There are half a dozen potential reviews I could write for the How I Met Your Mother finale. The first and more emotional version may be best described as a furious outpouring of rage-induced gifs, accompanied by sentences in all caps as I text every television fan I know screaming “WHAT THE F*CKITY F*CK F*CKSH*T WAS THAT?”
The second version in my draft box is a cold, emotionless recital of events wherein I just close my eyes and type, begging my brain not to attach any greater meaning. Then there’s version where I confidently explain how this was all an April Fool’s joke. Spoiler: as it is now April 2nd with no revisions, I must unfortunately conclude that it was not.
The list goes on, but it’s about time I stop Tedding out over the whole thing and get to the point. So here’s what happened, plain and simple:
* After the wedding, Ted is encouraged by a nosy woman to introduce himself to the pretty bass player he’d seen all night: the mother of his future children.
* In a time jump of three years, we learn that Barney and Robin have gotten divorced. Her job traveling was too much for him, and their marriage was no longer worth fighting for.
* Marshall goes back to corporate law and hates it, but he eventually becomes a judge. We never find out what happened to Lily’s job as a curator, but she does have two more children.
* The Mother has joined their friend group, but she and Ted don’t get married immediately, despite having kids. They are happy and in love.
* After the divorce, Barney goes back to preying on women and running ridiculous schemes for sexual gratification. He makes a new Playbook, and at one point sleeps with 31 women in 31 days: “the perfect month.” When his friends ask him why he is doing this, he says this is his true self and they should let him be.
* Over the years Robin becomes more famous, and also increasingly distant from the group. She brings one-time best friend Lily to tears when she says it’s too hard to hang out with the gang because she wishes she had married Ted, and now he’s happy and she can’t bear to watch it.
* The unnamed woman “31” who was Barney’s last conquest gets pregnant. His daughter is born, and in an instant Barney declares that she is the love of his life. He immediately starts chastising young women for going to bars in provocative clothing in a bizarre rail against his own past behavior.
* We flash back to the day of Robin and Barney’s wedding, and finally see Ted meet the mother. We learn her name (Tracy) and the characters almost simultaneously realize how close their paths have come to crossing in the last nine years. Thanks to superb chemistry and guess acting, this is the best moment of the finale.
* After that, we see Tracy and Ted in various instances, including getting married eventually. In the voice over we are told that Ted and Tracy were happy until Tracy got sick. We see one moment of her in a hospital bed, but no funeral, then jump the last leap in time to 2030.
* Here we are at the segment with the teenage kids that was prerecorded 8 years ago. As Ted is talking to his kids and finishing up the story, they interrupt him in cheerful disbelief to say that obviously this story wasn’t about their mom: it’s about how he’s in love with Aunt Robin.
* Ted makes disbelieving noises, but the kids laugh it off and urge him to ask Robin out. They point out that it’s been six years (since Tracy presumably died) and that it’s time. Confidence boosted, Ted pulls a blue French horn from somewhere, runs down the street to Robin’s apartment, where she once again is living alone with six dogs and her successful career. Remember, she also has no friends anymore, so why the kids even know who ‘Aunt Robin’ is remains a mystery. She also appears to be conveniently single, despite dating more regularly and successfully than anyone else in the group. When Ted summons her Robin leans out the window, sees him standing with the horn from the first date, and smiles.
That’s a lot to take in, but if you’re confused I have a simple solution: rewatch the pilot, then close your eyes, spin three times in a circle, tap your heels and say, “The next nine years don’t exist. The next nine years don’t exist. The next nine years don’t exist!” When you’ve convinced yourself this is true, open your eyes again and be happy. Ted and Robin are together. Yay.
If, however, you’re a person with a heart beating in your ribcage and two eyes in your head, this might be a touch difficult. You may even find yourself with troubling questions:
- Why did we learn Tracy’s name only minutes before she was killed off-screen, no funeral, no sense of grief from the children, and no time for the audience to mourn?
- Since when does Robin “love” Ted enough to give up her friends of a decade, resent his marriage to The Mother, and turn into a cold, loveless robot?
- Whose terrible idea was it to undo years of Barney’s character growth, his changing life goals, the discovery of his own self-worth and capacity for love, just to have him behaving as if he were the repellent person from season 1 again… all for visual gags that were the opposite of funny?
- Why did Marshall and Lily have nothing to do the whole hour? Does Lily even still work in the art world?
- What was the point of spending a whole season at Barney and Robin’s wedding, only to break them up 20 minutes later for a reason that plagued Ted and Robin’s relationship, but wouldn’t actually be a detriment to Barney and Robin’s?
- Why does it leave everyone on twitter with the uncomfortable feeling that Tracy was brought into the story to give Ted the babies Robin wouldn’t, then killed off just so Ted could be free to bang the lady he’s really wanted this whole time?
In other words, HIMYM writers… when did you give up on optimism, love, change, and genuine belief in one’s personal journey?
The writers had an idea for a twist ending years ago, but they missed the real twist that played out in the show we got, not the show originally concieved: that the first girl the hero has a crush on doesn’t have to be his destiny. That twist was a revelation for sitcom viewers, and continued to be so for the ups and downs of nine seasons. As charming as Robin and Ted were in season 1 or 2, it was apparent by their first break up that they would never be happy as a couple because they didn’t have enough in common, didn’t make each other happy, and could never give each other what they truly wanted. For Ted, it was a nuclear family and obsessive love. For Robin, it was a partner in crime for life’s adventures. Robin found the true love relationship with Barney, and everything we were given led us to believe that Tracy was that person for Ted. When the show introduced her, she brought joy to the characters we already loved, and she fit. This was the twist, and the romantic promise of HIMYM: that you can find your happiness, that the love we choose is more real that the idealized fantasies, and that this show wasn’t going to follow the old rules to tell that story. It’s about real love, not about how the No Matter What, The First Girl Always Wins.
“I’m not that guy anymore,” promised Ted last week. He’s not in love with Robin any more, and he won’t cling to illusions of the past. Well, one episode later they sure proved us Ted fans wrong! Because guess what: HE WAS THAT GUY.
I’ve been looking at critical reviews from big media yesterday, and the reactions from tv critics are split. Just about the only things universally agreed on are that the Ted/Tracy meeting was adorable, and Neil Patrick Harri’s pivotal scene with the newborn was well-delivered. For the overall episode, about half the reviews I’ve read so far pander to the idea that loyally adhering to the plan conceived nine years ago is worth any character assassination necessary. The other half are swimming in a mire of frustration and disappointment.
If you ask tumblr or twitter users, this is already going down as one of the worst series finales of all time. Fans aren’t just disgruntled, they are roiling. An essay titled “Why The How I Met Your Mother Finale Is An Outrage” has 16,000 likes, and that’s just one of several popping up online. You can join over 430,000 viewers watching a fan-edited version of the ending on youtube. Or try an a brief and biting analysis of how HIMYM treats its female characters. All of this reaction has appeared in less than 48 hours. Although some folks liked the finale, just a bit of googling and you’ll notice a significant negative trend. There have been finale episodes that were a disappointment to fans, but only a special few have garnered as much instant vitriol on social media as this kick to the groin from How I Met Your Mother.
Let these testaments from the show’s devoted viewers illuminate the situation.
So yeah, that happened. Nice Guys win if they wait long enough, and the spirit of romantic growth the show fed us for the last 9 years is a lie. Thanks, How I Met Your Mother, for ret-conning my favorite sitcom into unrecognizability. Even in reruns I will never be able to look at you with quite the same hope again—and that’s the most heartbreaking loss of all.
Blogger a-soiaf said it best: