Nine years ago, way back in 2005, Craig Thomas and Carter Bays somewhat painted themselves into a corner. Unlike, say, Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof of Lost fame, Thomas & Bays already had an idea of how How I Met Your Mother was going to end. So confident were they in this idea that, for the sake of continuity, they had Lyndsy Fonesca and David Henrie record their scenes as Ted Mosby’s children being told the story by an off-screen Future Ted (voiced by Bob Saget), towards the start of production; this included the final scenes of Penny and Luke that appear at the end of last night’s finale. And so it was pegged at the show’s conception that the titular Mother was going to die, thus being the reason why widower-of-six years Future Ted is telling the story to his kids.
The problem is that no one back in 2005 really expected the show to take off how it did. The two part finale “Last Together” which aired last night signalled the end of a show that lasted for nine seasons and almost a full decade on air; something which is becoming an increasing rarity in today’s TV landscape, especially for a sitcom. Throughout that time, we’ve watched a group of friends twist and turn, adapt and survive through the end of their twenties into their thirties. They’ve been promoted or changed jobs entirely, got married, nearly got married, dated around a lot, or just slept with a lot of people but in the end, the core was just these five friends - Ted Moseby, Robin Scherbatsky, Barney Stinson, Marshall Eriksen, and Lily Aldrin - sat in their regular booth in a pub. It’s this reason why “Last Forever” doesn’t feel like the finale this show deserved, and one that fans were disappointed in (as evidence by any HIMYM Twitter search will show you), as it doesn’t do justice to these characters we’ve spent nearly ten years following.
To point to other disappointing finales of beloved shows, Lost’s Cuse & Lindelof, as well as Battlestar Galactica’s Ronald D Moore, created endings that weren’t satisfying merely from a story point of view, particularly BSG’s which I still to this day find utterly ridiculous, whereas at least the over-arching themes of Lost work with the finale. How the characters of these two shows ended their personal stories, on the other hand, felt natural to their personalities and, although the characters were surrounded by a finale story that was wrapped up in often ludicrous concepts, they stayed true to the attributes and personalities we had spent so long watching develop (save for, perhaps, Sayid who ends up in the afterlife with Shannon, a relationship that always felt to me like just a “thing” that happened that the show never really invested in as opposed to his relationship with Nadia). How I Met Your Mother’s finale, however, is one that doesn’t seem to conform with the characters that we’ve come to know and, in that regard, feels rather cold and empty and, in some cases, like we’ve wasted our time.
To begin with, it’s probably best to focus on Barney and Robin, the relationship that was the centre of this final season and the breakdown of which would act as the catalyst for that final scene that closes the show; a mirror of the final scene of the pilot. The final 24-episode season took place, in an surprisingly daring and interesting turn, over the course of one weekend as Barney and Robin prepare to get married at an inn in Farhampton, Long Island, I having gotten engaged in Season 8 two-parter “The Final Page”. Throughout this season, we followed the two, as well as the rest of the gang, as they tried to make sure the wedding went off without a hitch, dealing with the usual sitcom scenarios of crazy parents, distant relatives, missing guests, band problems, Karate Kid stars, etc, as well as dealing with the pair as a couple and how they see their future together. Penultimate episode “The End Of The Aisle” sees the two finally tie the knot but, with the dust barely even settled from that, “Last Forever” sees Barney and Robin divorced before the first half of the two part finale is even over! It’s difficult not to feel cheated; after following the trials and tribulations of the Stinson-Scherbatsky relationship over the last few seasons plus an entire season dedicated to their wedding, the whole relationship is torn apart in merely a few smash-vignettes.
In creating this season, the writers were creating a relationship that we as the viewer were meant to invest in despite them knowing full well that, in one quick sweep, it will be put aside for the sake of the long-planned over-arching story. It’s particularly disappointing when noting that the season did have some incredibly beautiful moments between Barney and Robin, particularly the scene which saw Barney shedding his playboy ways by promising to never lie to Robin about anything. It negates many of these moments, leaving a bitter sense that the writers could not just stick with what they had laid out, and makes the whole thing feel like a big waste of time for many. The idea of a season set over just one weekend was one that piqued my interest, just to see how they would do it, and, after a stuttering start, it worked exceptionally well, producing some of the best episodes in HIMYM’s recent history. But when the core of the season is ultimately pointless, you can’t help but think that there must’ve been a better way to construct the final run that isn’t so heavily invested in a relationship the writers were ready to pull the plug on almost immediately.
This leads on to what the dissolution of Barney and Robin led up to, the rekindling of the Ted and Robin flame that burned brightly through much of the first few seasons but had been blown out for years by this point. The chemistry between Cobie Smulders and Josh Radnor in the first few series was undeniable and infectious. It was that will-they-won’t-they ‘Sam & Diane’ style thing done extremely well and watching the two develop over the first three seasons was fantastic. This relationship faded out in a wonderfully natural way in Season 3’s “Slapsgiving” before Ted moved on to one of my favourite relationship arcs with Stella (played by Sarah Chalke). It was a relationship I was happy was over and, even though this final season brought back some of those residual feelings that may never leave when you think someone is ‘the one’, it once again put them to bed with the ultimately poignant but poorly executed episode “Sunrise” in which Ted finally lets go (in one of the season’s most unintentionally hilarious scenes which sees Robin float off into the sky, soundtracked by The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame”). I know that it’s all in the spirit of the cyclical nature of the show, with the finale ending with Ted outside Robin’s window in 2030 with the infamous blue French horn from the pilot, but the idea that the story Future Ted is telling his kids is merely a façade for him to pluck up the courage to ask them if it’s OK he starts dating Robin now The Mother has been dead for six years feels like a betrayal of everything this season had worked up to, particularly that floating Robin scene, as well as Ted’s personality which leaves me, again, feeling a little cold.
