Reappraisal: Defending The How I Met Your Mother Finale

How I Met Your Mother ended this past Monday with an amazing 208 episode run (putting it somewhere in the top 30 for longest-running American sitcom if you exclude animated sitcoms). Along the way, It has also managed to become extremely popular ranking 3rd among sitcoms (nonanimated) in terms of fans on Facebook. Therefore as the finale reached its closing minutes it was mildly surprising that the general opinion on the finale was a negative one.

This shocked me because I thought that the finale was incredibly well done certainly not perfect but a finale worthy of a show that was by in large consistently good for the bulk of its run (slight downturn in quality after its peak late season 1 – season 4). To further explain why I felt it’s best if I tackled some of the major concerns that some people seem to have regarding the finale.

“ The Mother felt unimportant …the whole journey that the show has taken seems pointless given the mother’s fate”

First off if you were shocked by the mother’s death in the finale there really is nothing I can say. The idea that the mother was dead all along was a theory early on but brushed off by in large until last season’s “The Time Travellers (S08E20) where the idea was ominously hinted at (“I want those extra 45 days” Ted tearfully says). Then in “Vesuvius” (S09E19) the idea is as close to being confirmed without explicitly confirming it as you can get (“What Mother is going to miss her daughter’s wedding?” asks the mother followed by a tearful look from Ted).

Secondly, If you accept the premise that the finale presents (Ted tells the story to ask his kids for permission to date Robin) you see that the show may be called “How I Met Your Mother” but this was a very small part of the actual show. Sure occasionally there are tidbits of clues (the yellow umbrella, the economics class, the roommate) dropped that would signal Ted inching closer to the end but for the most part HIMYM centered around the adventures of a group of friends living in New York City. The mother never really had a development episode outside of “How Your Mother Met Me” (S09E16) the bulk of her character is simply seen as being similar to Ted.

The title of the show then does two things.

1. It allows for the story to be told in reverse creating opportunities to tell a story with the now patented time jumps and gives the show something to separate from other 20 somethings living in the city shows (most notably Friends which had ended the year prior to HIMYM’s pilot)

2. The title makes viewers believe that Robin isn’t the mother (further assisted by the usage of “Aunt Robin” throughout the show). This avoids the problem that many shows have in that you know very quickly that a couple is destined for one another making every potential obstacle obsolete (Not a single one of or Ross’ girlfriends ever posed a threat to his inevitable endgame with Rachel on Friends nor was anyone standing in the way of Jim/Pam on The Office).

Thus the journey as a whole was never truly about the mother it was about how Ted got to that final point and how Ted through story showed his kids that their mother and their aunt Robin played an important part in his life.

2. “Why have Barney “regress” to their former self. His progression throughout the series is erased in one episode” AKA the “Why isn’t Barney/Robin together… SUPPORT MY SHIP complaint”

The complaints that there was no fairy tale ending where Ted/Mother, Barney/Robin, Lilly/Marshall ride off into the sunset together can be valid and would’ve made for a fine ending in itself. However, going in that direction would have made the finale extremely generic like most other sitcom finales.

I think a lot of people wanted the fairy tale but what the finale accomplished was unique and a more accurate representation of real-life (something fans may not desire when they use TV as an escape from life which is why there is so much displeasure with the finale).

In reality, roughly 40-50% of marriages fail (depending on the source). I do not think Barney ever regressed back to being the womanizer it was always there even without a physical playbook that part of him still existed. The Robin/Barney relationship worked because unlike his previous attempts at settling down (with Quinn and Nora) Barney was willing to sacrifice that part of himself for the relationship. However over time that spark died between them and much like in season 5 ‘s “Rough Patch” (S05E07) they come to grips with the fact that passion alone cannot carry a relationship.

Does this mean that Barney never loved Robin or vice versa? No, I think they did but they no longer felt the same way about one another so why hold onto a relationship that makes neither party happy anymore. Like Barney said in the finale “Think of it not as a failed marriage but rather a really awesome marriage that lasted 3 years”.

