What do you do if you feel 40 minutes of a finale is touching, golden perfection, and three minutes of it are potentially the dealbreaker that might make people (not you, but people) swear off not just those first forty minutes but 208 episodes? (Oh heck yeah, you better believe I’m about to spoil some plot details.)
It’s a pretty apt encapsulation of a show that was similarly seen as sporadically brilliant, touched by greatness, but given to bouts of horrifying its fanbase, most often when the endgame came into play.
I feel like I’m actively processing this finale as I write. Often, when I sit down to write my thoughts on a movie, I’ve long ago decided where I stand on it, and have to make allowances from another point of a view, but on what we can now say is the total, overarching narrative of the Epic of Ted Moseby, I am of two minds. One cheers this. The other backs this.
I give the creators credit for not catering to our basest need to see a pure, uncomplicated happy ending. We didn’t need to pan left in 2030, and see the Mother beaming on the loveseat next to the kids’ sofa. Life isn’t always like that.
But I have to take major demerits for them taking what seemed to be a beautiful realization of a deeper, more eternal happiness, and twisting it into their own version of a happy ending. Life definitely isn’t like that.
I find myself wondering at which point I stopped buying in and potentially cashed out, especially since it all happened so fast, turning from adoration to confusion in the blink of an eye. If the show had faded to black as that train swipes in front of our newly-introduced couple, we’re talking about one of the best series-cappers of all time. And yet the vision of the show, its record in the history books from here to eternity, includes this epilogue that adds so much more – it closes up a complex mythology and puts a big tidy bow on it. A bow people will hate. An ugly, ugly bow. The Harry Potter epilogue is pretty despised, but it doesn’t fundamentally alter anything. As a matter of fact, it’s just a pretty lame assurance that, after the chaos, the status quo was maintained for many years. You can’t say the writers of HIMYM don’t go for broke in the last few minutes though, shattering the status quo. And it’s not that I mind the status quo being smashed.
Do I buy that Robin and Barney got divorced, for instance? Absolutely, and I don’t think it cheapens what they had, or that this whole season was about the weekend of their wedding. The show readily admitted that these two were sort of broken people who found solace in each other’s misanthropic presence, and I thought the episode handled the dissolution of that comfort soon after their nuptials pretty darn well.
Do I buy that Robin would grow apart from this group? Absolutely. I think this was the strongest thread in the episode, and it was surprising to see the show imply that it was only Robin who drifted. Wouldn’t they all drift? But Robin’s rant to Lily in that empty apartment was heartbreaking, the episode’s most honest moment, the moment that truly felt like the culmination of a show that was so much about growing up.
And growing older. So do I think that this notion that the mother – Tracy… her name is Tracy… – died after knowing Ted for ten years cheapens all this time (just about ten years) we’ve spent getting to know Ted on his quest for his one true love? No! No way. The moment I realized with everyone else that this might be the case, that the mother might die before 2030, I had the opposite reaction. I found the idea poetic, more than a little tragic. But also moving, in that Ted did have those ten years, and they were great and affirmed his ideals and made him a happier man, and that’s what mattered to him as he passed this tale on. Not everyone’s flavor in a Monday night sitcom, I get it, but it really struck me that the writers could make that all mean a lot, stuffing so much movement and life and loss and growing into one hour.
But, while they did make Ted’s interactions with the mother this wonderful, warm thing (give them credit where it’s due, they found a Mother worthy of Ted), her death, which in my vision of why this should work is a huge moment, is barely an afterthought – to them, to us, and to Ted’s kids, who dismiss it at the end of his story so easily. And that cheapens it. It’s that they seem so unmoved after (let’s be kind) what must have been a long day of soul-bareing from their father; if I’d just heard that story about Dad meeting Mom on the Farhampton train platform, well, no matter how much I thought Dad should hook up with Aunt Robin, I might keep that in for a bit and reverently respect the ending to the story of how Ted Moseby met my mom. I wouldn’t need to try to check my “Dad, you’ve been telling us this story for so long” snark; it wouldn’t exist. If my dad ended with that, I’d be a puddle. It’s that Ted’s kids were so out-of-tune with what had just been presented to them (almost as if they’d been talking years before Ted ever sat down and asked for their feedback, amiright?) that drove me batty after what I thought were forty minutes of divine excellence.
It’s not even that I disagree with them either. If I don’t think the show did us wrong by introducing the death into the narrative, don’t think Barney and Robin made sense as lifelong partners, and definitely don’t want to see Ted Moseby pine after a memory for the rest of his life or Robin regret her decision to pass on Ted for the rest of hers, then I should be the one trumpeting (french horning?) the brilliance of that ending. And there is something awe-inspiring about seeing Ted holding the blue french horn aloft as Robin cries from her window, no doubt. There is a full-circle, epic grandiosity to it that romantic comedies across time aspire to. On its own, it sings. If Ted had decided to go there of his own accord, inspired after all that soul-cleansing storytelling, I might have bought it. It’s the kids flippancy that throws me. It’s unfair to flay a scene that was written and filmed over a half-decade ago, I suppose, and even more unfair to criticize teenage actors who are now no longer teenagers. But the showrunners had years to decide not to use that material, and ample opportunities to come up with something… anything… else! And they didn’t.
They went with ending their series on a scene that can best be described as tone-deaf, that is shot clumsily, that is all about gimmickry (look what we did all this time ago!) and that erases so much goodwill. So can we erase it? I appreciate the vision of Craig Thomas and Carter Bays too much to advocate ignoring the ending they not only opted to use but clearly designed years of writing to conform to (a move that Sepinwall effectively murders in his piece, and for good reason) outright, and yet I couldn’t blame anyone reading just this last sentence if they took my final verdict as an admonition and acted on it: I was happier with How I Met Your Mother as a whole when that train wiped a smiling, deeply-in-love Ted and Tracy from view (yes, even though I knew what would become of her in 2024), and part of me wishes even now that I’d confused that for the ending, flipped off my TV, and drifted off to sleep dreaming of yellow umbrellas and the eternal promise of the one.