How I Met Your Mother: Defending the Series Finale

Fans weren't very happy with the series finale of How I Met Your Mother. But was it really that bad?

SPOILER ALERT: This article will ABSOLUTELY ruin the series finale for you if you haven’t seen it, so leave now and save us the death threats.

For fanatics, How I Met Your Mother’s idiosyncratic jokes made their way into our real lives. Viewers may have suited up or lost a slap bet. We wondered if the Olive Theory had any weight and pondered the existence of the majestic cockamouse. We may have taken to saluting a— Major Annoyance—and may have (or definitely) sang “Let’s Go To The Mall.” The phrase “Challenge accepted!” and high-fiving became things in our circle of friends. True story. 

For almost ten years, How I Met Your Mother was so beloved that it became ingrained in our personalities, less of a sitcom and more like a group of friends that we saw every Monday night. Leading up to the finale, I expected laments from patient fans like myself who had been there from the beginning. My brother (another HIMYM obsessive) and I had difficulty facing the fact that it was actually ending.

There were some frustrating moments in the How I Met Your Mother finale, but the vitriol slung into the maelstrom of the internet following the finale was unparalleled, with people claiming that the series had been ruined by the finale and publications suggesting that it was the worst series finale of all-time. Do people remember The Sopranos? Lost? Each of those finales was far more disappointing. The finale of Dexter was an episode that truly did ruin the series, and Seinfeld’s finale is likely the worst sitcom finale of all-time (though the rest of the series is genius). To call HIMYM (does anyone realize how hard it is to tell a story in past tense, twenty-five years in the future, while maintaining plot continuity?) a waste of time after the finale feels like a kick to the groin.

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It’s not that there are no positive reactions out there to the finale, but they are few and far between. I spoke out on behalf of my extreme frustration with Season 9 months earlier, and the low quality of this season hampered the finale. The finale was enjoyable and completes the story of HIMYM, albeit in frustrating fashion. Once people go back and watch the series from the beginning, they’ll see that the show’s ending is not only understandable and logical, but also sort of foreseeable. Why would Ted spend nine seasons telling his kids—by himself—about their mother, in Updike-esque detail, if she was in the other room?

When Ted is in MacLaren’s with Barney in the pilot, and he sees Robin for the first time, on-screen Ted says to Barney about meeting the love of his life, “It’s like, ‘Okay, I’m ready! Where is she?’” The camera cuts to Robin as Bob Saget/older Ted says, “And there she was.” Taking the finale into consideration, narrator Ted in 2030 calls Robin the love of his life knowing his wife has already been dead for six years. With the revelation that The Mother—Tracy Mosby, nee McConnell—is dead and Ted goes back to Robin, many fans were outraged, expecting The Mother to be Ted’s happily ever after.

If you watched the series closely, that was never explicitly promised. The title of the show is How I Met Your Mother, not “How I Met My Wife, Whom I Stayed With Forever.” Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, series creators, always planned for Ted to end up with Robin, but so much had to happen before they got there. The writing of Season 9 is to blame for the lack of resolution, not the finale. Here are the biggest issues to discuss in the post-finale firestorm.

The Mother’s Death/Binge Watching

Obviously people were going to be upset with The Mother, after all this time, being dead. If you really think about it, though, it’s not all that surprising that she ended up dying; this possibility was suggested years ago. A tremendous amount of viewers were blindsided by her death, which either means those people thought How I Met Your Mother was just a show they watched on Mondays or they weren’t paying nearly close enough attention. The Mother being dead legitimizes Ted taking all this time to tell the story (he’s obviously still mourning). Not to mention, Ted’s parents getting divorced is what inspired him to make sure his kids knew everything about how their parents met.

Another detail that may have influenced viewer reactions is Netflix. Netflix is amazing, but it is a way to blow through shows. For the HIMYM binge-watcher, it makes more sense to get attached to the relationship of Ted and The Mother (and also, Barney and Robin, but we’ll get to them later). Then there are the viewers who only watched sporadically, in pursuit of finding out The Mother’s identity. Some even said they stopped watching the series at the end of Season 8 when she was revealed. Unfortunately, these viewers missed the point of the show. The show is about far more than just The Mother. Admittedly, her identity was held off for far too long, and keeping her identity a secret was a bit of an underhanded way to keep viewers coming back. Though Cristin Milioti was wonderful and her scenes with with Josh Radnor were fantastic, her presence/impact was hampered by the quality of the season. Due to her lack of time on-screen, her death was quite bearable. After nine years, handling her death so easily was disappointing.

