Not since the Lost finale have so many fans taken to the streets with pitchforks searching for the creators of a television show.
Last night’s highly polarizing series finale of How I Met Your Mother has inspired such vitriol and hate for the last two minutes of the hour-long curtain call, I felt obligated to respond: Suck it up.
Why? Because if you hated it, if you did not expect it, if you continued watching for nine seasons with the idea of any other result, you obviously have not paid attention to the show. I apologize, dear reader, if you are one of the many fans currently crafting Bays/Thomas voodoo dolls, but maybe we can make it through this together, and I can help you see what you missed…
2005: We open on a (recently filmed) flashback –inside a flashback…is this part of the story Ted is telling his kids? Or is this to remind the viewer for context? This will happen a lot, and we will get to what I think it means… – bridging Ted and Robin’s first failed date to where she became part of the group. Lily wants Robin to be her best friend but tells Barney and Ted that the only way they can sleep with her is if one of them marries the Canadian. Nice segue to:
2013: Barney and Robin dance at their reception, Marshall and Lily talk to Ted about his impending move to Chicago, and then…he sees her. There on the stage, rockin’ her bass, is the Mother. He’s instantly entranced, giving her that look that Josh Radnor gives so well. That hopeless romantic, wide-eyed, stop right in your tracks, feel it in the pit of your stomach look. But he doesn’t say anything to her, even as Barney suggests the two meet with a “Have you met Ted?”. Ted is resigned to move on and go to Chicago, right now. So the five say their goodbyes, complete with an ET goodbye for Lily and an epic, infinity high-five between bros Barney and Ted.
Ted heads to the Farhampton train stop, and he is given a do-over, complete with an Bagger Vance-like lady telling him its his destiny to go and speak with the Lady with the Yellow Umbrella…who happens to show up. We’ll have to wait for that meeting – you knew we would – until the closing few minutes.
The next day, Marshall and Lily see Ted at their normal booth at MacLaren’s, just hanging out. About moving to Chicago? “Oh, yeah, I’m not doing that…I met a girl.” Marshmallow and Lilypad are nonplussed, however, about Ted’s latest love-of-his-life until Lily sees how Ted is changed when speaking with the Mother on the phone. “This is different,” utters a knowing Lily. It’s interesting that she can see this side of Ted when Marshall was sure it would be Ted and Robin. Both of Ted’s life-long friends, who arguably know him best, want such alternating things for him. Marshall wants Ted to have his heart’s desire, even though he would not be able to live the life he’s always imagined for himself. Lily, on the other hand, urged Ted to move on from Robin, even going as far as to coax them to break up, in order for each to live out their dreams. Lily knew that Robin and Ted were not right for each other that early in life. Ted wanted a family more than anything, more than the short-sided happiness Robin brought him. Lily knew that Ted would sacrifice everything for love, even his own dreams, and it is something Robin would never do. Robin would only sacrifice being with Ted, not giving up her dreams. In that way, Lily knew a bit better what was right for the 30-something Ted. Back to our story:
2015: Ted is planning his wedding to the Mother — complete with a hot air balloon — in a 17th century castle in France when he gets some news. The Mother is becoming a mother…and therefore does not want to get married until she can fit into her dress. Ted shares the details with Barney and Robin who are having a tough time of it, a real time of it, trying to navigate the early years of marriage. This is where most of the fans started to get nervous. Fans, “shippers”, if you will, got so caught up in this relationship, for some reason. Carter Bays and Craig Thomas gave these fans exactly what they wanted, a marriage, a love affair between the two commitment-phobes. But here’s the thing, that marriage – one between a workaholic and a womanizer — would never last the test of time. Though these two people absolutely love each other, it was certainly not the right time to get married. Barney had just quit his job, one that consumed so much of his life, and he gave up all of the women. Take those two things away, and add in the fact that Robin neither wanted nor could have children in addition to spending most of her time married to her job, how could the two last? It makes so much sense.
2016: Ted and the Mother have the gang over to the new house. Penny, the new baby, sleeps in the other room as all sit around catching up. Marshall has had to return to corporate law after he and Lily returned from Rome, Lily is pregnant with her third baby, and Barney and Robin announce that they have divorced. Afraid that the group will collapse after this latest development, Lily demands that they all make sure to be there for “the big moments.” Sure, that’s going to work out famously!
Later in 2016: Lily is big pregnant, Marshall still hates his job, and the two decide it’s time to get a larger place for their growing family. They decide to throw one last Halloween party on the roof. Robin shows up to see Barney back to his old ways, and bittersweetly looks on at Ted in his “hanging chad” outfit handing a drink to the Mother, who cutely wears a “Gore/Lieberman” sweatshirt. Realizing she doesn’t fit in, Robin decides to leave, but Lily catches her. Robin tells her that she loves her, but she just can’t hang out with them anymore. It’s too painful seeing her failed relationships. And so, it comes full circle, as Lily knew this would happen way back in 2005. The two share a tearful “goodbye.” Robin was the last one to come in and the first one to leave…for now. It’s another poignant reality that friends do grow apart, especially when they have little in common later in life. Playdates and school functions replace benders and toga parties.