I also and this might be reaching a little but Barney was never meant to be in a long terms relationship much of his character is built on going from one challenge to the next and not to be tied down (much like Joey was on Friends). The idea that having a child would be the thing that slows Barney down is acceptable because as someone who did not have a father figure himself throughout his childhood (Bob Barker excluded) I think it is understandable that Barney would ensure the same thing didn’t happen to his child.

“OK then why aren’t Ted and the Mother together?”

As I touched on earlier the idea that the show revolves around Ted meeting the mother is very shallow. The show spent much more time developing his core group of friends (hell even some of Ted’s girlfriends like Zoey, Victoria, and Stella all of which got season-long story arcs developing their characters).

Taking a look at the series as a whole nearly every season involves Ted and Robin either dating, contemplating dating again or at some point sleeping together. Ted ended his relationship with Stella partially because of Robin, the same goes for Victoria and spent much of the last two-three seasons thinking Robin was the one.

The mother was necessary because as they touched on in season 2 neither Ted or Robin was ready/willing to sacrifice fundamental life goals for the relationship (For Robin the potential of her career/desire to travel, For Ted the idea that he’d be with someone who didn’t want kids). Had either of them made sacrifices for the relationship at that point it’d be likely that it would’ve ended much like Barney and Robin’s relationship. What the finale did was allow both to achieve what they wanted in life so that they could enter a relationship later in life that is presumably happy where neither would hate the other for holding him/her back from achieving their dreams.

“Does that make the mother a stopgap or surrogate mother for Ted so that he can later find Robin ?”

No I don’t believe so like I said for the Robin and Barney relationship Ted and the mother loved each other and the show would’ve been perfectly fine ending on the idea that Ted and the mother lived happily ever after but sometimes bad things happen and that is a reality in life whether you want to believe it or not.

Going in that direction again allowed for them to do something different from the traditional sitcom and to be honest would you really be happy that Ted got together with a woman that had next to no development beyond one episode that had them in similar places and some fragments of information about her?

The idea that Ted never mourned the Mother and went straight to Robin is unwarranted partially due to the time jump structure that the show is famous for. Remember that the scene in “Vesuvius” occurs in 2024 and he doesn’t ask his kids for permission to date Robin until 2030 so it’s not like the mother died and Ted ran to Robin without a second thought. Keep in mind this means that Ted was in a loving relationship with the mother for 10 years prior to her death so it’s not like she meant nothing to him beyond just giving him kids.

“Why have Barney and Robin be such a major plot point if it was all going to break down?”

This complaint I do agree with. Though this season purely on a funny or not funny standpoint was a decent bounce back after a poor stretch in the last couple seasons,  I did not like the premise of having it occur within 3 days.

If I were writing the show I’d have introduced the mother at the end of season 7 with the Barney marrying Quinn episodes (similar to this season) up to midseason 8. That way the mother can still meet the gang/Ted at a wedding. After midseason, I’d develop the mother through “How Your Mother Met Me” and episodes centered around Ted and the mother dating culminating in a marriage in the season 8 finale. Season 9 would be used to address the time gaps that were shown in the finale further expanding and developing what happened in the years between 2013-2030 (time in which Ted begins telling the story). Barney’s marriage would break down with Quinn similar to his with Robin and Marshall/Lily would still do the judge/Italy storyline.

From there you can either set up the mother’s death as originally planned or have them ride off into the sunset together happily (because the mother is developed there would be more connection there). If the former is chosen Robin would end up alone with her career realizing that she’s not meant for a long-term relationship and if the former is chosen Ted’s mourning period and Robin’s reconnection with Ted is explored.

Poor structuring of this season held the finale back and made it seem like a scramble to tie loose ends if they had executed it properly I feel the finale’s endgame would be much better received.

“Why didn’t they explain why Bob Saget was the narrator throughout the series?”

A less common one but one that I too would like to know. The only way of explaining it (at least in my books) is that Bays and Thomas (HIMYM creators) knew the endgame all along and Bob Saget was an inside reference (Saget most famous for playing Danny Tanner a widowed man in the 90s sitcom Full House).