Episode 109: Struggling with the How I Met Your Mother Finale

I have like a week’s worth of blog posts to finish up on but this one just seemed more pressing to complete and send out. A long time ago, I wrote about the How I Met Your Mother season finale where Robin was revealed to be the bride. It seemed fitting giving the circumstances that I expand my thoughts on the shows actual finale. I’m assuming that you have already seen it if you have found your way to my homely little blog but just in case spoilers abound from here on out so be warned. A lot of people, many of whom are more talented and smarter than myself, have already expressed themselves on the topic but I still want to share my thoughts with the blogosphere and join in on the conversation.

HIMYM is one of my favorite shows ever and one that has inspired a lot of critique from the standpoint of academia and overall fanboyness. I got in late to the show so I admit that the emotional investment I made towards the characters and story does not come to par with some of the more hardcore fans that have been there since day one. As someone who considers himself a mix between Ted Mosby and Sheldon Cooper from that other CBS popular show, I felt a kinship to the protagonist and his quest for love. Since the eponymous premise of the story is done through flashbacks and narration we always knew that Ted “Evelyn” Mosby would find the love of his life, no matter what. Ted the character would falter and despair with each misstep but Ted the narrator was weary with years and the experience that came from pain and heartbreak that was healed over with true love. As an expy of the search for the “one” I and many like me mirrored their own relationship troubles through our hero and knew that someway, somehow, our patience would reward us and karma/the universe/some kind of deity would finally put our soul mate in front of us. As viewers, we knew “the mother” (later revealed to be Tracy) was someone so special that it made all the pain and waiting worth it. The final season showed us just that but the finale sort of unraveled it one fell swoop.

What made the finale particularly amazing from my perspective as a serial was that it worked as an incredibly long epilogue. We had already seen several moments of Ted and Tracy together through snippets of lovely moments before they had officially met. Even though her character was not nearly as well developed as the rest of the gang, she had her quirks that somehow fit perfectly with all things Ted. Even though the perspective his eschewed in his behalf, you could see chemistry. Even as normally happy people, when they were together their smiles were just a little wider, something that at least I never saw Ted do with his previous relationships. That one episode where we see Tracy’s life unfold beyond the tiny glimpses Ted saw of her showed that she had her own troubles and tragedies alongside her dreams and ambitions. We see someone struggle and reconstruct their lives as the focus and direction were gone in one heart wrenching moment. It was a dense episode, but it made me love “the mother” as her own individual character, not just because she was the one that would make Ted’s life feel whole for maybe the first time. The final season, Hell the entire show was about the journey that would bring them together and yet we found a destination that we never thought coming during that last hour of programming.

As a romantic and a lover of serials I know that most “happily ever after” endings are cliché but they feel the most satisfying as a conclusion. They could have cut a lot of things from that episode and it would have been a perfect amount of nostalgia and things coming together. The extra material confused me to the point of sadness and it took me a long time to come to grips with the ending in all its manners. Let’s go over all the things that made for variable feels along the way.

Barney and Robin Get Divorced:

The first shocker that came during the epilogue was that after three years of marriage, Barney and Robin decided to end it. Part of me wanted them to be together forever, to be happy, that their messed up love could beat the odds. Considering that the mere telling of the exploits of their relationship killed a priest, I thought that they were just weird enough to work. However, after a lot of world hopping, they decided that staying together was just too much. After talking about it with my girlfriend, I realized that they just weren’t in a good position to be together forever. It’s easy to blame to Robin’s flourishing career as being a taxing strain on their love but there a lot more things to keep in consideration. First off, Barney didn’t have a job because he had snitched out the questionable practices of Goliath National Bank to the feds. He had enough money to be comfortable on his own, as did Robin through her family. Without that part of his life he was “free” to follow Robin and wherever she ended up as part of journalistic career. She had the serious stuff and Barney’s blog became silly to the point that they eventually came to lose respect for the other’s respective work. More than that, I believe they ultimately lacked the emotional maturity to talk about their problems as they were developing, rather than when they couldn’t be ignored anymore. We saw during their first attempt at a relationship that their method towards dealing with conflict was sex, booze, and overall hedonism that distracted them from reality. Yes, they loved each other but I don’t want to think that the entire buildup towards their marriage was a “waste” because of the divorce. Barney is and always has been a drama queen who wants the spotlight while Robin wants to be recognized as her own person, not the son her father would have preferred, but as someone who earned her own merits. Ultimately, he needs attention that she couldn’t give and Barney would somehow steal her thunder in one way or another to still feel relevant as his legendary adventures were behind him. In one way, they were at the crossroads of their lives, Barney about to settle down while Robin achieves further fame and the strain between the two outlooks was just too much.

