My Reaction to the How I Met Your Mother Finale

I wasn’t planning writing a blog about the HIMYM finale, but the reaction to it has compelled me to do so.People seem to hate it, as though a bad finale means that they have personally been insulted. I get that reaction. Unlike a film, a TV show traditionally requires years of following to get to the conclusion. And TV shows more than films depend on their mass audience. So when the finale is bad, the fans of that show feel a level of anger that I don’t think is felt anywhere else. Go ask a Seinfeld viewer what he or she thinks about the giant middle finger they received when they tuned in to watch their favorite characters go to jail for being awful people. Or the Sopranos fan, still mad that the show stopped in the middle of a sce.

I’m getting that same feeling from HIMYM fans. But I disagree with it. I really enjoyed the final episode and thought it was the perfect send off the characters. Yes, the episode was flawed. Yes, there were some jarring shifts that could have been solved with another rewrite. But it was an effective episode to showcase why many people loved the show.

WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS follow for those five of you who care but still haven’t seen the episode yet.

All of season nine told the story of the 24 hours before Barney and Robin’s wedding. That plot was resolved in the previous episode. The last episode showed the time leading up to Ted telling the kids his story – all nine years were told in flashback with the kids sitting with incredible patience on the couch. In those years were divorces (Barney and Robbin were split up in twenty minutes or so) marriages (Ted and Tracy, the titular mother) and children being born (Ted’s kids, Marshall and Lily’s third child, and Barney’s illegitimate daughter that made him swear off his womanizing ways).

It is true that all of this felt rushed. We didn’t feel the years needed to pass in order for these characters to grow the way we saw. That is a flaw. What is NOT a flaw is the fact that they changed. And their actions matched their characters. Barney and Robin had both been unstable and quite immature throughout the show. There were several hints that the marriage wouldn’t work, from Robin’s mother to Barney’s elaborate plans that showed he hadn’t changed completely. To see them finally change and move on was necessary, even if that meant getting a divorce. And if it made people uncomfortable and upset, well, so do divorces in real life. That reaction shows that audiences were invested in these characters. Was it odd that something the entire season had been building up to a wedding that was suddenly rendered moot? Yes, but it was not unbelievable and it was an important part of Barney and Robin’s character arcs.

I’ll address the other main point of controversy in a moment, but I want to take some time to reflect on aspects of the episode I felt were very well done. First, Barney’s arc was everything it needed to be. He finally found the “love of his life” in the child he had always sworn he didn’t want. Before that, he was forever stuck as a teenager, a manipulative sex addict who was so charismatic no one noticed his flaws. Even the announcement of Ted and Tracy’s pregnancy still lead to a boob job joke from Barney. But when he held his child, there was the same sense of growth that would happen with any decent human being. Barney even uses the same lines he had previously laughed at with his friends. Barney never really becomes progressive (note the scene where he chastises women he feels are dressed too provocatively) but at least he’s moving on with his life and realizing there’s more than loose sex.

There were fantastic callbacks to previous episodes that make series finales.  (The hanging chad costume was my favorite, especially when Tracy joined Ted with a Gore/Lieberman sweatshirt.) And it still managed to find new challenges for the characters. Yes, Robin broke away from the gang, but her reasoning at least made sense. Sometimes, to paraphrase Robin, people just drift apart. It doesn’t have to be sad. That’s the sort of simple but poignant observation that drew viewers to the show when it premiered.

Even the mother’s death was handled well. When telling that story, there was a sense of loss from Ted as he remembered why he had fallen in love with her. I don’t have the video to his narration but find it and watch it if you get a chance. Some complained that there was no sense of mourning, but from Ted’s timeline, his wife had died six years ago. It’s realistic that he would remember her fondly and be sad, but he shouldn’t be crippled by grief.  And it was a twist that had been hinted at throughout the entire series:

OK, I’ve been avoiding it. It’s time to talk about the scene that riled everyone.

 

MASSIVE, MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD:

Now, from what I’ve heard, this ending had been filmed back in season 2 so the kids would be the same age no matter how long the show lasted. This approach was simultaneously smart and dumb. It was smart because it allowed for an unusual amount of foreshadowing that kept people paying attention. It was dumb because everyone was trapped into a corner from the beginning. No matter how the characters evolved, they would eventually have to come back to this moment that had been written long before the show ended. It was impossible to predict what sort of evolution and plot would have to be sacrificed or be addressed. To make any ending work, How I Met Your Mother would need to address that. Maybe it could have been better.

But writing is not based on the desires of the masses and the ending we saw is the ending that Carter Bays and Craig Thomas wanted to give us. So the question becomes – does it work? I think so. For one, How I Met Your Mother is a show that is ultimately about personal growth. Ted as a character had often existed outside of his own stories. Things were happening to him. He didn’t make things happen. That’s why it took him so long to meet Tracy – he thought the universe would just hand her to him. It doesn’t work that way and that finale scene shows Ted figuring that out. He needs to be the master of his own destiny. Also, his new relationship with Robin does nothing to diminish the relationship he had with Tracy. Actually, the scene reveals how important the mother was to Ted. She was the one who revealed how he couldn’t just sit by and wait for things to happen. He had to go out and make them happen. Even his kids were a reminder of that; they were the ones pushing him to call Robin. And it concludes the story that began in the pilot, in which Robin was the object of Ted’s desire. In the end, Ted got the girl in more ways than one.

Any fictional work has to show development in its characters. Ted, in those final moments, matured more than anyone else on the show. Maybe Robin and his relationship won’t last. Maybe it’s a mistake. That’s not important. What is important is that Ted finally took control of his life.

How I Met Your Mother was a rarity for this age. It was a traditional sitcom that ignored many new techniques. It kept the laugh track, it was four cameras, and the characters could have been placed in any number of ’90s sitcoms with no revisions. But it was too charming to be ignored and too poignant to be considered dumb. It’s fair to criticize the ending to any show. But, in the grand scheme, that’s just an hour out of a multi-year run. Even if you hated the ending, think of all the fun times you had on the ride and how it feels that the ride is over.

I, for one, will miss it.

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