The Hindenburg of finales
In nine years, there have been 208 episodes of How I Met Your Mother. That’s 76 hours — 4,576 minutes, give or take — spent watching Ted and the gang galumph down the bumpy road to the elusive Mother. Umbrellas and ankles aside, the series’ titular character and impetus is scarcely seen or heard from until the series’ final season.
But that’s OK. As most fans knew from early on, the show was never really about the Mother but about the friendship fostered among five people sitting at a pub booth.
Over the course of nine seasons, millions of viewers watched Marshall and Lily’s marital struggles and triumphs; Robin’s reconciliation of her desire for success with her desire for romance; Barney’s growth from a smarmy lothario to honest man in a real relationship, and Ted’s transformation from borderline obsessive Nice Guy™ to a mature romantic.
And showrunners Carter Bays and Craig Thomas undid it all in under an hour.
Pretty ironic, considering how much of this show hinges on time.
Also ironic? The fact that most of these characters end up in exactly the same places they otherwise would have, but without an ounce of the believability garnered over the course of the last nine seasons. Bays and Thomas squandered nine years’ worth of character development — and credible narration from Ted — and they didn’t even need a full 44 minutes to do it.
The entire ninth season takes place over the course of Barney and Robin’s wedding weekend — a wedding initially teased in the series’ sixth season finale (three years ago) — and the pair get divorced within the first ten minutes of the series finale. It’s a terrible send-off for a couple five years in the making, and to add insult to injury, it is the very promise that quells Robin’s cold feet — Barney’s vow to always be honest — that leads to their divorce.
The ten-minute mark is really where it all falls apart. From there, it’s a series of synchronized trainwrecks. Every character — save for Lily and Marshall, who remain blessedly untouched by nonsensical plot twists — is reduced to his or her first season self by the end of the finale. I suppose, in some ways, the sting makes up for the botched final slap of Marshall and Barney’s infamous “Slap Bet,” but it’s far from rewarding.
By the end of the finale, I felt like I’d been an eyewitness to a character massacre.
Robin and Barney’s series-spanning arcs crumble with their divorce, as do any messages regarding love and marriage that the show has ever provided through Lily and Marshall’s example. One of television’s most realistic and lovable TV couples, Marshall and Lily show that marriage is more than a wedding: It’s hard work, much like everything else in life.
But when they divorce, Robin and Barney not only reject the notion that marriage is worth working for; they reject the notion that any relationship is worth working toward.
Barney reverts to the womanizing ways of his season-one self — a regression so disingenuous it’s physically painful to watch. His final “redemption” is a one-night-stand resulting in an unplanned pregnancy. Through his daughter, Barney finally appears to understand and respect women — something I thought he’d sort of learned to do somewhere between getting engaged to Robin and marrying her — and ends the series in a loving commitment. Which, again, I thought he’d sort of done already with the whole marriage thing, but I digress.
Following the divorce, Robin is made a neurotic caricature of her former self as she confesses to a teary (and very pregnant) Lily that the gang, to her, is comprised of “a married couple who I never see anymore about to have a third kid, it’s my ex-husband hitting on slutty cops right in front of me and it’s the guy I probably should have ended up with with the beautiful mother of his child.”
From ambition-driven career woman to wife to ambition-driven divorcee to jealous ex-girlfriend, the Scotch-swilling Robin Scherbatsky of yesteryear is hardly recognizable. The scene is beautifully acted by Alyson Hannigan and Cobie Smulders, but there is no performance in the world that could make up for the inconsistency of the writing, much of which is due to the fact this ending was penned years ago.
Really, that comes as no surprise. And it wouldn’t have been a problem, had Carter and Bays not continued to write themselves away from their own ending until the last possible second.
It’s a decision that makes the show’s most periphery characters — Ted and the Mother’s children, Luke and Penny — feel off.
When Ted finally finishes his story, his daughter insists that it wasn’t really about her mother at all, but about their dad’s massive crush on Aunt Robin! Sure, we had just spent nine years rooting for Ted only to find out that his true love has been dead for six years by the start of the story — but what does that matter when he has his kids’ (uncomfortably enthusiastic) permission to pursue the woman who has rejected him for the majority of their relationship?
And that’s when Carter and Bays take Ted by the blue French horn and destroy him. It took nine years for Ted to grow and mature enough to let go of his idyllic vision of romantic love — to let go of Robin — and our last look at Ted Mosby might as well be our first. There he is, standing outside of Robin’s apartment with a blue French horn in his hands. Again.
“And that, kids, is the story of how I didn’t learn a single lesson in 25 years.”