“And they fucked it up. Officially and totally FUCKED IT UP! #HIMYM”
The above was my initial, live-tweeted reaction to the end of How I Met Your Mother’s series finale when, with the blessing of his children, the 6-years widowed Ted Mosby decides to pursue a romantic relationship with Robin. Judging by everything I’m seeing online today, from both fans and the media, my gut-reaction seems to be the general consensus reaction to the ending. Yet after a second viewing, I sit here conflicted. Part of me hates the way the show ended, yet there’s another, less emotionally invested voice in my head saying it was genius. So instead of going off on a 100% opinion one way or the other, I’m simply going to write down what I loved and what I hated about the ending in a Mosby-style list of pros and cons and let you draw your own conclusions. Just a couple of caveats before I begin; I am a die hard HIMYM fan, bordering on obsessive some might say. Thanks to DVDs and Netflix, I’ve seen every episode a double digit amount of times, and compulsively followed the show’s continuity and in-jokes. Going hand in hand with that, I feel like the downfall of the show in later seasons has been greatly exaggerated. If anything, the nadir of the show was seasons 4 and 5. Finally, and obviously this plays a big part in my opinions here, I’ve always been a staunch opponent of Ted and Robin ending up together.
-It Was The Plan All Along: Unless Carter Bays and Craig Thomas have access to a time machine (and if they do, I really want to know where the damn pineapple came from) they’ve been sitting on the footage of Penny and Luke giving Ted their blessing to go after Robin for 8 years, which means that the Mother being dead/Ted going back after Robin was the endgame since at least Season 2. I honestly give Bays and Thomas a lot of credit for sticking with their plan and vision all these years, since they had to know it would be massively divisive, especially after devoting the better part of three seasons to Barney and Robin’s relationship.
-The Ted and Robin Dynamic: Ted and Robin, thanks in no small part to the acting of Josh Radnor and Cobie Smulders, always had the most layered relationship on the show, both before, during, and after they dated. The two lived together for the better part of three seasons, shared numerous in-jokes, and constantly went to each other for advice. Robin was always leaning on Ted to be there for her, and he in turn was always desperate to make the grand gesture for her (see the talk they have at the end of Doppelgängers, or pretty much the entirety of Symphony of Illumination).
-The Lack of A Barney and Robin Dynamic: I know the Swarkles fans will have my head for this, but I was never that into the Barney and Robin relationship. Smulders and Neil Patrick Harris had a definite chemistry together that showed through in their scenes together, but Barney and Robin’s relationship was never truly defined. Their characters were similar, but that doesn’t make them a great couple by itself. They definitively had their moments (Sandcastles In The Sand, The Final Page, pretty much all of season 9) but frankly it seemed like they were together more out of insecurity (both looking for familial fulfillment) than true romantic love.
-HIMYM Was Never Presented As A Fairy Tail: I hate to use the word realism when describing any television show (don’t kid yourself, they pretty much all have unrealistic hyper-reality elements), but even amongst it’s Canadian Pop Stars and slap bets, HIMYM always seemed to at least keep some semblance of a reality base, as opposed to giving the characters exactly what they wanted in a Disney-esque fairy tail way. Marshall and Lily both made major compromises to their dreams (being an environmental lawyer and artist respectively) so that their marriage could work, and eventually found fulfillment down related yet different paths than their initial dreams. Barney’s “legendary” bro-life, no matter how fun it looked, was always presented as a ticking clock that would would eventually expire and leave him alone. But instead of going down the easy path and having Barney find “the one” (or stay with Robin and have her be “the one”) they went down the more realistic path of their being no woman who Barney could have a long-lasting monogamous relationship with. Instead, the writer’s chose to have Barney find fulfillment in parenthood. A gutsy choice, but one I was personally sold on thanks to NPH’s sheer brilliance in the hospital scene. Even the gang itself splintered, with parenthood/jobs/marriages/moves to the suburbs suddenly ending their regular night’s at the bar, just like any real group of friends. What does all this talk of realism have to do with Ted and Robin ending up together? Ted, from the start of the series was seeking the most fairy tail ending of all the characters. He wanted the perfect wife, who he could live in the perfect house with, and have the perfect kids with, and perfectly grow old together with. But as the above examples show, HIMYM like real life didn’t often do “perfect.” Instead illness robbed Ted of his perfect life, and forced him to pick up the pieces. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Ted was supposed to have been pining over Robin the whole time he was with Tracy, I think his feelings only resurfaced as he slowly put his life back together after Tracy’s death.
