What made How I Met Your Mother an interesting entrant into the sitcom field is that it had a binding narrative arc that ran the course of its 9 seasons. there were payoffs for long game joke set-ups, references to previous episodes that weren’t casual lip-service, and a rich mythos set up by creator/writers Carter Bays and Craig Thomas that’s usually reserved for serial dramas.
And we all went along for the ride. We were there for every inside joke. Every hook up. Every break up. Every make up. Every suit up. Fans of the show stuck dutifully by its side through 9 seasons in hopes of meeting the mother and getting a satisfying end to the longest story ever told.
Which we did…. kinda. Let me back up a little.
The primary conceit of the 9th season was that it all took place during one weekend, the wedding weekend of Barney and Robin. The narrow focus of the show’s final season raised some eyebrows when it was announced, but I commented that Bays and Thomas knew what they were doing, and we should trust that they’ll not lead us astray. And I was digging the final season. It was an odd route to go, but I trusted them to land the show in a satisfactory way.
But holy shit did they blow that the hell up.
Because of the final season’s structure, we were taken on a journey through Barney & Robin’s relationship, and how they handled their cold feet and dealt with their feelings and we came to accept that they truly did love each other, and we also had to deal with both Ted and Robin letting each other go after both being such a huge part of each other’s lives.
We were also given very little face time with the mother. We don’t even find out her name is Tracy until the final episode. Looking back, it does nicely set-up the final reveal that the mother has been long dead while Ted’s telling his kids the story, and that Robin and Barney have since divorced. Since his relationship with Robin was a big focus of the whole story, it became his way of asking permission to date again. To date Robin.
My initial reaction to the finale was just two words: “Fucking Bullshit.” And I stand by that. During the first 8 seasons, we’re on this journey with Ted as he tries to find “the one.” That’s the story we’re emotionally involved with. We came close with Victoria and Stella and even Robin herself. They dropped subtle, and not-so-subtle, clues throughout the show’s run as to who she is and when they’ll meet. That’s what we were on board with.
In the final season, we’re emotionally involved with Barney and Robin, and all the little interactions with Tracy. How she came to meet everybody before she met Ted, then the pay off of them meeting in the final episode. We were now connected with Tracy. We loved her. We were emotionally invested in these stories and we wanted to see them played out.
By killing off Tracy and sending Ted right back to Robin, they completely invalidate everything we went through by hitting the reset button. Killing off the mother before we really get a chance to see them together… I mean REALLY see them together, means that our attachment to her was pointless. Ending the Barney & Robin relationship as casually as they did, just shrugging it off with “Oh, P.S. divorce” means the 4 season attachment we’ve had with them has been pointless. All the corners Barney turned to be with Robin… pointless.
Ultimately, my problem with the finale isn’t Tracy’s death, Robin & Barney’s divorce, and Ted & Robin getting back together. That ending makes quite a bit of sense. My anger, my disappointment, my dissatisfaction stems from how gloriously mishandled it all was.
Had the arc of the 9th season been condensed into the first few episodes of the season, starting off with the wedding right away, maybe meeting Tracy by episode 3 or 4, that would have been perfect. We could have lost all that Daphne road-trip bullshit. The point of the Blauman episode still could have been made. And then they could have spent the remaining 20 episodes on cultivating the relationship with Tracy. See them date and fall in love and go through all the things they go through. That way we as an audience can form that bond with Tracy that Ted does. They could have also spent more time on the Barney & Robin split, so that could have packed a more emotional punch for us as the audience.
But as it stands… it feels too hollow. We spent so much time on Barney & Robin’s wedding weekend, and then everything else was just rushed through and skimmed over. The important stuff was rushed through and skimmed over.
And that’s where they failed. Not in the story they told, but in how they told it. I’ll still love How I Met Your Mother… but that finale was just terrible. Again, not for what happened, but how they told us what happened.
And this is all coming from a guy who liked the Lost finale.