There are any number of ways to begin a review of the emotional How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM)finale, just as I believe there were several different tracks the writers could have chosen to cap off such a series. I was in no state to start writing until roughly 48 hours had passed since the episode had aired but after mulling it over I’ve made some personal reconciliations, as I hope many fellow HIMYM fans have done as well.
I did not like how the show ended. The most disappointing aspect of the entire finale was that it was based off an idea from eight years ago. For a show so grounded in character development, this conclusion is absolutely ridiculous and reductive. Sticking to an eight-year-old script is why we ended up witnessing so many shocking turns in the finale. I had hoped and expected that the creators would have been flexible enough with the ending to let it evolve along with the characters, instead of forcing the gang to subscribe to a pre-written fate that seems so ill-fitting to their situations by 2014.
On a more technical level, one of the major flaws of this last season was an issue in temporality. While HIMYM has done an excellent job in the past with its use of flashbacks, flash-forwards, pauses, fast-forwards, and more, I don’t think the creators used their last moments effectively. The reason a lot of us can’t get on board with the Ted-and-Robin (Josh Radnor and Cobie Smulders) reunion is because, on our television screens, Ted’s wife a.k.a. “the mother” had only died 10 minutes before we were supposed to be cheering Ted on in his next conquest. It all boils down to a timing problem: it can take years to progress through the stages of grief—and no doubt Ted and his kids had time to go through all five—but the HIMYM audience had barely that many seconds to process it all before we were expected to accept Ted’s umpteenth ‘re-return’ to Robin. We didn’t have that time, and that’s a large part of why there’s been so much backlash from fans towards the finale.
Season 9 should have spent a fraction of the time that it did on Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin’s destined-to-fail wedding, and focused much more on Ted and Tracy (Cristin Milioti). One of the show’s best features was its ability to make us fall in love with the mother in spite of her minimal screen-time, but we needed to see much more development of her relationship with Ted, and we certainly needed more than half a dozen family photos to commemorate her. On that note, many people claim that it was never about the mother or how Ted met her—it was about his journey there.
In an interview with Vulture, Radnor elegantly defended the ending: “I thought the title of the show was always a bit of a fake-out. It was more of a hook to hang the thing on. Really it was more about the crazy adventures and these are the lessons I had to learn before I met your mother.”
He certainly has a point, but it doesn’t change the fact that by virtue of the title alone, the audience had a massively different type of emotional investment in the mother than any of the characters on the show, and I don’t think it was wrong for fans to expect the creators to respect those emotions. So I’d like to propose a thought experiment—what if the show had been named something banal and unassuming, like Friends. It would have had the same entertainment factor; we would have learned the same lessons and grown to love the same characters. Though the finale was shocking and heart-wrenching, it was also ironically unimportant—separate from the great television the rest of the show largely was.
For those who were pleased with the finale, I’m glad. For those who weren’t, I hope you can still look back and appreciate those gloriously funny, well-written first earlier seasons without too many bittersweet feelings. In any event, here’s to a truly legendary show.