Series finales are hard. It’s a huge undertaking to wrap up almost a decade of story in one episode. I fully understand that. It is nearly impossible to neatly tie up every loose end or answer every question. However, I don’t feel like it’s asking too much to at the very least, not destroy nine years of character development in the course of sixty minutes.
[Spoilers for the HIMYM series finale below. Also, I had a lot of feelings (the majority of which are Not Good), so this review is more like a novel.]
I would love to not be focused on what I hated about the finale. I would love to focus on the throwbacks to past seasons, or on Ted’s re-proposal to the Mother [aka. Tracy], or on their train platform scene, or on Ted and Lily’s ET goodbye, which had me in tears. I would love to focus on anything but how angry I am. And yet here I am.
For nine seasons I have followed this show loyally. I have cared for and loved these characters. I watched their character development as they grew up and matured. It was beautiful to watch. While it hasn’t been the same show I fell in love with for roughly three seasons, I continued watching because I was invested in the characters. I was invested in meeting the mother. I was extremely skeptical about the format of the entire final season taking place over a 56 hour wedding weekend, but I trusted the writers and the creator’s enough to wait and withhold judgment.
Here, we hit my first stumbling block with the finale.
Ever since Barney and Robin shared their first kiss, it has been a pleasure to watch their relationship grow – and to watch both of their characters mature into a place where they were both ready to be together. In the course of the ninth season, each and every doubt or fear they had about their impending marriage was addressed and resolved in a realistic way. Dedicating so much of the final season to their relationship only to destroy it to the point that the characters couldn’t even be in the same room within the first ten minutes of the finale was the worst kind of bait and switch.
[SIDE NOTE: To have the straw that broke the camel’s back of their relationship be because Barney couldn’t get WiFi to update his blog was ridiculous and petty and a giant slap in the face to long-time fans of Robin and Barney.]
In an interview with TV Guide back in October 2013, Carter Bays said, “Ultimately, Barney and Robin are in love. I wouldn’t worry about them being tested. It’s their wedding weekend. They’ve passed the test.” Since the creators claim to have had the ending of Ted/Robin planned since the beginning, this interview was clearly nothing more than a creator placating fans in the worst and most dishonest way.
Over the course of the series they have dedicated no less than half a dozen episodes to Ted getting “closure” on his relationship with Robin. Including Robin, at one point, blatantly telling him that she doesn’t have feelings for him. There were three or four episodes in the final season alone that seemingly wrapped up the Ted/Robin question, only to have it reopened again. Somewhere along the way, the writers turned a pairing that I loved back in Season 2 into something that I felt was being shoved down my throat. Robin had moved on, Ted had moved on, the audience had moved on, and yet they felt the need to relapse this toxic relationship, this unhealthy obsession with the past, over and over and over again.
From the beginning of the show, Robin was portrayed as driven, achievement and career-oriented. A strong female character that had goals beyond finding a husband. She wanted to travel the world and report the news. She wanted to go exotic locations and make real contributions to the journalistic world. Robin got to do exactly that. She did end up travelling the world, she was sent out on assignment, she became a well-known and loved reporter. She accomplished what she set out to do when she moved from Canada to New York. And as a result, the entire finale was spent demonizing her. She was turned into a scape goat. They essentially blamed her for her and Barney’s divorce, they blamed her for drifting away from the group. They made her walk away from her pregnant and crying best friend, something that I don’t believe she would ever do. Robin and Ted broke up because she was driven and she had goals for herself that she wasn’t willing to sacrifice for a man. It was amazing to see a character like that on television and instead of celebrating her for her accomplishments, for achieving what she set out to do, they turned her into a villain.
Barney, in my opinion, was the only one of Robin’s potential suitors to fully appreciate her drive and her independence. In the season six episode ‘Baby Talk’, while Ted lamented that Robin didn’t make him feel needed enough, Barney praised for her self-sufficiency. In this episode, Ted shames her for her independence and for her assertiveness. He tries time and time again to force Robin to fit into the mold he has created in his head – to settle down, to want kids, to want to get married. Meanwhile, Barney grew with Robin. He loved her and he allowed her to be who she was.
The disintegration of Barney’s character development is yet another travesty committed by the finale. In the course of one hour, the writers managed to unravel all the growth they had written for Barney through the years. All the years the audience spent watching Barney grow up and mature and fall in love and become a man who deserves to be with a woman like Robin were thrown away. The writers negated all of it by having him revert back into the same antics he had grown out of. Although the scene with Barney and his daughter was lovely and showcased Neil Patrick Harris’ dramatic acting chops, it was not enough to make me overlook the confusion of not finding out who the mother of his daughter is. It was not enough to make me overlook the whiplash I had just gotten from having Barney go from Good Guy to Shallow Player and back to Good Guy within roughly 35 minutes.