Season 9 Issues

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Two words: plot stretching. To have an entire season that occurs over the span of one weekend was a death sentence in itself. Limiting all of the episodes to a three day period, with sporadic flashbacks and flash forwards, was the first mistake of many. There was an episode dedicated to Barney’s father, an episode where Barney and James’ mother Loretta gets back together with James’ father, an episode dedicated to the shenanigans that occur when Marshall drives from Minnesota with Daphne, and an episode with Ted’s father-in-law Clint. With the exception of Daphne—who was a completely needless character—the aforementioned characters are enjoyable, but tying up their fates was unnecessary.

While the episode entitled “Gary Blauman” was a clever way to wrap up the character arcs of background players, the character Gary Blauman died years ago. In the third season episode “Chain of Screaming” Barney discusses Blauman’s quitting story, where he told his boss to kiss his ass, talked about how his cousin’s website had gone big, then peed on the conference room table. In the end of Blauman’s story, the website tanked, “[…] he became a janitor at an old folks’ home, and then he moved into a one-room apartment above a bowling alley” and died. This seems to have been forgotten. There is also Lily’s unfunny binge-drinking “Thank You, Linus” joke, the episode where Barney befriends two young men and tries to teach them his ways…The list of plot-stretching tactics goes on. These inane, ridiculous plot points all took away on-screen time from the important story.

Viewers felt that Ted never cared for The Mother, truly, because of how rushed the last few minutes of the finale were. Imagine if we had actually seen the funeral, Ted in mourning, Ted and Robin hanging out—anything would have been better than glossing over the most important part of the entire series, which happened because of the wasted early episodes. Speeding through the years between The Mother’s death and Ted showing back up at Robin’s, it felt as if Ted never really got over Robin and just settled for Tracy. This isn’t true and there is much more to their story than this, and the oversimplification of their relationships (relationships that are more nuanced than outraged viewers have declared) in those five minutes hindered all of their character arcs. For viewers who were upset that Ted moved on after his wife died, remember that Tracy’s significant other Max died. It was the early episodes in Season 9 that held the finale back, and not the finale itself.

Barney and Robin

It’s confusing how so many viewers thought that Barney and Robin could stand the test of time. Viewers believed in the relationship because Neil Patrick Harris is so talented an actor. There are episodes where he’s a notorious lothario for 21 and a half of the 22 minutes, and in the remaining thirty seconds, he’ll do something so moving and heartwarming that we can’t help but love the character. The series finale is a good example; only minutes after bragging that he slept with thirty-one women in a month, he cradles his newborn daughter in his arms and recites (heartfelt this time) the speech he sarcastically gave to a sexy bar patron earlier. Barney’s moment with his newborn daughter is one of the best scenes in the series, and that’s a testament to NPH’s underrated skill as an actor.

I never had any faith that Barney and Robin would last. When I heard that this season would take place on the weekend of their wedding, I thought: “Why? It’s not like they’re going to stay together,” remembering Barney’s Relationship Exit Theory from earlier in the series. Ironically, Barney took the Three Year Exit Robin offered. It’s fantastic that two hard-shelled commitaphobes with father issues loved each other enough to commit, but that doesn’t mean they should’ve lasted. Robin has insatiable wanderlust, and Barney—speaking of MacLaren’s as his romantic stomping grounds—once described himself as a lion at the zoo. Barney was a character that thrived on having deep roots in the places he spent his time and that didn’t work when he took a back seat to follow his famous wife around the globe.