Robin Doesn’t Want to Stay Friends with the Gang

Again, this goes back to the different directions in their respective lives. Robin’s friends were now married with kids as she was jet setting around the world. It might not be what she wanted but it was definitely what she couldn’t have (between the divorce and not being able to have kids) and witnessing just that all the time must have been like a constant slap in the face. Not to mention that Barney had regressed to his old shenanigans by then, it just seemed that everyone was happy but her. Maybe it’s just me being a feminist, but I struggle with believing that Robin choosing career over family should be blamed or wrong in any way. It was her choice and should be respected just as much as Marshall having to endure that horrible corporate law job for years to maintain Lily and their kids. Robin kept seeing the parts of her life that she thought she wanted (marriage, kids, Ted) go on without her and being close to that just kept reopening that emotional wound. Yes, it was a bit selfish but I’m sure it was the only way to go. Besides, we do see that she becomes a prominent part of Ted and Lily’s life through flashbacks and having the honorific title of “Aunt Robin” to their kids so it’s safe to say that she came back and reforged those friendships.

Barney Has a Kid and Is Somehow a Decent Person

Barney is the self-proclaimed “Player King of New York City” so anything that would hinder his womanizing ways should be avoided by all means necessary. For a while, that was serious relationships but later found that a sense of stable companionship wasn’t all too bad. After giving all that up for Robin but having that not work out, it was clear that a spouse or soul mate would not temper Barney being, well Barney. And then a perfect month led to #31 being pregnant and he thought his life was over. The callback to “Not a Father’s Day” was both hysterical and almost cruel, just before he was about to meet his daughter. But then he saw her. Ellie in that one moment changed him like nothing else ever had and so “legendary” Barney Stinson became a responsible dad. The change was sudden, almost too much by most standards but it made a lot of sense once you go back and revisit his character. Barney grew up without a dad but was still the sole focus of his mother’s affection. He was spoiled but felt deep down that there was something missing in his life. Even during his own wedding he tried to reunite his mother and estranged father (even with them being in their own respective relationships) to be able to finally have the family he so desperately needed. As much as Barney may prefer going after girls with daddy issues, he knows that in his core he suffers more than the prey he stalks. Upon realizing that he is a father, he accepts the challenge (though not with his usual declarations of bravado) of being there for his daughter and make sure she never feels the agony of a broken home. I don’t know how much being a parent changes everything but from what I have vicariously experienced through other literary characters and my dear friends and family, Barney’s sudden transformation isn’t as farfetched as you first imagine. He now has a new focus, one that will soon enough come to reciprocate that attention and treat him as an important part of her world and that’s what he really needs. I doubt that he and #31 will end up being in a loving relationship of any kind but he will strive to be the father he once yearned for and that may be the happiest ending of all.