Not much happened to Lily and Marshall, my beloved Lily-Pad and Marshmallow, in the finale. Marshall became a judge and announced his run for Supreme Court. Marshall got to live his dream. But what about Lily? Here is a character who could barely handle one child, a character who was terrified of losing herself in motherhood, and the finale turned her into exactly what she was afraid of becoming. Lily was reduced to a mother and a wife. There was no mention of her career, or anything else that wasn’t tied to being pregnant or having a child. Yes, priorities change after having a child, but Lily went from pursuing an art career (while still being a fantastic mother to Marvin) to a mother of three with seemingly no ambition. Once again, a beautiful, strong female character is reduced to a trope.
Okay, I just had to take a deep breath before writing this part because I am without a doubt the most angry over the treatment of the mother in the finale.
In the season 4 finale, Stella tells Ted: “I know you’re tired of waiting. And you may have to wait a little while more, but she’s on her way Ted. And she’s getting here as fast as she can.” This turned out to be entirely true. Tracy McConnell really was getting to Ted as fast as she could. Just like Ted, she had past loves to learn from and to move past. This season, in addition to leading up to Barney and Robin’s wedding, was about the Mother. It was about showing us the near misses and the parallels between her and Ted. It was about getting the audience to fall in love with her the way Ted did. And fall in love with her, they did. Tracy turned out to be the sole bright spot in an otherwise disappointing final season. She was a beautiful character – quirky and loving and compassionate and beautiful and talented – and she deserved more than she got. I had resigned myself to the Mother’s death. I understood that the Easter Eggs the writers had provided along the way indicated that this would be her end. I had accepted that, and I would have been satisfied with that ending. It is in the execution that the problem lies. Instead of allowing Ted, and the audience, time to process her sickness and mourn her death, they entered into a montage. There was no pause, no moment for grief, no insight into Ted or his children’s psyche after her death. Yes, six years passed between the Mother’s death and Ted finishing the story, but for the audience, it seemed as though Ted rebounded from the “love of his life” in six seconds. Penny and Luke’s flippant responses to Ted finishing the story was not only completely off-putting, it was nauseating.
For nine seasons, this incredibly beautiful mythology surrounding Ted and the mother of his children was built up and shaped and developed. The final season showed similarities and parallels between her and Ted, it showed us how perfect they were for each other. How perfect she was for him. She deserved more than the roughly 72 seconds she got for the audience to learn her name, watch her and Ted meet, and mourn her death. She deserved more than her death becoming a footnote in the story of Ted and Robin.
I want to believe that Ted truly loved Tracy. Everything we were given in the ninth season showed us that he did. I want to believe it, but the finale managed to unravel all of my confidence in their love. She was referred to as “The Mother” for the entire series, and that was essentially all she became in this finale. This finale took a beautiful character and turned her into a plot device, whose only purpose, as far as I can tell, was to give Ted the thing Robin couldn’t – children – so he could get back together with her.
I understand that they’ve had this ending since the second season, and normally, I applaud creators for sticking to their plan, but this felt less like follow through and more like they handcuffed the show to this plan, not allowing it to grow and change naturally over the course of the nine years. What would have happened if Rob Thomas had stuck with his original plan in Veronica Mars of having Logan be only the “obligatory psychotic jackass”? What would have happened if Kevin Williamson had said “Screw it” and made Joey and Dawson end up together despite the overwhelming toxicity of that relationship? Carter Bays and Craig Thomas should have realized that their characters grew and developed beyond what they planned in season 1. And that is a good thing.
So, now I sit here wondering, what was the point? What was the point in having 22 episodes dedicated to the weekend leading up to a wedding that would be undone within the first ten minutes of the finale? What was the point of 22 episodes taking place over 56 hours when the last 60 minutes would cover 16 years? What was the point in the beautiful mythology surrounding Ted and the Mother if they were going to have her die without explanation and without giving us time to grieve her? What was the point in having over half a dozen episodes throughout the season, including one blatant, not-at-all-subtle metaphor of her floating off as a balloon, with Ted getting “closure” in his relationship with Robin? What was the point in all the beautiful character development Barney had as he grew up and became a man who deserved Robin Scherbatsky? What was the point?
I am still angry over this finale. I’m angry that a show that I’ve spent nine years following loyally ended in such a weak and disappointing way. But mostly I’m angry on behalf of the characters – because none of them went out in a way that felt true to their characters.
I can’t say whether or not this will retroactively change my opinion of the show, but for now, I will not be carrying through with the plan I had to rewatch the entire series, and no, I won’t be tuning in for How I Met Your Dad.
To Carter Bays and Craig Thomas,
You really should have taken your own advice.
To Ted Mosby, Barney Stinson, Marshall Erickson, Lily Aldrin, Robin Scherbatsky and Tracy McConnell, I’m sorry you didn’t get the endings you deserved.
And to How I Met You Mother, goodbye. Thank you for nine years of stories and shenanigans, and thank you for making it easy to let you go.
[EDIT: Check out a completely satisfying (fan edited) 18 minute and 23 second finale. I will be forever in denial that this is how the show really ended. Link HERE]