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Barney and Quinn admittedly were a better match, but no one seemed upset about that one ending, and Barney moved from Quinn to Robin much faster than Ted to Tracy. Barney and Robin had dated before, and it ended disastrously, as if they were both POWs coming home shell-shocked. Conversely, Ted and Robin’s relationship ended in devastating tears. At their core, Robin and Barney were far too similar to work out. They may have loved each other, but the things that each character needed to subsist were detrimental to the relationship as a whole, and led to their downfall. It was ridiculous to set Season 9 at the wedding of a relationship that was doomed to end from the beginning…but again, that’s no fault of the finale, but of the season as a whole. Even then, though, this doesn’t by any means ruin the series.

Ted and Robin

Ted and Robin were always destined to be together. When they broke up the first time, it was because Ted wanted to get married and have kids, and Robin wanted to travel, but they still very much loved each other, even mid-break up. Even when Ted was dating people better suited for him than Robin—like Victoria—he was still infatuated with her. Ted’s biggest relationships ended mostly or partly because Robin was still around.

Ted didn’t even fully give up the pursuit of Robin until the end of Season 9—but this is an area where viewers seem to misunderstand: Ted does give up pursuing Robin. She offers to run away with him, and Ted rejects her (though we don’t really know how serious Robin’s offer was). Ted then meets Tracy, and they hit it off. They have their first kiss a few days after the May 2013 wedding, are engaged by 2015, pregnant with their first child a few months later, have their second child by 2017, are married in 2020, and Tracy unfortunately dies in 2024. Ted then, unforgivably off-screen (whilst reconnecting with Robin), mourns from 2024 to 2030. In 2030, coming full circle, Ted tells his kids how he met Tracy, as an ode to her. They realize how much Robin means to Ted still (probably before he had) and urge him to ask her out.

Tracy was the one who went out of her way to make sure Robin was at their wedding, not Ted. Tracy realized that Robin was Ted’s best friend, and she needed to be present for the “big moments” despite Ted and Robin’s conflicted past. But does that mean that Ted felt nothing for Tracy? No. He fell in love with Tracy after he left Robin behind, and she died tragically young, as did Tracy’s Max before she met Ted.

Both Tracy and Ted moved on with people after their loved ones were gone. Just because life happens, that doesn’t mean that either should settle for being alone. It’s hard to imagine Tracy objecting to Ted being with Robin if she could speak from beyond the grave. Ted going back to Robin is crippled by the speed with which it was handled on-screen, but ending up together was part of their deal: they agreed that if they were both single at 40 that they’d get together. Robin had already traveled the world, built an impressive career, and Ted had already fallen in love, gotten married, and had children. Both had completed their biggest bucket list goals, and these were the very things that broke them up that first time. I don’t, for a second, feel disappointed that Ted and Robin ended up together, but I do feel deprived that we didn’t get to see how it happened.

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Ted’s POV

This is an issue of all first-person narratives, regardless of medium. The viewer’s experience of the events on-screen is skewed by the story being told to us by one person. Ted is a hopeless romantic, and therefore, we saw everything through his heart-on-my-sleeve lens. Could Ted have over-romanticized certain events? Could things have actually happened the way we were shown, or did Ted’s version of the narrative leave out choice details while including otherwise inane points? One must consider the issue of having an unreliable narrator like The Great Gatsby’s Nick Carraway or The Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield: our main source of information sees the world vastly different than others do, we must be wary about his version of events.

This was not a perfect finale, but it was well-done, and not even close to the worst of all-time. And for those who still think the show can’t be redeemed due to the finale, the Season 9 DVD will be released with an alternate ending. Regardless of how great Cristin Milioti’s portrayal of The Mother/Tracy was, How I Met Your Mother was about Ted and the different stages of his life as he fell in and out of love. Ted deserved a happily ever after, but the finale was much more realistic than a fairy tale ending. It bears repeating that Tracy had a significant other before Ted came along. What if she had just packed it in? The hatred for the entire series is wildly misplaced, taking into consideration the story as a whole. HIMYM is one of the best series of this generation, which will now forever be marred by a sub-par Season 9—there’s no denying that. However, Ted isn’t any less of a character because he moved on more than half a decade after his wife died. With his best friend.

Regardless of the way the ending was handled, the series should be recognized for what it was: Legen—no need to wait for it any longer—dary.

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