*Fair warnings: this post will contain spoilers, and it’s a long one, so fasten your seatbelts.
So, let’s talk about that How I Met Your Mother finale. Let’s talk about how it is possible to undermine in less than 60 minutes nine years of character development and hard work on the part of the writers, cast, and crew of a beloved television show. Yeah. Let’s just talk about that.
I’ll start off with a brief summary of the final hour. After an entire season focused on the few days building up to the wedding of Barney and Robin, the finale ripped the rug out from under the fans of the show and yelled “PSYCH!” when it announced that they simply get divorced three years later. Robin then proceeds to disappear almost completely, until conveniently reappearing for a little goodbye session the night Ted and The Mother finally get married, and then the reveal that it’s actually her this entire show has actually been about. That’s right. Turns out, The Mother, who finally gets a name, Tracy, apparently dies, and when Ted finally finishes the story that makes up the whole narrative of the show, his kids tell him that the story was actually all about how he loves Robin. They proceed to encourage him to go get his “happily ever after” (quotes mine) with the “one that got away” (quotes also mine; can you sense the irritation?)
The writers of the show knew this ending from the very beginning.
Okay. I get that life is not perfect. I get that the show is often not only about creating laughs, but also about depicting the reality of life, which is frustrating, doesn’t often make sense, and doesn’t always end well. But this is a sitcom we’re talking about. People do not watch sitcoms for a daily dose of reality. They do not watch sitcoms for nine years, in anticipation of one event that is built to be the most momentous of one main character’s life, only to have their anticipations completely dashed.
The thing is, I could probably buy most of what happened as a plausible plot twist to the show. I could buy that Barney and Robin get divorced. I could buy that Robin loses touch with everyone. I could buy that The Mother dies, and that is why Ted is telling this story to his kids in the first place. I could even buy that after The Mother dies, Ted and Robin ultimately end up back together. But in one episode? After nine years’ worth of episodes? After one entire season that is completely focused on Barney and Robin getting married and the final moments before Ted meets the true love of his life and the mother of his children? That is where I take big issue.
I take issue with the fact that Barney falls back into a flat character for the last episode, after nine years of being built into a true, well-rounded character with redeeming qualities. I take issue with the fact that his ultimate redemption comes in the package of a baby girl from a one-night stand, twenty viewing minutes post-Robin split. I take issue with the fact that The Mother’s death merited only a few half-hearted seconds of screen time after Ted talked about her being the true love of his life for nine years, while his reunion with Robin merited the last several minutes.
I feel like this was a classic case of writers of a show writing themselves into a narrative trap. They filmed the ending of the show at the same time they filmed the beginning. They thought they knew where they were going, and probably figured the moral of the show is that it’s about the journey. While that’s true, the ending to a narrative journey must be still complementary. Things happen when you write the middle that you just can’t anticipate, and that’s a beautiful thing. But it also means that sometimes you have to adjust the ending so as not to negate everything you worked on writing.
Let me just say—I am a writer. I get it. I have written stories myself where I just knew how I wanted to end them. And sometimes, it works. But it doesn’t always work. There was one story I wrote that stemmed entirely from an idea I had for how to end a story. And you know what? I brought the completed work into a writer’s workshop, excited to share in what I thought was a most satisfying ending, and they told me that they couldn’t buy it. They wanted me to change the end. And with some added perspective, I could see why.
When you take so much time to develop characters, as the writers of HIMYM have done, you have to do them justice when the time comes to wrap it all up. You can’t rush it. You can’t undo already-tied ends only to tie them in a different way. It’s impossible to see all the plot twists that you’ll come up with in the coming years from the very beginning, so you really can’t see exactly how to go about the ending. But Craig Thomas and Carter Bays had already filmed their ending—so what were they to do?
For starters, they could have better built up to this ending they envisioned. That is where the real disappointment stems from. So the mother is a plot device; fine. Still, give her the proper amount of screen time with Ted to satisfy the fans who have been waiting so long for them to get together. Give him the proper amount of screen time to feel his pain in her loss—throw in a few flashbacks from the show, I don’t know. Make these nine years of the viewers’ time worth it.
And furthermore—so Robin has to be Ted’s final love; fine. I still can’t really buy it—they didn’t work out the first, second, or third times for a reason—but maybe that’s just me. Still. Her divorce from Barney should merit much more attention, especially given the fact that Barney completely changed for the better because of his love for her over the span of nine years, and even more especially given the fact that an entire season was dedicated to their wedding. Why so much time on a wedding? viewers wondered all throughout the final season. It must be leading up to something. Well, in a way, I guess…but it’s mostly an unjustified amount of focus. PLUS, I think just the fact that so much time was spent illustrating Robin’s distance from the group for several years undermined the writers’ hope that viewers wouldn’t be too skeptical of her reunion with Ted. Aunt Robin? When did she go from being called “the bus lady” to Aunt Robin? I’m just not buying it.
Now, I know you can never please everyone. And I’m the cheesy romantic who cried her heart out when Rachel got off the plane in the Friends finale, and would have liked to have seen gray-haired Lily and Marshall, Barney and Robin, and Ted and Tracy hanging out on a porch together. But I would have been able to understand better the need for Ted’s wife to pass away, along with all the other listed plot twists, if they were given the respect they deserved. Cristin Milioti played the perfect Mother, the perfect woman for Ted, and to treat her character in the end as a total plot device is just a cheap trick. (If anything, I had begun conceiving the kids themselves as the plot device, and wouldn’t have minded if we didn’t get to see them again in the finale at all. But maybe that’s just me.)
I sympathize with the writers of the show. I understand their devotion for all of these years to lead up to this final big moment. I admire their dedication to their vision. But it’s incomplete. They went too fast. Instead of leaving the show off with the feeling of satisfaction in that all the ends are tied, if not perfectly, at least as neatly as life will allow, it leaves viewers like me with the bad taste of an ending that could have gone so much better with the proper execution. The poignancy that normally tugs at my heartstrings in this show was just not there, and that is what I am truly sad about knowing that now it’s over.
Thanks for bearing with me there–emotions have been running a little high around here, and I needed to get some of this out. Anything you want to add?