How I Met Your Mother Gets Its Happy Ending

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It’s just a life story, so there’s no climax. — “Our Life Is Not a Movie, or Maybe,” Okkervil River

So, I’ve had a few days to process How I Met Your Mother‘s divisive and criticized—but no less memorable—series finale. I wanted to wait a bit, let the episode sink in before I attempted to gather my thoughts for a blog post.

If you haven’t seen the episode yet, there be dragons beyond this point! Head back!

My twitter timeline and tumblr dash flooded with criticism during and after How I Met Your Mother‘s hour-long final episode, ripping everything from the decision to have Ted’s wife and the mother of his kids be dead all along to the decision to have Ted go back to Robin at the very end to the decision to have Barney find his one true love—his baby daughter—and have it 1.) not be Robin and 2.) not even introduce the baby mama.

One review of the episode called it a “mate and switch.” I saw people complaining that the final two minutes of the episode ruined the nine years that came before them. The finale was cruel, mean-spirited, boring, too safe, too risky, so on and so forth.

I understand and even agree with some of the points and concerns I saw people raise. I was one of the few who didn’t seem to hate the the reveal that Tracy—the titular mother—was dead, in fact, had been dead for six years prior to Ted sitting his kids down on that couch and beginning this long, circuitous journey. However, I felt like the episode would have felt more emotionally “true”/honest if the writers had allowed Ted—and the audience—to mourn the loss of Tracy, someone the show worked to make us care about.

Instead, the episode jumps forward very quickly, without leaving the audience a moment to dwell on Tracy’s death, the impact on their group of friends or their kids. There’s no catharsis. I wanted to care about the loss of Tracy, but the quick jumps in time left no room for it. Spending more time on Tracy’s death and its emotional impact on everyone would have made Penny and Luke suggesting, almost immediately, that Ted move on less jarring. Ted, Penny, and Luke have had six years without the mother; the audience only had a handful of minutes, at the most.

Everything the show’s creators crammed into this last hour should have, in my opinion, been spread out over an entire season. Unfortunately, the framing device of Barney and Robin’s wedding weekend made that all but impossible. I felt like devoting an entire season to the emotional ground covered in the finale would have led to a more resonant ending, even if Tracy’s death and Ted’s going back to Robin had been left in tact.

I’ve read reactions criticizing the show for tossing out years of characterization by having Ted end up with Robin. I initially agreed—he let go of her and she floated away like a balloon, for crying out loud!!!—but after having thought about it, I don’t quite agree anymore. Recall the conversation between Ted and Robin from the season 7 episode, Best Man?:

Ted: I used to believe in destiny, you know? I’d go to the bagel place, see a pretty girl in line, reading my favorite novel, whistling the song that’s been stuck in my head all week, and I’d think, “Wow, hey, maybe she’s the one!” And now I think “I just know that bitch is gonna take the last whole-wheat everything bagel.”
No, it’s more than that. I’ve stopped believing. Not in some depressed, “I’m gonna cry during my toast” way, not in a way I even noticed until tonight, it’s just everyday I think I believe a little less, and a little less, and a little less, and that sucks.
Robin: You’re Ted Mosby. You start believing again.
Ted: In what…destiny?
Robin: Chemisty. If you have chemistry, you only need one other thing.
Ted: What’s that?
Robin: Timing…but timing’s a bitch.

Robin was right; we just didn’t know she was at the time. Life has changed Ted and Robin over the years, so that when they finally reunite, they are presumably ready to be together. Robin is a successful reporter, has traveled the world, and had many experiences. Ted has had a career and loved and lost a wonderful woman. Now, the final few minutes of the finale seem to suggest, because of these experiences, Ted and Robin are finally at a place where they can be together. The timing for these two is finally right.

Is that truly throwing out years of characterization? Or is it the characters being reshaped by their life experiences, into people who fit together now better than they did before?

I don’t claim to have all the answers, or to have figured out what the show was all about. I’ve never felt that the heart of the show was truly about how Ted met the mother, though. The mother wasn’t the final destination, she was a part of the journey. The “final destination” was never more important than the journey, and the people met along the way.

As Ted’s daughter, Penny, aptly points out, their mother hardly features in Ted’s story. To me, Ted’s story is really about how you start out with all these plans and dreams and ideas about how your life should go, and how rarely life conforms to those plans. It’s about wanting something and not getting it, because sometimes life gets in the way. It’s also about wanting something and not getting it until you’re ready for it.

Sometimes life kicks us and then continues kicking us even when we’re already down. And sometimes life lets us back up off the mat.

That’s what How I Met Your Mother has always been about, to me. And, while I do think the final season/series finale could have—and should have—been handled differently, I just can’t be that angry or disappointed in how it ended.

It ended the way it should have. It ended with Ted getting back up off the mat.

Bullet points are for lazy people:
• I actually liked that Barney having a daughter was what finally changed him.
• The Walkmen song at the end was perfect. One thing How I Met Your Mother has always nailed is song choices. Underrated standouts: “How to Fight Loneliness” at the end of Something Old and “Simple Song” at the end of Something Blue.
• Ted and Tracy waiting seven years before getting married.
• The shoutouts and sly nods to in-jokes/running gags were great, like the return of the cockamouse!
• Lily and Marshall’s Halloween costumes were genius.
• Robin’s wig and Ted’s blue hair made me laugh.
• I’m very interested to see the deleted scenes because apparently a key scene between Ted and Robin wound up on the cutting room floor.
• I’m currently making screencaps of all the instances the colors blue, yellow, red, and purple make an appearance throughout How I Met Your Mother‘s nine year run for… reasons. I have a theory and I want to put it to the test.
This is a pretty good reaction post.

One thought on “How I Met Your Mother Gets Its Happy Ending

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