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As How I Met Your Mother winds its way towards the final episode of its gimmicky final season, set entirely at Barney and Robin’s wedding weekend where Ted finally met the goddamn Mother, long-time watchers have waited with trepidation for the show to pull the rug out from our feet one final time. After all, this is the show that set up Robin as the titular character in the pilot before sucker-punching us with a final-minute twist that she’s not the woman Ted ends up with.

Well, last night’s “Vesuvius” landed another sucker punch, pointing the show towards a big dark bummer of a series finale, when it suggested that the still-unnamed Mother (Cristin Milioti), who we’ve been glimpsing in flash-forwards talking with Future Ted all season, is dying of something or other and maybe isn’t even around by the time her kids are teenagers and their old dad (voiced by Bob Saget) sits them down to bore them with stories about his life.

If that’s really what the show is pointing towards, the implications are somewhat staggering. Has Ted been eulogizing his dead wife to their kids this whole time? If so, he sure spent a lot of time (eight and a half seasons or so) on his single life before he even got to the stuff they’d want to hear. Considering all the sexy antics he’s essayed, the twist doesn’t make a ton of sense in the grand formula of the show.

But this is exactly the kind of move the show’s creators, Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, have pulled time and time again over the years. After an airy 20 minutes where Ted tells the Mother about Barney trying on suits and Robin breaking a lamp with a hockey puck, there’s a sweet moment where Robin is genuinely surprised by the appearance of her mother (played by Tracey Ullman). “Is that really such a surprise?” the Mother asks, in the show’s typical meta-commentary fashion. “I mean, come on. Of course she showed up. What mother is going to miss her daughter’s wedding?”

Then Ted starts crying, then she starts crying. Oh, dear God. There’s only three episodes left of this show, ever—is the finale going to be the most devastating sitcom finale since, I dunno, M*A*S*H? If so, it’s going to be an incredibly difficult landing to stick for Bays and Thomas, who have always leaned too hard on extreme pathos, like when we found out that Robin was unable to have children. The show has always walked a thin line between treacly sap for the sake of sap and genuine, realistic emotion (the arc about Marshall’s dad dying tended towards the latter). Let’s hope they don’t veer off into total misery porn just to cap the show off. Even considering its weaker later seasons, How I Met Your Mother has always been a show pointing to a grand series finale. It deserves to go out strong.

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