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How I Met Your Mother aired its finale tonight, and if you haven't seen it yet, stop reading now! Major spoilers ahead.
The real story
After nine seasons, How I Met Your Mother was apparently not about how Ted met his kids' mother, but rather, how he convinced them he should date Robin. And yet, I'm left unconvinced. Don't get me wrong. I love Ted and Robin, and on one hand, I feel like the series' ending succeeded if the whole point was to put both characters in a happy place, with a nod to the horn that started it all. But honestly, I really didn't think we were supposed to think Ted and Robin were meant to end up together. And since we just spent an entire season watching Robin and Barney prepare to get married, while facing and overcoming some of the challenges of their relationship, I feel like this whole season was either a lot of misdirection or else, this ending happened way too fast in too short a time frame.
Flashbacks and forwards...
We're getting ahead of ourselves though. The episode began with Robin and Barney's wedding. And Ted's decision to leave the wedding midway through the reception, rather than meet the cute bass player we knew was destined to be his wife. He did meet her later on at the train station, as was foretold. The yellow umbrella was there. They figured out how their paths had almost crossed numerous times before. And the rest is history, as told through a series of flash-forwards in grand How I Met Your Mother fashion.
And throughout the years, Robin and Barney's marriage fell apart. Robin's career seemed to be a major factor, and her busy traveling schedule for work was also causing her to drift from her friends. Or am I misinterpreting that? I'm not faulting Robin for aspiring to career success, especially since her career path has always been part of who she is as a character, but it seems like the finale intentionally set it up so that Robin's course would veer in the opposite direction of her husband and friends until she was barely around for the "big moments."
By finale's end, Marshall was a judge and he and Lily had three kids. Ted and Tracy (she has a name!) had two kids and were blissfully happy and in love until death did they part. And Barney ended up fathering a child with an unseen woman -- the last girl in his "perfect month." His little Elle managed to do what few other women could and stole his heart. Barney's expression of devotion to his newborn was the emotional high point of the episode. The emotional low point, for me, was when Robin left Lily standing in her old apartment looking devastated. Again, I'm not sure if I'm misinterpreting that scene, but it felt like Robin unloaded a lot of things on Lily, made her feel bad and then took off.
Robin's frustration over her friends' lives and her problems seemed to come out of nowhere, mainly because her divorce from Barney happened over the span of an episode. Ok, a one-hour episode, but still. Pushing those issues into such a short span of time made it kind of hard to connect with her, especially as we saw her drifting away from the people she cared about. She redeemed herself when she showed up at Ted and Tracy's wedding, which took place years after their kids were born.
And we come back to Ted finishing up the story with his kids. Tracy got sick and died six years before the "story" point of this story. And after Ted finally tells his kids the part about how he actually met Tracy, they turn the situation around on him and essentially call him out for pretending this tale was ever about their mother. As it turns out, according to them, Ted was really trying to warm them up to the idea of him asking Robin out. And they're cool with it. They love Aunt Robin. The series ends with Ted showing up outside Robin's building to Say Anything her with the blue french horn from the pilot.
I would have loved that ending if I wanted Ted and Robin to end up together. It was dramatic and romantically staged in all the right ways a series should be, bringing it all back around to the first episode and wrapping the show up in a nice blue bow. But as I said, I was never really Team Robin-Ted. They had their moments and I think they were key parts of each other's lives. Their relationship was crucial to the series in many ways. But I really didn't think this series was all building up to those two ending up together. So the payoff there didn't hit for me.
Not only am I disappointed that we were kind of spoiled on the mother's death by the theory that has been circulating for a while now, but that it turned out to be true. At the very least, that twist might have had some shock value if we hadn't seen it coming.
I had hoped that the show wouldn't have spent all season making us fall in love with the mother only to reveal that she didn't get to live a long and happy life with Ted. I'm not saying Tracy's death would've been any less tragic if Cristin Milioti hadn't charmed the heck out of us with her performance as Ted's future wife, but if the mother was dead this whole time, and this really wasn't supposed to be about how Ted met her, I'm wondering if I would've been able to accept Ted being destined to be with Robin if they'd simply introduced the mother to us for the first time during tonight's finale and only had her be a figure in the story rather than a somewhat developed and likable character.
And in reality, knowing Ted's wife dies young is depressing in a way that I don't think enhances the story in this case. But at the same time, I have to give the writers some credit for taking the chance with that twist. It was a gutsy move in a genre not known for such gutsy moves. I guess I'm just tasting a bit more of the bitter in this bittersweet ending.
Here's the thing though, and excuse me if this is my determination to be optimistic here, but I still love this series. And even after all of the above's been said, the ending doesn't make the story if the story's any good. A good story is worth every page and in that respect, How I Met Your Mother comes out on top for being what it's always been -- despite its title -- which is a long story about a group of friends dealing with the challenges of adulthood, dating, living in New York, jobs and family. In the end, I like to think that I won't remember How I Met Your Mother as a series that was about how Ted met his mother or how he convinced his kids he should date Aunt Robin. Or how Marshall became a judge or how Barney became a father. It's about the jokes. It's about Slap Bet and Robin Sparkles and the Bro Code and other legen-wait-for-it gags that have played out in this series. It's about the friendship and those amazing moments that made us laugh and tear up and love these characters. The ending doesn't change that and it doesn't ruin it in my opinion.
And I'm kind of hopeful that one day I'll rewatch this whole series with a new perspective on Ted and Robin and maybe those final moments where Robin smiles at Ted will connect with me in a way that really does wrap this whole series up nicely. Because even now as I think about it, taking into account their history and their friendship, it's actually kind of sweet.
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