Judging by the reactions on the internet, I’m clearly in the minority. There are people who think it’s the worst finale since Seinfeld. I don’t think it was.
HIMYM remains one of my favorite sitcoms, favorite shows, of all time. When it was on, it was clever, touching and funny. The Three Day Storm never leaves me with a dry eye, no matter how often I’ve seen it. The Robin Sparkles episodes kept getting funnier. I just adored it.
In crafting the finale, though, they set out a pretty herculean task. To make nine seasons of build up come to a satisfying conclusion. There, they didn’t do quite as well.
How I Met Your Mother tried to do the bold thing. They created a sitcom that tried to do things different. Characters didn’t always get the happy ending. Nothing turns out like you expect. Heck, the creators tried to make the gang sit at different tables at their bar until the realities of making a sitcom intruded and they needed to have a regular table.
Lily never became a successful artist. Marshall never became an environmental lawyer. And his father never lived to see his grandson. Ted and Barney were never the same after Barney started dating Robin. Things didn’t work out the way they were supposed to or the way they wanted to.
Tragedy was always part of the show. The Mother (yeah, I know her name is Tracy, but she’ll always be The Mother to me) lost her first true love early on. We already mentioned Marshall’s dad. Robin finding out she could never have kids, even when she didn’t want them, was heartbreaking. It was woven into the fabric of the show.
So, it feels organic to me that Ted’s story includes The Mother dying too young and leaving Ted alone. It’s not out of left field. They foreshadowed it this year and even last year in The Time Travelers episode where Ted gives an impassioned speech to an unseen Mother about how, if he had those forty days extra he’d want to spend them with her.
(Full disclosure: That’s when I figured out The Mother would die. I say this not to show off how smart I am, but because I know me well enough to think that part of why I liked the end was the satisfaction of being proven right. But seeing the bad coming, like the countdown when Marshall’s dad died, helps you prepare for it, too.)
But, while I liked where the show ended, I wasn’t thrilled with the last episode.
It reminded me of that one episode of Moonlighting where they run out of time and budget and Dave and Maddie wind up telling Whoopi Goldberg and Judd Nelson how the episode was supposed to end. The last hour was a series of vignettes that touch on the high points quickly, and as such it’s hard to get the true impact of them.
We’re left trying to intellectually fill in emotional gaps, and that’s always unsatisfying. I fully believe that Ted never looked back once he met The Mother. He never pined for Robin or wondered what could have been. When they met, she was his everything. But, one hour of seeing them as a couple isn’t enough to make feel that.
We spent nine years with the gang as they were, and no matter how good Cristin Milioti was, and believe me she was great, we’re just not going to love her the way we really needed to.
I’m okay with Ted winding up with Robin. I’ve heard that The Mother is the consolation prize until he can wind up with Robin, but that’s not so. If anything, Robin is the consolation prize to Ted for losing his true love. But true love, that’s the thing…
The show played with so many tropes, that I think it was also playing with the “There’s only one person for everyone.” There’s certainly a right person for everyone, but everyone doesn’t stay the same. There’s no way Ted and Robin would have ever worked as a couple. Ted wanted a family way too much. Robin wanted her career way too much. But neither the Ted nor Robin at the end of the show is the same one from the beginning of the show. They’ve achieved things and they’re different people.
Change has always been part of the show. Ted even says it to Robin during her moment of crisis before the wedding. “I’m not that guy anymore.” None of them are the same. Marshall realizes that environmental law isn’t where he wants to make a difference. Ted becomes a teacher to share his love of architecture. The Ted that meets The Mother is the one that would have been blissfully happy to stay with her forever. But because he loses her, he’s a different person.
There were things I didn’t like about the ending, most of them with Barney. It’s so obvious that Robin is his gateway to changing to be a different person that it’s painful to see him try to convince himself that he likes being the Old Barney through the last hour until the birth of his daughter. In fact, I would have preferred that he and Robin had never gotten married at all. It’s the biggest seam where I think they were finding new things to do when the series kept going.
I didn’t like Ted’s wedding, or lack thereof, either. He seems like too much a traditionalist to skip out on having a big ceremony. It’s okay that it wasn’t a big grand one (thought it probably should have been) but it served to make things feel small. I think they were trying to make the wedding the thing that brings Robin back, but there are other things they could have found to make that work.
I wanted to see more of what happened to The Mother. Her death was too quick. And from the construct, Ted probably doesn’t need to tell his kids what she died of, but we needed to know. We needed to feel Ted’s pain so it wasn’t an afterthought, or one we needed to intellectually fill in.
But there were lots of things I did like. I like that we found out about nearly everyone from the show, and that they went to the trouble of shooting images of everyone we’d seen in this season sitting in a pew watching the wedding. It made it feel like the moment it should have been.
Of course, that’s what part of the problem was. A year build up to a marriage that, ultimately, fails and becomes an obstacle. Meanwhile, Ted’s wedding is introduced and executed in a minute. I wanted to feel the same way about Ted and The Mother’s wedding as I did about Robin and Barney’s.
And the biggest thing I liked was that they executed the plan they had nine years ago. And it never occurred to me that the kids would participate in the story rather than just listen to it. They’re the ones who tell Ted that it’s okay to go after Robin. And they’re the ones who figure out what the story is really about. It’s not Ted trying to convince the kids as some people have said, and as I suspected it might be, it’s about the kids realizing what the story really means before Ted does.
The ending should have been bigger. It should have been longer. There are a lot of little things that I would have done differently. But their failing wasn’t the ending itself but how they chose to tell that ending.
It’s not everything I wanted, but I’m so happy I went on the journey that was How I Met Your Mother. No misstep at the end is going to take away my enjoyment and love of the show. For that, I give it the highest of high fives.