SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t watched the final episode of How I Met Your Mother, please stop reading. If you have — or you just don’t care — read on. This one’s gonna be a doozy.
What annoyed me about “Last Forever,” the series finale of How I Met Your Mother , wasn’t necessarily what the internet blew up about a few weeks ago. As I said back then, even if The Mother wasn’t going to make it to 2030, at least we got the warning signal well in advance instead of having the emotional rug pulled out from us this week.
Well, what everyone speculated would happen did; Ted (Josh Radnor) lost what was seemingly the love of his life — who we found out was named Tracy McConnell (Cristin Milioti) — a few years before he told the long tale to his teenage kids. What we didn’t anticipate was that this long story wasn’t really about Tracy at all.
It was about Robin (Cobie Smulders), or more accurately from the kids’ perspective, Aunt Robin, and the continuing love affair the two had for each other over a quarter century, from the first time he saw her at McLaren’s, through their breakup, her on-again, off-again relationship with Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), her and Barn’s failed marriage, three kids for Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan), the inevitable early-forties drift-apart of their friendship, her career taking her all over the world, Ted marrying Tracy after seven years and two kids, Tracy’s illness and death, and then another six years of Ted being a single parent.
So there we were, after nine years of show and 25 years of timeline: the kids, after hearing this story, making the observation almost none of us could come up with — that the story was about Robin — and encouraging Ted to ask her out. After a little nervous phumphering, cut to Ted, standing outside Robin’s apartment building, a grey-haired fifty-something, holding up that damned blue French horn as a surprisingly young-looking Robin looks down at him from her window.
It’s supposed to be a satisfying ending, right? Ted and Robin, back where they were a quarter century ago, picking up where they left off. It was the way the story was supposed to end, right? They reconnect like they should have done from the start.
Only the ending wasn’t satisfying at all. It was lame. And a little bit sad. And about four seasons too late.
What gets to me about this ending is that this was what Carter Bays and Craig Thomas had in mind for the finale pretty much from the start. After all, they filmed Penny (Lyndsy Fonseca) and Luke’s (David Henrie) part of the final scene nine years ago, as a hedge against the then-teenagers aging out of the roles if the show was to have a run of any sort of length. Bays and Thomas have claimed many times that they envisioned the story would run about eight seasons, which is a good reason why season nine, mounted at the behest of CBS, was one long take on Robin and Barney’s wedding weekend.
Here’s the problem, though: Bays and Thomas not only made the mistake of throwing us off the trail early by having Old Ted call her “Aunt Robin” to the kids, thus signifying from the start that she wasn’t the kids’ mother and getting us all ramped up to finally meet the mother after investing so much time, they stopped trying to get them together after they broke up for good at the beginning of the third season. Yes, there were pangs from both sides here and there that they should get back together, but they were fleeting and by season five or six it felt that everyone in the HIMYM gang had moved on. And as viewers, we moved on, as well.
That’s they key to this whole thing, folks. If the show had ended after season four or five, and this “Ted and Robin get back together when they’re middle-aged” ending played out, it would have been much more satisfying because there were still a significant number of viewers who actually cared about Ted and Robin getting back together. But that desire had pretty much been stamped out by the time Robin and Barney got together for the first time. It was so out of our systems that when Ted’s feelings did start to bubble back to the surface last season in last season’s locket-centric episode “Something Old”, it felt contrived and, frankly, unearned. Robin wasn’t the one, dammit! The Mother was! And at a certain point, that’s what all long-time fans turned their attention and concentration to: the story of how Ted met the love of his life after so many years of being unluckily single.
So we get a finale that, in retrospect, wasn’t much different than the rest of the series. The story Old Ted told in this finale, like the story throughout the nine years, revolved a lot around Robin and very little around Tracy, from the first scene, where she meets the gang for the first time in 2005, to her wedding, to her and Barney getting that divorce, to Robin essentially breaking up with the gang because it was too hard to see Ted with Tracy. It made the whole episode kind of a downer, because instead of seeing how everyone evolved, we mostly saw how the gang started to break apart.
Did we get to see why Lily Pad and Marshmallow became such a loveless couple in their middle age? No, not really. Was it OK that Barney’s true love turned out to be the daughter he accidentally had with “Number 31″ as he was trying to complete the perfect month? Sorta. Was it funny to see The Playbook II: Electric Boogaloo? Absolutely. And there were plenty of moments in the episode that were funny like that. But for the most part, it felt more like a eulogy for a group of friends people had come to love over close to a decade than a finale that would make a fan like me misty and emotionally satiated. Even the scene where Ted and Tracy finally meet at the rainy Farhampton train station felt less than joyous, mainly because we knew their relationship was going to end much sooner than it should have.
Then again, I’m a robot; just ask my wife. I’m not angry at how things turned out, just disappointed. Maybe it’s our fault for taking our eyes off the prize so early on. But Bays and Thomas also need to take some of the blame, because they gave us so many reasons to do that. It was a sleight-of-hand trick that would have made Barney the magician (and NPH, for that matter) proud. That kind of ending may have been good for Newhart or St. Elsewhere, but it sure as hell was no way to end a show called How I Met Your Mother.