Well, How I Met Your Mother ended recently, and with the passing of any long-running and dearly beloved show there are bound to be some people who don’t like the way it turned out. HIMYM’s ending, however, was one of those particularly divisive endings that has been compared to Lost in terms of how horrifying it is. Well, I’ll be honest, and I may be in the minority here: I loved it. It was perfect. Here’s why.
Ostensibly, the show is one long gag story told by a stereotypical dad figure about how he met his children’s mother. Why we need to know this fact is never questioned, in part because it’s clearly established early on that Ted’s the kind of guy to do long monologues and tell stories no one’s interested in. If we had bothered, from the very start, to ask why he felt the need to tell this story to his children, or why she’s suspiciously absent from the picture (although that could equally as well be a thematic choice), it might have put us on the right track earlier. But here’s the thing: the show very clearly establishes, and very early on, that this isn’t really a show about how Ted met the mother of his children.
The show has been called many things over its run. One of my favorites is that it’s a show about a really cool guy named Barney Stinson and his kind of weird secondary friend Ted who’s really blah and whatever, since it’s pretty clear that Barney is the workhorse carrying around much of the interest in the show. While Ted provides the narrative backbone, Barney does all the work. But a second and more telling comedic summary of the show goes along the lines of it not being a show about how Ted met their mother - rather, it’s a story about how he keeps being hung up on Robin every now and then for no reason.
It’s also pretty clear that the point of the story isn’t really to establish how he met their mother. After all, he would have gotten to the point a lot faster, Ted’s personality aside. It’s a really goofy, irreverent picture of his youth, his love life, his trials and tribulations… in essence, everything but their mother. This is also so clear that even his children echo it in the end, immediately jumping on him and suggesting that this wasn’t a story about their mother at all. It seems like for once, the characters within the show are actually more aware of the implausibility of its premise than its audience, since we all collectively seemed to forget in the last season that this really isn’t a show about Tracy.
And that’s kind of where I find issue with being upset about the ending. After eight seasons of not delivering on that initial premise at all, the ninth season somehow got everyone’s hopes up. Ah, we finally get to meet the mother! It was kind of a weird season, to be honest, since they packed it all into a much more limited setting and a much smaller time period than any of the other seasons. The density of it somehow convinced us that Robin and Barney would work, even though it’s been a running theme throughout most of their relationship that they’re both too strong-willed and independent for each other. Then Robin freaks out on her wedding day, afraid that she’s marrying the wrong guy. This was like literally an episode before the ending, guys. Somehow not even the few episodes critical of the Barney/Robin marriage within the last season managed to break it up for us - they were getting married! Hooray! Long-running character arcs be damned, Barney is finally gonna settle down!
We were all kind of fooled by Ted’s ridiculous optimism, in the end. It seems like we never really questioned the fact that Ted would be justified in the end. Knowing that he was telling the story after the facts and that he still seemed to retain his youthful optimism about everything, we seemed to assume that everything would turn out just perfect for him and his friends, even though we got plenty of clues that things would be more realistic and sticky throughout.
The end is, I think, a perfect ending to nine seasons of accumulated thematic content. The entire time, the show heftily criticizes Ted’s overly romantic dating and courtship standards while also criticizing Barney and Robin’s much more lax and detached ones. In fact, the only characters whose ideas are consistently respected throughout the show are Marshall and Lily’s, and in the end they’re always the ones who end up being justified. The ending only continues this theme. Barney and Robin get torn apart by their individualism. Barney gets to be a single father, the natural consequence of his womanizing. Ted does meet the one, but in a twist of fate loses her shortly after. Only Marshall and Lily have a textbook “happy” ending: lots of children, a solid career for Marshall, Rome for Lily, and no divorce or sudden death anywhere in sight. With Tracy dead, Ted then turns around and goes back to what he’s been doing for literally eight years of our lives: having a huge thing for Robin.
Was it the ending we wanted? Probably not. Again, we were all fooled by the hopeful tone set by Ted’s optimism (plus the fact that it’s largely a comedy) to the point that we were willing to overlook the fact that nearly everything else in the show has been telling us that things aren’t perfect, no one’s point of view is unilaterally justified, and things are always a lot longer and more complicated than they initially seem. The show hasn’t been afraid to throw us hard punches when it wants to (Robin’s sterility episode comes to mind), so I don’t know why we expected it to stop at the end. It’s hard to imagine a perfect happy ending for the show because in my opinion it would contradict almost everything that has happened up until that point. Again, the final season fooled us because it worked itself out to be one large burst of mostly unmitigated optimism, but that should be seen as an aberration and certainly not the norm, and again this fact is echoed by the children in the finale. Even the final episode’s title echoes this theme: “last” in “last forever” could be interpreted alternately as a verb (implying a positive aspect) or as an adjective (having a more ominous tone). Bittersweet events are, and always have been, one of the show’s ongoing themes.
Honestly the only thing I’m offended about is Barney getting less screen time in the finale, because after all - he is the main character.