*WARNING! NOT JUST SPOILERS, SUPER MEGA SPOILERS*
On March 31st How I Met Your Mother finally concluded after nine seasons, and to say that the finale was divisive is generous to say the least. With fan-made alternative endings, and petitions flying around the net for an official alternative ending, are fans simply short-sighted to what was a fitting end to the show, or did Craig Thomas and Carter Bays get it oh so wrong? It’s sad to say it’s most definitely the latter.
Last Forever Prt 1 & 2, the final episodes of the ninth season of How I Met Your Mother – a season set over Barney and Robin’s wedding weekend – topped off what was arguably an already muddled and laboured final series. The series called upon cameo appearances, flashbacks, flash-forwards, running jokes, and grasped desperately at ludicrous story choices in an attempt to maintain the comedy and heart that had so often defined the earlier series’. In that respect, it wasn’t a surprise when the finale aired and it was everything we didn’t want and more. Yet, despite the demise in quality of the final series it had still felt as if we were all working towards a common goal; we were in this together. Barney and Robin were to marry and Ted was finally going to meet ‘the Mother’ and get his happy ending. Right? Wrong. Just like the final moments of a who-dunnit thriller, a twist was thrown in and it was revealed that the Mother had died and Ted was going to end up with Robin. Were we supposed to say ‘oh how clever! You Fooled me!’? Sorry we’re not buying it. Instead the finale was a series of misfires and opportunities missed.
It’s no secret that the writers filmed the final scenes back in 2006, meaning that it had long been decided how the show would end. A brave choice for any writers but at least giving them the advantage of forethought and planning. This makes their structural choice to set the entire last series across Barney and Robin’s wedding even more strange. To make the audience invest in Barney and Robin as a couple over the past years and then have them separate in the first 15 mins of the finale felt, dare I say it, cruel, and like we’d been cheated. The ‘I-do’s’ were barely out of their mouths before we were watching a rather emotionless and hasty break-up scene between the pair that lacked any real depth, rationality or reason.
In hindsight Ted and Robin ending up together had always been plausible. The show was very much about them and Ted’s unfaltering love for her. Was being the key phrase here. As the show developed and the characters developed our focus shifted, as the writers had intended it to, and we became invested in Ted getting everything he wanted; marriage, kids and a castle wedding, and it was made very clear this was not with Robin. For us to invest in them again and really embrace their relationship the audience would have needed to buy into the two of them as a couple, something we are not given time to do. Instead, we are allowed to invest and grow to love the title character of the Mother, Ted’s wife, who we finally find out is called Tracy. Played charmingly and subtlety by the wonderful Cristin Miloti, Tracy was slowly drip fed to the audience, so by the end of the season we had grown to care about her as a character. Unlike some of the overly-caricatured series regulars, Miloti brought a freshness to the season and managed to fill the giant, and somewhat mythical, boots of the Mother. She was one of more human roles of the season and was written with such a credibility and likeability that we finally felt redemption for Ted and his ‘bad luck’ love life. All that praise aside, if the writers really couldn’t be persuaded to change track from their intended end game, then these are the most forgiveable crimes. How we came to this end point, slightly less so.
One of the most humanising and engaging elements of HIMYM has been watching the cast grow and mature as people, however this final episode shows no growth at all. To see Barney back to trying to score the perfect month as he entered his ‘ Clooney years’ felt disappointing and sad. The choice to only refer to the mother of his child as ‘no 31 ‘seemed a long way away from the Barney of new. If the writers had not attempted to redeem Barney over the last few seasons then this thread would have seemed like a consistent and understandable writing choice, however the growth of Barney was one of the more enjoyable journeys on the show. As the previous seasons developed, we peeled away the layers of Barney’s sexism, bigotry and selfishness and embraced the person he became with the encouragement of his friends. This leads to possible the most fractious and sobering element of the finale; how the friends weathered over the course of time.
The disintegration of the gang over the years, and the sad moment that Robin leaves the Halloween party and a heavily pregnant, emotional, Lily, felt like the antithesis of the idea of the show. These people weren’t just friends; they were a family, people to grow old with eventually. To suggest that people don’t change and life doesn’t occasionally just happen around you is naive, however HIMYM has never been the show to serve up a grim slice of reality; instead it opted for the more hopeful message of lasting friendships, and love – as long as you wanted it enough. To see Robin become absent from the group was saddening and somewhat bleak. Not that HIMYM has shied away from bleak. At its best HIMYM has gone to darker places; Marshall’s Dad dying, Robin not being able to have kids to name a few. Yet, these have all been milestones that have demonstrated friendship at its best. What was done in the finale was empty and lacking heart; people die, relationships break up, friends move apart and sometimes you end up with someone you were with twenty five years ago. It was the comedown none of us wanted and didn’t really deserve. A wake up from the warm, hope-filled, sentimental yarn we had been on with these people for nine years. The writers almost mocked our hopes that life could be that neatly rounded off and simple.
Of course the finale was not without its highs; a once again emotionally honest and committed performance from Alyson Hannigan demonstrated the true gravitas for the cast. Real emotion shone through when saying goodbye to Ted that showed us a reminder of why we had stuck with these people for so long. At its peak, HIMYM has been ground breaking, hilarious, poignant, witty, sharp and fresh; at its worst it’s been Slapsgiving 3 Slappointment in Slapmarra. Ultimately, the choice by the writers to stick to the ending made in 2006 meant that the characters also felt stuck. The reluctance to accept that where the show had begun was not where it should finish has been the undoing of How I Met Your Mother. The new playbook and the blue French horn, instead of symbiotically pulling everything together, were sad reminders that the characters had finished where they started, which is all they could have done with an ending filmed at the start.