The series finale of HIMYM: It's not about the mother, it's about the how
If you know me, you'll know that I watch only two shows on a regular basis -- How I Met Your Mother and Mad Men. Both of these shows are ending this year and the expectations for both are incredibly high. The series finale of How I Met Your Mother aired last week on March 31. I didn't have time to watch it until Friday, so I might be slightly behind on jumping on the commentary bandwagon. I actively avoided Twitter (we know how much that can spoil stuff for me), but unfortunately following the show on Google+ made me want to tear my hair out with this (I mean, seriously, there's so little stuff on Google+, who would've thought it would spoil a bunch):
But alas, I digress...
The series finale seems to have been disappointing to just about everyone. The basic reaction was, "It took you a whole season to get Barney & Robin married only to get them divorced in two minutes, then have nine seasons to get Robin & Ted get together? What the hell!" or, "The show is called How I Met Your Mother, and the mother just dies?!" I get it. I didn't like it at first, but then I thought about it and actually thought the finale was fitting. So here's a breakdown of how I thought about it.
Ted, The Mother, & the notion of "How I Met Your Mother"
Fans have been anticipating the moment when Ted meets the Mother for nine years and it should have been extraordinary. We're talking about Ted Mosby, after all, the guy we've come to know who makes these grand gestures all in the name of love. He's the one who just blurts out, "I think I'm in love with you!" on a first date. The moment that Ted meets the Mother (who we learn is named Tracy) is actually not this huge big deal. They casually talk about things that make it seem like the universe has brought them together -- Tracy was Cindy's roommate, Tracy was in the econ class that Ted thought was his architecture course, the yellow umbrella. It's actually a very sweet moment, and, considering that this moment has been built up in the last nine years, is fitting.
The finale then fast-forwards and we see how Ted and Tracy's relationship develop. We've seen glimpses in this final season, but we really get to see what happens. Instead of having the fairy-tale wedding that we'd all expect these two kids to have, it turns out that Tracy is pregnant and they put the wedding off. In fact, they put the wedding off quite awhile because they have a second kid, and well, time just doesn't allow for it. Future Ted tells his kids that he learned to treasure every moment he had with Tracy, to love her fully, and to appreciate that he had her in his life, even through the trying time when she got sick. Then we find out that Tracy died six years previous to Future Ted's storytelling.
Here's when I think the majority of people say, "But why!" I thought about it, and sure, it's not a happy ending, especially for a sitcom. However, How I Met Your Mother is a sitcom that has always mixed the absurd (think: slap bet) with the dramatic (think: Marshall's dad's death). I think the show has always balanced this well, and when it comes down to it, that's what's so charming about it. We've learned to love these characters through the good and bad times, and through it all, you realize that what happens to these characters can also happen to you and your friends. Ted has gone through so much to meet Tracy that he really knows how to fully love her and appreciate her. Without going through what he did (how many times did his heart get broken?), he wouldn't have reached the point where he could be the person he was when he met the mother.
That brings me then to the show's title: How I Met Your Mother. Many fans have argued that the show is about Ted meeting the Mother. I agree, it is, but only to a point. I think people focus on the "mother" in the title, but it shouldn't be. The focus should be on the "how" and I really have always thought this. The vast majority of the show's stories revolve around the gang -- Ted, Robin, Barney, Marshall, and Lily. There are story lines that lead to the moment when Ted meets the Mother, like all of the yellow umbrella moments, getting to know Cindy, everyone's encounters with the Mother before Ted. But when it comes down to it, the show is not actually about meeting the Mother, but the story of a few friends going through their 20s and 30s in New York City. Some may argue that it all leads to the Mother, and it does. What happens in the past is what makes Ted who he is when he meets the Mother, but that moment isn't the defining point in the show. It's everything that happens before he meets the Mother that's important. The show has never been about this one particular moment, but it's been about the journey. I can hear some of my friends telling me that I'm being sappy, but all of the stories that we associate with the show have nothing to do with the Mother -- Robin Sparkles, Slap Bet, Big Fudge, what does Barney actually do for a job?!, Lily's wisdom, Intervention -- they are all about the gang.
The fact that we finally get to know the Mother's name and we get to see the moment that Ted meets her is satisfying. But was the series finale really only about that? I think I would've been disappointed if the show had ended with Robin & Barney happily married, we see Ted and Tracy meet, the end. Life is unpredictable, and How I Met Your Mother doesn't go for the fairytale ending, which would've been a far safer way to end the show.
My last point regarding Ted and the Mother is that their stories actually parallel each other quite well. At the beginning of season nine, we learn of Tracy's heartbreak when the love of her life dies in an accident. She isn't ready to start dating, but winds up in a relationship where the guy doesn't really seem to get her. We don't know her story like we do Ted's, but she has been carrying around the grief of losing the love of her life and still can't let go, even when she gets a proposal. But it is exactly this point that makes her ready to meet Ted -- she has experienced loss, she had another marriage proposal, but couldn't go through with it. I asked myself if Tracy is "settling" when she meets Ted. We don't know her full story, after all, but they seem made for each other. Later, Ted loses the love of his life -- Tracy, aka the Mother -- and then goes back to Robin. Is he "settling," the way Tracy might've because the love of her life died? Is everyone in the show "just settling?" Is this how life actually is? (Maybe.)