The Mother Dies

The Internet had been buzzing with this theory for a while now so it didn’t catch me completely off guard but boy did it hurt. It was a hurried moment for the viewer to just see it hand waved as “she got sick”. Again, by Ted’s perspective he is telling things to his kids that they did not know beforehand and as young as they were, the memory of her mother’s illness and passing is still pretty fresh and shouldn’t have to be relived. As much as Tracy was a part of Ted’s life, the story was about the journey he underwent to be the best person he could be for when he finally would meet her. Once she is present the story doesn’t have to go on. Our overall expectations was that once their lives intertwined everything would be great and nothing else needed to be said. However, life keeps going long after the initial meeting, the leap into parenthood, the deferred marriage, and all the other moments they shared. The story ends for you, and only for you (unless you are particularly devoted to the concept of an afterlife and/or reincarnation) once life meets its inevitable end. For Tracy, her story ended from our perspective almost as soon as it began but for Ted and for their children it keeps going. Which brings me to the next point that for many undid nine seasons of romance in a few minutes.

Robin and Ted End up Together

This one made me audibly groan as I tried to find the right words to express my emotions on multiple occasions. The story was set up from the beginning to have the mother be the be all, end all of relationship summits. Ted finds her and everything should be good. They were trying to find each other for almost a decade and spent another one together. To see it suddenly shift all that emotional attention to Robin once again just made me go into several WTF?! moments as the final minutes happened before my eyes, The book end to the first episode with the blue French horn making a comeback was proper according to serial protocol but for a long time it felt that the previous nine seasons were all for naught if he was just going to end up with Robin in the end. It took some serious ruminating to find that there was another character who reflected the sense of loss and rediscovery of love. He was there but only a few sentences but ultimately Max is the most tragic character in the entirety of the show. Max was Tracy’s boyfriend that died unexpectedly in some form of unexplained accident. They were perfect together, he gave her the most amazingly weird gifts like the ukulele that were exactly what she wanted. Max and Tracy looked to have a long and happy life together before tragedy struck. It took her a long time to love again and she did but that guy just wasn’t “the one” even if he swore he was. He proposed, and even with Max’s blessing via appropriately timed wind, Tracy chose to keep looking for love. Luckily a few days later she found Ted so yay. However, How I Met Your Mother has always been a show about the journey, not the destination. Ted could have met Tracy before during any of their almost chance encounters and vice versa but neither one was ready yet to be with the other. Ted had to be hurt and Tracy had to heal before they could deeply fall in love again. They had to let go of their previous loves before they could catch each other. HIMYM plays a lot with the concept of finding “the one”. For Marshall and Lily it’s obvious and had they messed with them there would be riots right now in front of CBS HQ. The epilogue of the secondary characters also diversified the idea of one true love as couples would stay together or drift apart. All of the gangs’ parents would find the one but lose them via divorce or death. Marshall’s mom is an interesting example as she lost her beloved husband but later ended up with Lily’s dad. Ted had many relationships in which he swore that he found the future mother of his children but mostly to no avail. He reminisces about the life he had with the friends that were still there but nearly as close as they once were. In the process, he and his children realize that Robin continued to have a place in his heart. I’m not saying that she is the one that got away or that she is the one but rather that there is love between them and that should be worth trying to rekindle. For the same reasons that Barney and Robin ended up divorced are the same reasons why they weren’t together after season 5 in the first place. He wanted marriage and kids, she didn’t and couldn’t. I hate to break it down to that simple point but their long term outlooks were in different directions. With Ted already a father and Robin more settled down from what we can surmise as a regular news anchor in New York they have a chance to be together again. Robin isn’t Tracy just as much as Ted isn’t Max. One wasn’t a stepping stone for the other. We have no idea if these two lovebirds can make it work again but the idea that life, and as an extent love, goes on no matter what is the real lesson behind the show and why I still love it.

The finale was complex and unexpected so I give the writers props for pushing the envelope beyond the cliché. As much as I or the readers want a neater and tidier ending were everyone ends up happy and together, reality doesn’t abide by those expectations. Serial fiction walks a careful balance between reflecting and escaping that reality to make it both believable and enjoyable. For nine years, I and many others saw Ted fall and pick himself up again until he met the love of his life but ultimately and more importantly, we saw friends come together in good times and bad to achieve something legendary. And that is something worth watching over and over again.


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