Last night’s How I Met Your Mother season finale met nearly unanimously negative reactions from fans and critics alike. The plot decision to have the mother be dead all along was certainly questionable and if you didn’t like it, that’s your right. (Alan Sepinwall of Hitfix and James Poniewozik of TIME had quite reasonable and well-written takes from that point of view.) My issue, though, doesn’t reside with the decision to make Robin the girl all along and kill off the mother. In fact, I think it’s a quite logical progression of things once you accept that the mother came down with an illness. (Again, if you can’t accept that, I don’t find that unreasonable.) Instead, the problem was in the presentation.
In the final season of HIMYM, the first 22 half-hours were (mostly) spent in a progressively annoying hotel over a two-day span with absolutely no plot development. The exceptions of course were the wonderful interactions between Josh Radnor (Ted) and Cristin Milioti (the mother, who we find out is named Tracy seemingly seconds before she’s dead). Then, the final two half-hours span from 2014 to 2030 with a number of major life events occurring for all the characters, most notably the death of the mother and Ted getting together with Robin. This creates the presentation that those 16 years played out very quickly, like the following:
Barney and Robin’s marriage instantly dissolves because they cannot deal with her busy work schedule. Barney immediately returns to his old, perverted ways while Robin flees from the gang as fast as she possibly can. Barney knocks up some random one-night stand (his 31st of the month!!) and becomes a father. Meanwhile, both Ted and Tracy and Marshall and Lilly pop out some babies before Tracy tragically passes away. Ted then leaves the hospital where she died, briefly chats with his kids in the living room and then they all have a good laugh about the tragic death of their beloved family member before he runs to Robin for their happily ever after.
The above is horrific. It’s insensitive at best and downright terrible and indefensible at worst. However, this isn’t actually how the plot moved, just how it was presented to us. In reality, Barney and Robin spent three years trying to make their marriage work despite Robin’s demanding international job. Sometimes life gets in the way and three years is certainly a respectable amount of time to fight it before giving in. Barney didn’t have a child for a few years after that, and I think it’s quite reasonable to assume he didn’t get back to his extremely eligible bachelor ways for a while as he dealt with the divorce. Meanwhile, Robin was clearly quite conflicted about leaving the gang because she cared for them but couldn’t avoid that the gang consisted of her ex-boyfriend who she still had feelings for, her ex-husband and a perfect couple that had everything she didn’t have. The finale touched on this but only briefly.
Moving on to the whole death of the mother plot line, the mother died in 2024. Ted and Robin didn’t get together until 2030; he waited SIX YEARS before going back out there. And why not go for Robin? She was the next best option after the mother, which is really the key here. Ted didn’t choose Robin over the beloved mother, he went to her well after the mother had passed. But the absolute worst thing about the finale was how much it trivialized the mother’s death. One second, Ted sat next to her as she laid in a hospital bed and the next he was yucking it up with his kids about how he had the hots for Robin. (“Whenever she comes over for dinner you guys are so obvious!”) While six years have passed and it’s certainly acceptable for him to return to Robin at this point, the show does a TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE job of showing this. Seriously, from the awkward editing (they shot the kids’ lines in 2006) to the disgusting emotional tone of the whole thing, it’s hard to put into words how indefensible that scene where he talked to his kids was considering the context of the episode.
I really liked the flash-forwards in the finale and the moments with the mother throughout the season, but I cannot understand why we spent 22 episodes of it stuck at the Farhampton Inn to build to a wedding that was wiped out in less than 10 minutes of “Last Forever”. Instead, why didn’t we take those 16 years and spread them over the full 24 episodes of Season 9? We’d still get the interactions between Ted and Tracy and the show could build to Ted and Robin’s inevitable moment in a much smoother fashion, not to mention it could give Tracy’s death the emotional penance it was due. All along, the show built to Ted and Robin ending up together; the fan base would have definitely accepted that more if the end actually, you know, built to Ted and Robin ending up together.
As a week-to-week watcher since Season 2 eight years ago (shoutout to friend of the blog Mike Rosenberg who got me in the door on the show quite early), I grew up with How I Met Your Mother. I can’t say I’ll really miss it because the great HIMYM that ran from seasons 1-4ish is long gone and has been in steady decline for a while now. Nonetheless, a great final season and series finale would’ve done wonders to send off the show; we received neither. While I was okay with the decision on the final twist, I will just never be able to wrap my head around why the writers stalled out nearly a full season of nothing to then trivialize the emotional climax of the mother’s death (that only surprised those who weren’t paying attention) and ruin the show’s inevitable Robin-Ted payoff when there was so much material there to build the final season around.