Lily celebrates her 32nd birthday with all of her best friends — plus one random girl that Ted decides to bring with him to Lily's party. This is particularly upsetting because Ted has a habit of bringing new girls to gatherings with the group. The girls always end up in the group photo, and years later, no one can remember their names. Is this new girl just another nameless bimbo, or will she have staying power?
Future Ted tells us that Lily has always loved her birthday. And she's lucky that she married Marshall, because he loves planning birthdays. On this, Lily's 32nd birthday, Marshall surprises her with breakfast in bed, a Spanish musician and pictures of northern Spain, all of which fit into his theme of "Spanish Interlude." He tells her about the special night he has planned: just the five friends at a black-tie dinner, and Ted is planning to pick up Lily's favorite pumpkin cognac cheesecake.
Except...not. Ted shows up at the party without the cake. Instead, he arrives with his new girlfriend — a chef named Amanda who, he says, is going to bake Lily's cake. Lily is less than thrilled. Amanda, through no fault of her own, makes birthday games like "Lilyval Pursuit" and "Gilding the Lily" (where everyone writes down their favorite things about Lily), well, kind of lame because she's never met Lily before. Obviously feeling a bit awkward, Amanda excuses herself to the kitchen to start on the cake.
Lily immediately jumps on the opportunity to take a group photo with her new camera (Marshall's birthday present to her). Ted offers to get Amanda, but Lily says he shouldn't bother her. Ted calls Lily out on the fact that she doesn't want Amanda in the group shot. "Of course not — I don't want another one of your dumb skanks to ruin my precious memories!" she snaps.
Lily tells Ted that he's always bringing random girls to important events. When Ted denies this, Lily drags out a photo album and forces Ted to take a trip down "Random Skank Lane." They look at photos of the five of them, plus a random date from Ted, from past Christmases, New Year's Eves, funerals, birthday parties and even surgeries. Ted can't remember any of their names.
Ted says that Lily is being a birthday brat. Lily counters by bringing up a trip to Paris when they were in college. She'd been studying abroad in Paris, and Marshall came to visit her — with Ted and his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Karen. Unfortunately, Ted and Karen broke up on the plane, leading to an uncomfortable plane ride for Marshall and a terrible Parisian vacation for everyone else. And there's photographic evidence of the terrible memories.
Ted concedes that Lily has a point, but that when you're single, you have to assume that every date could eventually be "the one." Lily tells him flat-out that she doesn't want any more random skanks in her group photos. Just then, Amanda comes out of the kitchen and asks if they have a cooling rack for the cake. (Marshall and Lily's condo must have the best sound insulation ever in between rooms.)
Robin sides with Lily, pointing out that close group gatherings are really awkward for a new date. Ted sees an opening and tells Lily that Robin, who is now Lily's best friend, started out as one of Ted's random skanks. Lily counters that Robin is the "skanky exception, not the skanky rule."
Ted says that he brings these girls to gatherings because he wants them to meet his friends, who are like his family. Lily argues that if they're like family, then the gatherings should be just them. She reminds Ted of another past girlfriend, a vegetarian hippie named Strawberry who threw red paint on a chef and yelled "Meat is murder!" when they were celebrating Marshall passing his bar exam.
Then, Amanda seals her own fate by bringing out the cake, which is absolutely beautiful, but says, "Happy 42nd birthday, Lori." Future Ted asks us if we remember Lily's "dead to me" look. Yup, we do. And we don't see it this time. Lily just laughs it off. But Marshall freaks out and kicks Amanda out of the condo. Pissed, Ted goes after her.
Of course, Amanda won't come back to the party because she thinks Ted's friends hate her. Ted asks Marshall to apologize to Amanda. Marshall says that Ted should be the one apologizing. After all, when Ted brings girls to intimate events, they start to think that Ted is really serious about them. And when things don't work out, Marshall is the one that ends up comforting them. We flash back to 2005, where a brokenhearted Natalie is sitting on Ted's couch, crying over their breakup, and Marshall comforts her. (You may remember Natalie from Season 1's "Return of the Shirt" episode. Ted had broken up with her via answering machine on her birthday, then tried to date her again a few years later and broke up with her again on her birthday. Unfortunately for Ted, she'd learned Krav Maga the second time around and gave him a heck of a beating.) Marshall tells Ted that over the years, he's become cynical and really bad at comforting Ted's girlfriends.
Ted turns the tables back on Lily, pointing out that the group photos are faked and staged. He reminds her that many of them were taken after arguments, but that Lily puts on a smile anyway like nothing had happened. Lily flips the page and finds a picture of herself, Ted and Marshall from college — their first photo together.
Ted gently reminds Lily of how that picture came to be: Originally, it was supposed to be a first roommate photo with just Ted and Marshall, but Lily came into the room just before the picture was taken. And Ted invited her to join them. "What if we break up?" Marshall asked. "What if you don't?" responded Ted. Awwwww.
Back in the present, Lily acknowledges how cool it was that Ted did that, considering she and Marshall had only been dating a few weeks. And of course, now she feels terrible about Amanda. She tells Ted to get Amanda back. "For all you know, she's the one," she says. Amanda comes back to the party and makes it into the group shot after all. However, when Ted and Lily look at the photo one year later, he can't remember her name.
In other news, apparently it's impossible for Barney to take a bad picture, while Marshall can't seem to keep his eyes open in photos. Robin spends the entire party trying to catch Barney in a bad photo, but fails every time. The camera loves him so much that it's willing to bend the laws of time and physics to make sure he looks good. But in the flash forward to Lily's next birthday, Robin finally catches Barney off-guard by forcing him to sneeze just as the camera goes off.
What did you guys think of this week's episode? I thought it was a solid episode — cute, and with plenty of fun callbacks, including Marshall's love of games, college Ted, and of course, Natalie. And was anyone else reminded of the first Slapsgiving, when Robin brought her new older boyfriend and Lily didn't want him in the photos, either? ("Oh look, there are the four people I love most in the world. And Bob.") What are your thoughts? Did you love it? Hate it? Somewhere in between? Start the discussion in comments!