As How I Met Your Mother ends, a word on how the final episode cheapened the whole affair.
Shortly after How I Met Your Mother’s final episode ran its credits, it was revealed that one of the pivotal scenes with Ted’s children was filmed nine years ago, some time around the first season. Practically, this makes sense: actors who look like kids don’t tend to look like kids for long. It’s also admirable that Craig Thomas and Carter Bays, the show’s co-creators, had a plan from the beginning, and were willing to see it through to the end, come hell or high water.
It’s a finale that would have fit after the second season, or maybe the third. Instead, it came at the end of season nine
Except, of course, they weren’t actually willing to see it through to the end. In the show that they actually wrote, Ted doesn’t end up with Robin. That’s inherently not what the show is about, and more to the point, they haven’t, in a long time, written anything that justified that type of conclusion. It’s a finale that would have fit after the second season, or maybe the third. Generously, Ted and Robin ending up together might have been worked anywhere up to the end of season six. Instead, it came at the end of season nine. The knowledge that the writers had planned for this ending since day one is perplexing, because they so vigorously wrote that ending away from themselves, over and over.
The largest kink is Robin and Barney’s relationship. For almost five years, every season of How I Met Your Mother spent a large percentage of its time pleading with the viewers, trying to get them on board with the idea that two people who fundamentally rejected the idea of commitment could commit to one another. The amount of effort put into this relationship was often boring, unbelievable and downright bad.
But eventually, it worked. It worked because during season six, it became a fact that Barney would get married, and that Ted would meet the mother of his kids there, and in season seven, Robin as the bride became a fact as well. What the writers did here was actually very clever – by making the success of Barney and Robin’s relationship imperative to Ted meeting the mother, every fan is forced to root for the improbable couple to see things through.
On top of that, both characters go through a fair bit of growth in order to make things work, and in a lot of ways, that was done well. It forced Ted into the background for a little bit, but it worked because it made Barney and Robin work, which everyone needed in order for Ted to meet the mother. In a lot of ways, it was the perfect crime: force anyone with the ability to prosecute you into being an accomplice, and nobody goes to jail.
But now, after the finale, wherein Robin and Barney get divorced for no reason at all, their entire relationship becomes meaningless. All of the cumbersome episodes that built their compatibility up amounted, in practical terms, to a wife and two children that function exclusively as plot devices. This is where things start to get really frustrating.
A twist is where something unexpected happens; a lie is where something happens that the series made very clear was impossible
The mother and the two kids are only necessary if the show is named How I Met Your Mother. The only reason any of those characters are relevant is because they gave the show a feeling of perpetual forward motion. Every episode was supposed to be building towards the time when Ted finally met the mother. The name of the show is the reason the writers were able to waste so much time on inane side plots and developing things that were uninteresting. Everything was essential to the tale being told, about how Ted meets the mother.
Now, it’s clear the show was never about that. He’s not telling the story because he wants his kids to understand how he met and fell in love with their dead mother, he’s telling the story because he wants his kids’ permission to go and bone someone they refer to as “Aunt Robin.” This is not a surprise ending. It’s dishonest writing. A twist is where something unexpected happens; a lie is where something happens that the series made very clear was impossible. The finale of How I Met Your Mother renders the entire dramatic premise of the series a lie.
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For a show with such loyal viewers, it’s almost astonishing that the creators would stick so stubbornly to a storyline that essentially has the entire series build to a sleight of hand. It’s also worth noting that saying Ted and Robin were the show’s Ross and Rachel is patently false. They’re not. The only reason that anybody thinks they are is because How I Met Your Mother so guiltlessly lifted character structure and plotlines from Friends. The actual relationship between Ross and Rachel was far more nuanced, and their reasons for breaking up made their reconciliation believable.
By skipping ahead 15 years into the future, the writers alleviate themselves of all necessary character development
The reasons things don’t work out for Ted and Robin is because the show made them not right for one another. It was that simple. It didn’t have to be that simple, but the writers wanted it to be, and so it was. Then, of course, there’s the manner in which the finale goes about putting Ted and Robin together, which is one of the laziest, most deplorable writing tricks to be deployed in recent memory. By skipping ahead 15 years into the future, the writers alleviate themselves of all necessary character development. It’s cheap, and it’s disrespectful to the fans that slogged through some of the truly terrible episodes to get to this point.
Everything that How I Met Your Mother did before its final hour, all of the hiccups and generally poor writing included, would have all been fine if they ended the finale when Ted met the mother, or when the mother died. But they didn’t. It’s a finale that is a disservice to both the show’s legacy and the show’s viewers. Maybe, in a handful of years, it won’t seem as bad. But if that’s true, it will be only because people have either forgotten about it or allowed what happened to categorise all of the events that came before it.
One thing is clear: the finale was a proper end to the show they started writing; it’s not a proper ending to the show they finished writing, and it’s a damn shame they couldn’t learn a bit from the characters they spent so much time with, and compromise.
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All images: 20th Television