Like 98% of the geeky fandom that was devoted to How I Met Your Mother, I found myself severely disappointed at the finale, so I’ll wax poetic about why I’m so upset.
As a writer myself, I can understand things like character development, plot devices and payoffs, and why certain stories play out the way they do. I also know that there are only about a handful of stories in the storytelling world, and the most successful ones are the ones that tell the story well even if we’ve heard them a thousand times before.
Harry Potter? Protagonist grows up to defeat the villain? Not a unique story. What made it work was J.K. Rowling’s talent for telling it. The details, the clever dialogue, the well-thought, intricate and fantastical back story … that’s what made it great. But the series itself is rooted in classic mythology, and everything from plot devices to story arcs weren’t new. I trolled the community boards there for a while (I said I was geeky) and said early on that Dumbledore will die. My comment was met with a lot of resistance. “No way, they can’t kill Dumbledore,” I saw echoed post after post.
But Dumbledore must die, I said. This is classic hero’s journey. The child needs to have something taken away from him, so that he could become the hero he was destined to be. You take away Harry’s mentor, protector and erstwhile father figure, and you give him all the resolve he needs to rise to the occasion.
Like the creator-writers of HIMYM, Rowling had also settled on her ending when the series began. But she had the acuity to change it, despite years of being personally and emotionally vested in her story, to respect that things change. It wasn’t to satisfy the readers, it just had to make sense.
The creators of HIMYM decided that it was always going to be Robin. And that in itself isn’t – wasn’t – a bad thing. If the series ended after three or four seasons, it might have been okay. Instead, they crafted an epic story nine years long, probably about three or four years too long, building the hype for this mythical perfect woman Ted would meet someday. You want to pull for him to get his happy ending so badly because the constant rejection was just too painful to watch. You want that payoff for him. You want him to be satisfied. YOU want to be satisfied.
And then he actually got it. (The payoff I mean.) The adorably quirky Tracy with her sweetness and heartbreaking backstory made the pain and wait worth it.
The episode in which she sang La Vie en Rose? I fell in love with her too.
It didn’t even matter that they killed her off. The payoff was in meeting her, and marrying her, and having the kids he so wanted to have with her. I could have done with her dying or living and in the end neither matters because it’s about the journey. But you don’t send a hero on a journey only to return him to the place where he started.
He found this wonderful girl … and then you give him back to the girl who turned him down again and again and again? How is that satisfying?
You don’t invest that much into character development only to have them regress to the less mature, less wizened versions of themselves. You don’t spend an entire season hyping up a wedding only to rip the marriage apart in five minutes the next episode. Not that it was unbelievable. (I saw way too many posts, in defense of the ending, that this is real life. Well, in real life, most decent people I know wouldn’t go after their best friend’s ex either. Divorce is real, but the bro code is too.)
Besides, this isn’t real life. It’s a sit-com, a show of mostly trite situations punctuated with jokes and the occasional bittersweet moments. If we wanted real life, we wouldn’t bother turning on the TV.
In hindsight, we can see that the storytelling was never about the mother, it was always about Robin. The kids got that right. If it was a show about the mother, then most of the stories would be about her. But the characters evolved, didn’t they? Maybe we pulled for Ted and Robin to make it in the early rounds, but by the end, they clearly weren’t a match (the word “toxic” comes to mind.) So the writers should have realized that using the Mother as a plot device after all this time was just plain cruel.
Not after you make us fall in love with her. (The Mother-centric “How Your Mother Met Me” was the one bright spot in an otherwise lackluster season.) One of the reasons why I loved this show was because it had a lot of heart. Killing the extremely likeable Mother so Ted could return to Robin was just… heartless.
Returning Ted back to Robin reeked of Ross & Rachel. But there’s a series that handled its finale with integrity and consistency. It worked for Friends because (a) they had a kid together, and (b) he was her lobster. Duh.
Forget for a second that I’m 100% in Tracy McConnell’s corner… the finale, technically, was inconsistent. You have Robin telling her best friend she doesn’t see her as much anymore because Lily’s too busy doing the mom thing, but then has no problem coming over to Ted’s for dinner. Sure, Barney becoming a father was touching (the one highlight of the final hour) but his character morphed from a douchey caricature into a guy changed by love… but to return him to the Playbook in his 40s? That’s just pathetic.
Forget that killing off the Mother is kind of a brilliant albeit sad twist. Reuniting Ted and Robin undermines the values of love and loss, of friend codes and loyalty, of growing up and moving on, that the show spent nine years to build. And that, kids, is why I hated the way it ended.