I’m not one to wax poetic about sitcoms. The situational comedy has devolved into one of the most base forms of entertainment in today’s modern culture. Still, when done right, they have a way to speak to audiences and entire generations in ways that very few mediums can. The series “How I Met Your Mother” was one of those series. I didn’t think it was going to be when I first started watching it 9 years ago – I didn’t think about much back then – but it slowly grew on me. Why? Because the show was about growth. And that growth was ruined by the sloppy writing of the finale. The ending was not the way I wanted it to end – but what I realized after a day or two – was that wasn’t what bothered me. It was how it was told. How the characters were treated in the hour long finale that tried to cram too much in. When every ounce of growth that all the characters had accomplished in 9 years unraveled completely.
Let’s take a look at all the characters:
1) Barney – I’ll start with him because his character arch was probably closest to my own personal narrative, so there’s a bit of a bond that may taint my opinion. Over the last three years, we’ve seen Barney evolve. Truly evolve from the “ladies man” pick up artist cliche that he once was. His marriage to Robin was the culmination of that evolution – but it wasn’t the only part of it. Barney had looked to settle down multiple times. And while Robin was something he pined for, he still illustrated that, for the most part, he was moving on from the sex obsessed days. The divorce isn’t what bothered me. It’s the total downgrade in his character back to the beginning. And while their were moments that touched upon the deeper part of it all – when he said “if it wasn’t going to work with Robin, then it won’t for anyone” and his first words to his child – they paled into comparison to the presentation of Barney that the past few years had developed. When Robin and Barney got together, people liked it not because they belonged together (although I’m in the camp that felt that way) but because Barney had matured. A divorce may prove a hiccup in that maturation, but I feel like they went too far. After all, he wanted real relationships after him and Robin broke up the first time. He had conquered a bit of his own parental issues and was looking for stability. It was the post-divorce sexcapades – it was the 5 years later, the unnecessary “perfect month” and the unplanned baby with #31. That turned him into a caricature and not a real character – ruining almost 9 years of development, regardless of the sweet things he said to his newborn.
2) Marshall and Lily – We will put Marshall and Lily together because, ultimately, that’s how they were written. I thought, overall, they were handled well but they were also mundane. They served as exposition characters – repeating “the crew needs to get together for the big moments” to illustrate that they weren’t together, even when the moments weren’t big (or weren’t made big yet…like when Marshall became a judge). It made me think – is this big because they are all together (minus robin) and it happens so infrequently? Or does Lily do this all the time? Regardless – it felt that they were simply used to ground us in the moving timeline in a way that the Mother/Ted’s relationship and Barney couldn’t. So, by being the center of gravity of this show, ultimately Marshall and Lily were right back where we started 9 years ago. A little older. A few kids. But not much different.
3) Ted (and the Mother) – Ted and the Mother were wonderful together. Amazing chemistry. I think Josh Radnor just has a knack for establishing great chemistry with his on screen counterparts. I know the “ending” was filmed 9 years earlier based on the chemistry between him and Cobie Smolders, but he honestly brought that to every date he went on with the show. If anything, it was Ted that ruined all the relationships – any of the potential moms could have worked for a time – which made the show great. And as much as I hated Ted as a character, I also realized that’s a bit of the point. Ted was supposed to be hated – in a sympathetic sort of way. And that was pulled off completely. And the relationship with the mom – the brief snippets – brought 9 years together in a way that I did not imagine. The way they connected – the few lines that Cristin Milioti had – just made it all make sense. Ted found his soul mate. And the fact that she dies – that’s real. And beautiful. And if that was the shocker, the beautiful twist, that would have been one of the most touching and wonderful endings to the show. It would have made sense on why he was talking to the Kids. It would have put a great bow on it. But it didn’t end there. It ended with Ted back with Robin. It makes the show go full circle back to the pilot – but it forgets the other 8 years of the show. Him chasing down Robin with the blue french horn is not romantic – it’s a regression. It’s him pining for an old love, someone who he does not seem to know very well anymore (as of 2020, seeing Robin was a sporadic thing. If the mom died in 2024, when did Ted start hanging with Robin again? Before her death or during? Does he even really know her? Is the chemistry the same – after all, it’s been 15 years or so. Things that go unexplained). Ted does the same foolish, stupid, over the top romantic things that never worked with Robin before. He is the same person he was when he started this whole thing – again, throwing out years and years of character development along the way.
4) Robin – If Barney and Ted’s character development washed away in the hour long finale, it was Robin’s character development that was reinforced. During the entire 9 years of the show, there was one thing that was evident from the very beginning: Robin was selfish and self-centered. In the 16 years up to the 2030 finale, that was reinforced time and time again. The divorce was because she focused on her career and did not take her husband’s career seriously. And while the “lifestyle blog” may have been a joke, that’s not a supportive environment. When she gives him the “off-ramp,” she’s being selfish there too. She’s forcing him to make a decision when the balance of her career and their relationship never is discussed. The lack of discussion around that is totally in character for Robin and further illustrates the fact that she wants her life one way and that’s it. As we proceed forward, we see her slowly drift out of everyone’s lives. The ex-husband thing is real but she doesn’t continue to have a relationship with Lily? She can’t see her on Lily’s schedule? Lily and Marshall seem to find time for Barney and Ted – you’d think that, even being parents of three kids, they would find time for Robin. But, if you remember, Robin drops out of people’s lives when they have kids. Add her career – which she obviously values more than the relationships around her – and it makes sense why they never see her. It’s her own selfishness. Even telling Marshall and Lily that “she should have married Ted” is selfish – what kind of emotionally messed up, self-centered person would proclaim that about someone you had multiple chances at to people you barely see anymore? It’s a selfish confessional – not one built from love, but one built from “I didn’t want that toy but now that someone is playing with it – I want it.” When you put that behavior next to the limited action of the Mother – well you see, how can you even begin to think that Robin and Ted belong together? When Ted and Robin reconnect is glossed over – there is no romantic rekindling that we can see, no change in her character that seems driven from personal discovery and not selfish intent – and it makes Ted’s grand romantic gesture much more hollower.
So – at the end of the story – we’re at the very beginning. Nothing has really changed except some children were conceived and grew up. All the character faults that were being worked on for 9 years dissolved in a single hour. Perhaps that’s the deeper meaning behind all of this – we will forever be who we are. And that, to expect change and personal growth is only an illusion of circumstance. That’s the message that I picked up from this episode. That’s why it sat poorly to me. It’s not a happy ending. Ted and Robin don’t end up together long term. It’s a lonely widow pining for the next best love he ever knew and over-romanticizing it. Sure, that’s real and there’s something to be said for that. But it’s not an ending, just a character flaw. It leaves the audience just sitting there – the ultimate hanging chad – waiting on the rooftop, for the time when that show we loved can return and the magic of those 9 years can be enjoyed once again.