" and that it "came directly from Robin" seemed pointless, and slightly duplicitous to Robin. I suppose that was just the creators' way of setting up a bitter rivalry between Robin and Loretta in the next episode, but to me, it was a pretty clunky execution... and now they're "at war," I guess. Overall, this storyline was lacking, both narratively and comedically (although I did laugh at Barney breaking the pot).
In general, these last few episodes have included several entertaining storylines, but I do think they've been held back by this season's timetable. "The Poker Game" made liberal use of flashbacks this week, which definitely helped the episode from stagnating. Still, I can't help but feel like we're moseying through this wedding weekend at a snail's pace. Hopefully we'll begin to see more from Cristin Milioti in the next few installments, because the current group dynamic here is starting to ware thin.