Robin, Barney, and Ted
A lot of people have also complained that the final season was devoted to getting Robin and Barney hitched, only to have their marriage dissolve in a two-minute scene. But let's face it...did anyone really think that Robin and Barney getting married seem like a plausible idea? I didn't like that season nine took all of the characters out of familiar settings, like McLaren's and the apartment, but the writers still used the devices they've honed in the last eight years to connect the dots. Throughout season nine, we've gotten a closer look at how Robin and Barney seem to have been made for each other, but then there were always doubts. Barney's last hurrah and teaching those two helpless college guys "how to live" was a signal that maybe Barney hadn't changed. His gesture of bringing Canada to the rehearsal dinner was romantic and a nice touch, but it seemed something that would've been out of Ted's book, not the Playbook.
I know there was a lot of protesting when Robin and Barney got engaged. So why all the fuss when they get divorced? Going back to the point I made above that HIMYM has always balanced the absurd with the realistic, this goes directly hand in hand with that idea. Did anyone really expect to have these two stay together? Did we really believe that Barney could change so dramatically?
One part of the series finale I admittedly didn't particularly like was that Barney ends up getting a woman pregnant and has a daughter. But in the grand scheme of things, it's been surprising that Barney hasn't gotten anyone knocked up until now. And perhaps this is what he needs to truly change. Robin couldn't do it because he obviously felt trapped, but having a daughter puts things into perspective for him. I don't want to speculate beyond what the series has given us, but again, Barney getting someone pregnant doesn't seem too unrealistic. There are these real moments in life where we all think, "Oh, shit," and this is probably that moment for Barney.
As for Ted and Robin actually finally getting together once the Mother has died, Robin has been around the world and divorced from Barney...I understand why some fans think, "It took them nine years to explain this?" But sometimes things don't work out the way they're "supposed" to. We all know this feeling. There are missed chances, regrets, what-ifs, I-should-haves. If this entire final season had been about Ted getting back together with Robin, that would've been so boring. We know their story, and frankly, it's one about missed chances. Maybe it's just me, but there were so many times throughout the show where I would be smacking my forehead and yelling at the TV, "Ted, you're too good for Robin!"
Bringing this back to focusing on the "how" part of the show's title, it's really about the journey. Robin wasn't ready to have Ted. She needed to experience disappointment before appreciating what she had. Lucky for her, Ted still wanted her after he had the perfect match. Sure, people make dumb mistakes and yes, it's kind of maddening that it takes nine years plus the additional six or seven for Robin to realize that she should be with Ted, but...life is never what we expect it to be.
And finally....Lily & Marshall
It's not surprising that Lily and Marshall end up having three kids. They're totally the "mature" people in the gang and seem to have their shit together. I found it profound when Robin says to Lily that some things can't stay the same and that the gang isn't the same as it once was. It's a hard but honest truth, and I'm sure some people were like, "Wait a second, what???" Nothing really ever stays the same, and when it does, it's like Barney and everyone just think it's sort of sad. Change happens and it's an undeniable force. As much as you may want something to remain the way it is, it's not going to happen. And we see that in the relationships in the series finale.
Sure, things may happen the way we want it to, like Marshall getting offered a judgeship after turning down the first one. But how often does that actually happen? Though Lily and Marshall seem to be the adult couple in the group, they've had more than their share of ups and downs. I think fans had the least problem with how the series ties up the loose ends with Lily & Marshall, so I'll just leave it as that.
Oh, the geeky stuff!
The last point I actually wanted to address about why I liked the finale so much were the inside jokes and the storytelling devices. The finale was chock full of references to past seasons: "Major Pleasure" with Ted and Robin, the "Haaaaave you met Ted?" line, Ted's hanging chad Halloween costume, the cockamouse, Robots vs. Wrestlers...That's one thing I really loved most about this show. You could watch it as a casual viewer, but as a devoted fan, there would be these references slipped in that would make you appreciate the story that much more. It's funny if you watch an individual episode, but way more rewarding to watch it from beginning to end. The writers didn't disappoint with these jokes and it was almost as if they're giving you a small wink and thanks for sticking around so long.
And then there's the flash-forwards and going backwards that have always been a really fantastic part of the show. Of course, this was the series finale, so flash-forwards were to be expected. What was nice about this though was that it didn't seem contrived or forced, but was completely natural and fit into the whole show. The flash-forwards could've been totally overdone to tie up every loose end (What's with the pineapple?!), but I think everything that you wanted to know was answered.
For me, the series finale wasn't as disappointing as some other shows' (umm....Lost, anyone?) and I think it begs to be watched multiple times. I can't wait for the show to be out on DVD completely because I'll probably just hole myself up to go back and enjoy all the jokes. Now that we know who the Mother is and how the story ends, I'm sure there's a lot of nuggets and clues that can be found (like the fact that in season one, Ted meets a stripper named Tracy and jokes how that's how he met the mother?) And now apparently there might be an alternate ending that will be released, so we'll just have to wait and see.