Spoilers if you haven’t seen the last episode of How I Met Your Mother. Let me say this spoiler free: If you indeed have not seen the finale, don’t. You’ll be happier. If you’ve never seen any of it, I do recommend ALL of it…except the last 42 minutes. Just. Look. Away. Read on if you want to see why, but SPOILERS.
I have a tendency to support endings that other people don’t like. I have written extensively how much I enjoyed the endings of both “Lost” and “Battlestar Galactica” though they are much maligned. I like the second and third “Matrix” films. I like the Star Wars prequels. In the cases of Matrix and Star Wars, those aren’t the stories I would have told, but they are where the writers chose to go, and though I would have gone a different direction, they are viable.
So why do I hate the final episode of “How I Met Your Mother” with all my heart and soul?
I don’t like to judge other writers. I like to think I am a good writer, but I know I am not a great writer, and I certainly would not have the wherewithal to write nine seasons of anything. I respect that very much. I have learned something about writing: it’s hard. Not everyone can do it. Something else I have learned though in my short and mostly unnoticed writing career is that the characters are not "your" characters; when you are really rolling they take on lives of their own. They take your story places you may not have intended for it to go. When that happens, you have to be ready to adapt to those changes. You have to look at the characters and say, “you’re right. That’s our destination.” Then you drive them there and all is well.
It seems to me the writers on HIMYM didn’t do that. They had the foresight to shoot the ending of their grand narrative eight years ago, while Ted’s kids still looked like Ted’s kids. Their intention from the beginning is it would be the bittersweet tale of the mother of these children dying and Robin and Ted finally getting together. And that was exactly how the show should have ended: Eight years ago.
Eight years ago (which would be season 2 mind you) Barney was still just a jackass. Ted was never going to get over Robin. Robin never was going to be satisfied with most men. The finale to HIMYM may as well have been plucked—out of context—from the second season. Had the show ended in season three or four even, this ending might have been fine. Like children however, when Craig Thomas and Carter Bays weren’t looking, their characters grew up.
The Ted who learned this season to let go of Robin and move on would not have pursued her later. We watched him pine and choose poorly for NINE YEARS to finally find his one perfect soul mate--Tracy-- whom in a short time I came to adore. It made all nine years perfect. It just needed Ted to move on, and here, in season nine, he did. And it was great, loved it. But then in the finale, season two Ted is back.
And it shouldn’t matter, because scumbag Barney we all loved to wag our fingers at in season two grew up as well. The Barney who burned the playbook, came up with “The Robin,” did rehearsal dinner on ice, made peace with his mother and fiancé, dealt with his absentee father, simply was not the Barney who would end up splitting with Robin. He certainly wouldn’t go back to being so callous as to not even remember Thirty-One’s name while she’s sitting in a hospital having his baby. (I could go on about how shameful it was for the writers to treat a character like that as well- not even a name? But that’s another essay.) The character of Barney—in one of the aspects of the show I found most endearing—developed from That Guy to a Good Guy who may be quirky and a little dirty still, would always be there for Robin.
And Robin needed that quirky guy. She had grown from too self absorbed to really see Ted for what he could be in early seasons to someone who dealt with so many issues, to realizing that her quirks and Barney’s quirks would make them the perfect quirky couple. I LOVED how that developed over three seasons of courtship and loss and then this whole, I think well executed, final season just focusing on all those pieces falling into place. And then, boom, suddenly season 2 Robin is back, too self absorbed to be part of Barney’s (or the gang's) life. It doesn’t work anymore, because those characters developed. Really HIMYM's nine seasons gave us some of the best examples of character development I think TV has ever given us, much less a gimmicky sitcom.
And then in 42 minutes, for me at least, they destroyed nine years of extremely good will.
As a writer, William Faulkner is credited with giving this piece of editing advice: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” Thomas and Bays had a darling in Ted holding up the blue French Horn to mirror that first episode. And there would have been a good place to do that a few years back. But the characters outgrew that little darling, and Thomas and Bays did not see how much it needed to be drowned before it made its appearance. That’s a shame, because it reduces so much great writing over the last few years to an anecdote best forgotten by the long suffering children hearing Ted’s story, and by proxy by the actual audience. It’s sad really, because those last nine years proved these were better writers than to make such an obvious mistake. At least no one broke up Marshall and Lily.
So, in the end, I’m very disappointed, frustrated, and even angry over how How I Met Your Mother ended. You took characters whom we as an audience grew with and as observers befriended over nine years, and returned them to the same dumbasses they were when we came in. At least “The X-Files” took two years to screw me over and I could watch the decline. The hell of it all is those first eight and 23/25ths seasons are indeed so very good. The second to the last episode would have been JUST FINE as the ending. Hence my advice up front. If you haven’t watched the finale, don’t. You’ll be happier than me.