2018: Barney, Ted, Lily, and Marshall hang out for the first time in months at MacLaren’s, and Marshall announces that a judge is stepping down in Queens…he’s now “Judge Fudge.” Barney has rebooted back to his playboy-ways. It’s “who he is.” After having it not work out with Robin, he wants to go back to using women like tissue. He grabs a random skank to make a point, telling Lily he will never say (to skank), “You are the love of my life. Everything I have, and everything I am is yours forever…” (That’s going to come back around in one of the best moments of the series later in the hour…) He just wants to be him, and the other three accept that.
2019: The gang (minus Robin, plus the Mother) hang out at Wrestlers VS. Robots as Barney regales how he recently attempted to record a “perfect month,” hooking up with thirty-one women in thirty-one days…but number 31 is pregnant. Karma!
2020: Ted, showing his building off to Penny, runs into Robin on the street. The two catch up. Ted lets Marshall and Lily know, though no one else has seen her. In the waiting room as Barney meets his daughter…and here’s is the scene: Barney tearfully holds the baby GIRL (karma!) Ellie and tells her, “You are the love of my life. Everything I have, and everything I am is yours forever…” It is something he’s wanted for a long time, and in his forties, it makes sense that it would change him the way that Robin did years before. Neil Patrick Harris plays it in a way that is not as hokey as the dialogue might suggest. He gives it his all, and Kleenex stock went up…
Back in Ted and the Mother’s apartment, he re-proposes. They decide to get married that Thursday. The gang meets up at MacLaren’s, even Robin. She doesn’t want to miss any more of the big moments. Ted and The Mother have a lovely ceremony, and you can tell that each is living out the plan they had for their lives. Marshall slips Lily the bet money…although, it’s money she’ll have to pay back (more on that…)
We see the rest of Ted and Mrs. Moseby’s life together in pictures until we see that she was sick…and died.
Back in 2013: Ted introduces himself to Tracy, the mother. The two realize they’ve shared the same umbrella and have had missed opportunities, several, to be together. The right moment was just waiting out there, for now. Sometimes, “you just find things…” It’s a moment worth ten years of waiting. I’m still so impressed with what Carter Bays and Craig Thomas were able to do in this one minute to capture a whole relationship. It was subtle and beautifully executed. Cristin Milloti and Josh Radnor’s chemistry is palpable; it’s like they were meant for each other.
2030: Ted wraps up his story and the kids tell him exactly what my husband said to me years ago: This story is not about how Ted met their mother. It’s about how he is in love with Robin. Has been in love with Robin since the day he met her. Sure, he loved Tracy with everything he had, and one might argue he loved her more than Robin because she could give him everything he wanted, but truly the story, the series is about how Ted met, fell in love with, lost, let go of, and returned to loving Robin. So, harkening back to the first episode of the series, Ted goes to Robin’s window, and holds up the blue french horn. Series over. And you know that this has always been the plan because the creators filmed the section with the kids way back in season 2.
So why is everyone up in arms? Well, the characters apparently did not change. But do people really ever fundamentally change? Barney did change, but after a life crisis, reverted back to his old ways…but JUST for a couple of years. He did change. It does not mean he didn’t love Robin, he just moved on. And think about this, how much did Barney love Robin? We never got to see it through his eyes. All of this was through hopeless romantic Ted’s eyes. He was injecting his own feelings into the story. Everyone loved Robin so much because Ted loves Robin. Secondly, when Ted is telling this story, he does so with perspective. He knows where everyone ended up, so doesn’t it make sense that he might remember them more like the people they are today?
And why does it seem Ted loves Robin more than Tracy? He doesn’t. It’s different. Think about when Ted is telling this story to his kids. His wife has been dead for six years. One of his best friends, another love of his life, has been coming around lately. Having dinner, sharing her life with him, and he is remembering the old feelings. Ted is back to infatuation. Being lonely, he is longing for Robin again, and it is from that state that he is telling this story.
Another complaint: it cannot possibly work out between Ted and Robin. They’ve already tried. They tried when Ted wanted children…now he has children that no longer truly need rearing. Tracy gave him that. She gave him his life, and now, when he has lived his dreams and Robin has lived hers, even getting to be with Barney, all of those obstacles are now moot. It’s all about timing. Sometimes, you just find things, and sometimes, it takes years. The whole episode has been preparing the audience for the last two minutes. Reminding us of Robin’s journey with the group so that we would see that Carter/Bays knew where they wanted to go.
It has been obvious to everyone, including Marshall, that Ted would have moved mountains to be with Robin. He has loved four women, you can even argue five if you count Zoey (I don’t). Victoria always knew that Ted would never be happy without Robin, as did Stella, but he was willing to try. It’s all about timing. Tracy understood exactly where Ted was coming from. There is no exact “one person.” Tracy loved Max, but ultimately had to move on after he died. It took her years, as it took Ted. Ted and Tracy were able to live their fairy tale, however short, and life does not end when something like that ends. You have to move on. It’s life. It’s been obviously written in to every season.
I can understand why fans are upset because they wanted alternate endings for the characters, but this has always been a story from one man’s perspective. And the writers have always led the viewer exactly to this moment with clear forethought. Blue French Horn to Blue French Horn. If you go back and examine the series, I think you’ll see what I mean.
**I do want to say that this series finale should have happened last year. This season was nearly unwatchably painful. A wedding weekend in 22 episodes?! It was AWFUL filler. There were sweet moments with the introduction of Cristin Milioti as the Mother, but they were few and far between. The last four episodes were well done…sort of. But here’s the thing. This season was for you Barney/Robin lovers. Okay, it was for cash, but at least you got what you wanted for a year!
Series Finale Grade: A