-The Blue French Horn: I must say, as upset as I was that Ted and Robin ended up together, I teared up at the final scene. The shot for shot homage to the scene from the pilot, including Robin’s dogs and the Blue French Horn hit all the right nostalgic notes.
-Tracy: Quite frankly, the HIMYM creative team did too good a job creating the mother. While I’m sure there would have been backlash, I don’t think it would be nearly as strong had they introduced her in the series finale (or the episode before that) and then done the exact same passing away/get with Robin storyline. Instead they, and Cristin Milioti crafted a beautiful character over the 22 episodes of Season 9. The 200th episode dedicated to her character (How Your Mother Met Me) justified the existence of a ninth season all by itself. Her connection with Ted went much deeper than the quirks they shared (which by themselves are no stronger than the similarities between Barney and Robin) but to the fact that they shared the same strong belief in a universal ordained love. I’m sure Bays and Thomas were trying to make the mother lovable, so that the audience would be hit by her death just as hard as Ted was, but I think it backfired. Instead, she seemed like a brilliantly written/portrayed character who got sacrificed so that Ted could have his cake and eat it to, RE: having kids and ending up with Robin.
-Virtual Reset Button: Everything we were told at the end of the finale (Barney giving up his womanizing ways after having a child and devoting his life to her, Marshall and Lily having 3 kids, successful careers, a house in the suburbs, Ted going after Robin 6 years after the mother died) could have been told to us at the end of the second season and still would have made the same amount of sense in relation to the characters development and respective status quos. Granted, there are few bigger proponents of the “HIMYM was about the journey, not the destination” idea than me, but to basically make the final 7 seasons of events and character development seem superfluous stretches that mighty thin.
-Radnor’s Acting As Future Ted: I love Josh Radnor as Ted Mosby, but I had a real problem with the way he played the final scene. Now, I’m sure it was constraining to have to react off the 8 year old performances of the kids telling him to go after Robin, but I still don’t like the implication that he was solely telling the story as a backdoor way of asking the kids permission. Maybe if he had played it/it had been written that Ted came to the realization that he’d been talking about Robin the whole time when Penny said it, as opposed to that being his ulterior motive, it would have played better. Now it just makes Ted look a bit sleazy and makes his whole story feel a tad dishonest, which is not at all how I want to remember Ted.
-Somewhat Devalues The Pilot: Television pilots are tricky thing to rate. Even the best tend to be exposition dumps, as they have to firmly establish the setting, premise of the show, and basic character traits of the cast in an attempt to sell the show. The HIMYM pilot is no exception, though it’s better than most. That said, it’s ending is phenomenal. To hear Future Ted say “And that’s how I met your… Aunt Robin” after 22 minutes of clearly being led to believe that she’s the mother is a great twist, especially if one goes into watching the episode cold to other knowledge about the series. While granted, the moment still works in-story since she’s still Aunt Robin to the kids at that point, it loses a lot from an audience perspective knowing that they end up together. It goes from a brilliantly executed swerve to a technicality.
So there you have it, my major pros and cons to the HIMYM Finale. Even after writing all that down, I still don’t know how I feel. That’s not me trying to placate either side of the argument, just honesty. One thing I do know is that this doesn’t at all change my love for the show as a whole. In a lot of ways I grew up with this show. It was something I was obsessed with in college, and helped me get through graduating, losing friends, and the death of family members. I’ve seen several people remark that the ending “ruined the show” or that they “can never watch it the same way again” and frankly I feel bad for them. If it pisses you off that much, just end the show with the wedding episode whenever you watch it. You’ve seen almost all the big moments of Ted and Tracy’s life in flash forward by that point anyway, and you get to have Barney and Robin together. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to debating this with some of you for years to come.