Though it does make sense as to why the story so far had been less about The Mother and more about “everything else”, it’s incredibly unsatisfying when Thomas & Bays managed to get the casting of The Mother so completely spot on. The introduction of Cristin Milioti as The Mother (finally given a name in the finale: Tracy McConnell) was a shot in the arm for the show. Every scene she was in since her introduction in the finale of Season 8 (being merely a shot of a pair of legs or an bright yellow umbrella up until now) was elevated by her chirpy, infectious presence, be that meeting the characters in the present day or interacting with Ted in flashforwards. It would be criminal not to focus on The Mother-centric episode, “How Your Mother Met Me”, now one of my favourite episodes, which manages to give an emotional rollercoaster of backstory to a character who was more of an idea than a person beforehand, all in the space of just one episode which really let Milioti shine. Though it has been rumoured since pretty much forever, and then heavily hinted at in “Vesuvius”, that The Mother would die, I was less annoyed at the fact that she did but more at how they dealt with The Mother and her death in this finale. The Mother was always a plot point before this final season; she was the end goal for Ted Mosby and his story. But Season 9 turned her into a proper character, one we grew to love and looked forward to glimpses of each episode. Cristin Milioti brought something to the character that made it ‘her’ role, a role that you could never see anyone else playing anymore.
To then portray her as a mere footnote in the finale feels like, in the end, it was the story of Ted and Robin the showrunners wanted to tell, and Tracy was a mere obstacle. The final meeting of Ted and Tracy, a moment fans had been looking forward to since the show began, was as touching and beautiful as one might expect, with lots of callbacks and a nice reveal of The Mother’s name, but their actual life together after that took place mostly off-screen, particularly the moment they find out she is sick and then her death; her illness completely unexplained and her death barely even mentioned. The progression of Ted and Tracy throughout the decade in which they are together doesn’t appear to be of any interest to the writers, who would much rather get back to trying to set Ted and Robin up once again. There’s barely any hint of mourning on Ted’s part which seems utterly ridiculous and completely against his character. Had their casting of Tracy not been so perfect, I doubt I would’ve been as bothered by this; my investment would be much less. But as is, I feel the finale did not give her character the dues she deserved. Altogether, it painted How I Met Your Mother as a show of misdirection; this was never a show about how Ted met his future wife, it was always, right from the start, about Ted and Robin; a relationship that had already been neatly wrapped up not once but twice. The final scene was a very typical How I Met Your Mother scene, soundtracked to The Walkmen with plenty of callbacks, but the idea is just not one I can get behind.
This disappointment about how the finale panned out is all the more when you look back and see that there are actually some great moments in this finale that works as finale moments. Barney seeing his newly born daughter for the first time and declaring his undying love for her using the exact words he used to mock that he would never declare his undying love for anyone is an incredibly sweet moment, as was Ted and Tracy’s first meeting on the Farhampton train platform as they realised how intertwined their lives actually were despite having never met before, and there are plenty of great callbacks to such things Ted’s Hanging Chad Halloween costume and the Cockamouse loose in Lily and Marshall’s apartment (speaking of, Lily and Marshall had some fantastic moments together throughout the finale proving that they really are the show’s best couple). This finale was capable of hitting the right marks yet, on the bigger points, it missed the board completely, putting holes in your wallpapered wall.
As much as I didn’t like “Last Forever”, though, I doubt it will mar my enjoyment of the show as a whole. How I Met Your Mother was Friends for a new generation, updating all the social norms and graces to something we could relate to in a world of changing technology and general social acceptance. From the many rules and principles, such as The Olive Theory, The Slap Bet, The ‘Nothing Good Happens After 2AM’ Rule, to the general view of the modern dating scene and of friendships, How I Met Your Mother painted a great picture of this world. Though it may seem that the old adage “the journey is always better than the goal” would not apply here, seeing as the point of the show is the goal itself, the journey was still a fantastic one. A poor ending isn’t going to put a dampener on my enjoyment of the running slap bet, of Ted’s two minute date with Stella, of Barney’s ridiculous ways to flirt (namely the full scuba diving suit in McLaren’s), of the search for the Best Burger In New York, of the casting of Milioti and everything she did as Tracy, and of one of the best pilot episodes of a sitcom I have ever seen; so perfectly setting up this world and this group of friends that seemed like they had been a gang for years already, before we even learned anything about their backstory. I may not have enjoyed the way it ended, but I sure as hell enjoyed the journey. Farewell, McLarens, I’ll probably be back soon to revisit the journey all over again.