How I Met Your Mother accomplished a great deal over the course of its nine season run. It honestly depicted the ebbs and flows of friendship, the painful process of adapting to new stages of life, and the generally turbulent time of your late-twenties and early-thirties. It was never perfect, but it did set incredibly ambitious parameters for a traditional comedy series, unafraid of the dramatic detours that this story yielded. It assembled a phenomenal gallery of characters and allowed its talented cast to imbue them with a wonderful complexity. In short, it did a considerable amount right.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure that its final episode is one of those things. Look, let’s be clear right off the bat: I didn’t hate it. It’s not going to taint my affection for this show. In fact, moment to moment, I quite liked parts of it. I laughed. I choked up. I reminisced. In other words, How I Met Your Mother hit the broader notes of any serviceable finale, and I think–truly and deeply–that Thomas and Bays believe they put together a finale they thought their audience wanted to see. Their intentions were admirable, and that’s got to count for something.
But here’s the thing. The How I Met Your Mother that debuted in 2005 was not the same How I Met Your Mother that signed off for good on Sunday night. Like its characters, the damn thing changed. It evolved. So, yes, Ted and Robin seemed destined for one another back in the day; but, just last week, Ted admitted that he didn’t love Robin as he once did. And I bought it. Ted bought it. So why did Bays and Thomas force the issue of Robin and Ted together in the end? Why jam a round peg into a square hole? The series came full circle when a salt-and-pepper haired Ted raised that blue French horn aloft as Robin peered down from her window, but I’m not sure it should have.
On the one hand, I understand the impulse to address the lingering intimacy between Ted and Robin after all these years. However, I found myself far more satisfied with Ted’s realization last week that he no longer reciprocated her feelings. That felt like growth, an acceptance of the fact that he loved and would always love Robin, just not in a romantic sense. I liked that. But the implication that he would end up with Robin? I’m up in the air. I certainly don’t love it but nor do I vehemently hate it. Mostly, it feels like Thomas and Bays forcing the issue, hung up on the How I Met Your Mother of old when many of us, including Ted, had moved on. And who could blame him? The version of Robin he ostensibly ends up with is very much a self-involved mess.
Unlike some, I’m not angry that the Mother died. Most of us suspected as much at this point, and her sickness and death did not in any way blunt the connection she shared with Ted. In a way, it spoke very powerfully on the idea that love can be both all-consuming and terribly brief. It reminded us how important it is to immerse ourselves in love when we encounter it because, like Tracy, we never know its lifespan. Cristin Milioti was wonderfully charming, and I wish we’d grown to know her better than we did–there was a sad richness to her character that I feel we only had the opportunity to explore partially–but having her die at least provided a logical framework to the overarching narrative. Plus, it gave their story a sense of beautiful tragedy.
At this point, you could classify my reaction to the finale as staunchly ambivalent. However, one thing I strongly disliked (despite its inevitability): the dissolution of Barney’s and Robin’s marriage after a paltry three years. Look, it makes sense–I suppose–that their relationship could not and would not endure. We expect as much of the older versions of these two characters. But, dammit, we had more bizarre character retconning! This season (this sometimes drawn-out season) worked overtime to convince us again and again that Barney was a changed man. In fact, more than half of this season’s installments concluded with the sole purpose of reinforcing that idea. So what the hell, show? Not only did you undermine your own character development** because you just had to have Robin and Ted end up together, but you also rendered the last season’s containment at the Farhampton Inn virtually moot. Yeah, yeah. Ted met Tracy at their wedding. But if the goal was to split Robin and Barney up anyway, why spend SO LONG on the weekend of their doomed marriage? Ugh.
**After the wonderfully touching way Barney disposed of the Playbook last year, he makes a second one after his divorce? That, most of all, felt less like a callback than a slap in the face, a final slap bet of sorts.
Fortunately, Barney’s send-off felt appropriate. After convincing the gang that he was not the kind of guy to fall in love with a girl and devote his life to her, it felt perfect that he instantly did just that with his newborn daughter. Sure, he might have wound up an unwitting father after impregnating the thirty-first woman in as many days, but ending Barney Stinson’s womanizing in this way worked very well. Of course fatherhood would have him reevaluate his treatment of women as mere objects. Plus, the scene of him holding his daughter and vowing his love to her was some of Neil Patrick Harris’s finest work on the show and served to remind how effortless he made it look taking a character that should have been a caricature and transforming him into a lovable goof. That, at least, the finale did very very right.
That leaves Marshall and Lily. Over the years, flashforwards provided us with considerable clues about their future lives, and their story very simply filled in those blanks. So yes, Marshall becomes Judge Fudge and eventually Fudge Supreme. They have three kids. Lily sports an unfortunate bangs situation. Marshall will never relinquish his love for puns and/or Sasquatch. As the series’ most stable characters, Marshall and Lily neither shocked nor surprised us with where they ended up in the finale. I’d like to imagine them high-fiving without looking well into their golden years.
I say let’s chalk it up to a mixed bag. Wrapping up long-running comedy shows is difficult, and Thomas and Bays had their hearts in the right place. Unfortunately, that also led them to reroute the narrative of How I Met Your Mother rather than to follow it to its more organic conclusion. And I’ll conclude with this: Ted ending up with Robin is not my favorite, but it does posit an interesting growth for Teddy Westside. As the man who romanticized love to unattainable heights, it’s sort of neat to see a different Ted by the end, a man who has experienced true, honest love and all of its unromantic and painful facets. He loved Tracy deeply, and nothing can take away from that; however, he also loves Robin. There isn’t truly a “one” for Ted as he insisted all along. In loving both women, the journey of Ted Mosby, Architect proved more grounded, realistic, and–ultimately–sad: love cannot save a life, but it can create a new one.
You know what? I’ll buy that.