The 'How I Met Your Mother' finale, revisited: How I regret the Mother?
So based on the number of comments and the social media stats, I'm guessing that most of you who care about the "How I Met Your Mother" finale have read my review of it from Monday night. That was, like a lot of episode reviews I do, written in a burst immediately after the show, and though my feelings haven't changed about the ending, there are a few points I feel I can better articulate with a few days' distance than I could at the time. So that's coming up, along with a fan-made alternate ending that's been floating around the interwebs since Monday, coming up just as soon as I've got three castle guys and a moat guy...
So as you know, I wasn't happy with the notion that "HIMYM" ended with Tracy dead and Ted reuniting with Robin. A number of people — including critics and friends whose opinions I respect — have told me some variation of "It's not your show and not your story to tell, and it's not fair to complain about the story itself." And I think that's reasonable on some level. This is the story Bays and Thomas had in mind for a long time, maybe even from the moment they wrote the pilot script, and it's their story to tell. But what I talked about only a little in that review was how if this was the ending they had in mind for such a long time, they did an incredibly poor job of setting it up properly.
Some of this was out of their control, obviously. They didn't expect the show to run 9 seasons; even in recent years when they talked about having an 8-year plan for the show, that ignored how perilous the first few seasons were (less because of ratings than because there were a few network executives who didn't like the show). Had the show ended in this exact way after season 3 or 4, it could have been perfect — a classic example of creativity and audacity and playing with the audience's expectations for maximum emotional effect.
But this was after 9 long seasons, and after both the show and Ted and Robin had changed too much for it to work anymore, based on everything that had happened prior. Among other missteps:
* The frequent reminders that Ted wasn't over Robin were presumably done to keep the idea fresh for the audience, so it wouldn't feel like a cheat for the two of them to end up together after Tracy's death. But the way they played out, with Ted constantly going back and forth on whether he was actually over Robin, instead made the entire relationship seem toxic for both of them. Regardless of my feelings about Tracy (more on her in a minute), Ted and Robin getting together in 2030 makes me sad because we had ample evidence that they didn't work long-term as a couple. The only thing that changed was age and the Tracy having given Ted the children he wanted (and that Robin didn't) before conveniently dying after all the annoying stuff with dirty diapers and 2 a.m. feedings was long in the past.
* Over the show's later years, as Robin got caught up in her revolving door relationship with Barney, Bays and Thomas slowly but surely took away all of the qualities that had made her such a distinctive and appealing character to begin with. She became shrill (like in the never-funny gag about screaming at Patrice) and conventional. She became a person who iced out her closest friends as she got deeper into adulthood (even if it was out of pain at her marriage having failed), and also someone who got everything she had ever dreamed of professionally and was sad because she wasn't with Ted. Now, people change as they get older, and they come to regret earlier beliefs and positions, but these specific changes took Robin so far from the character Ted was so eager to chase in season 1 that it was hard to feel any satisfaction at their reunion.
* The amount of time spent on Robin and Barney in the later years — to the point of setting the entire final season on the weekend of their wedding — gave that relationship much greater weight than I suspect Bays and Thomas meant it to have, and I say that as someone who almost never actually liked them together in practice (though I had liked the idea in theory before it happened). When you devote all of this time to the two of them struggling and making compromises and accepting that they can actually make things work, and you have them professing their love for each other so eloquently at the altar one week and then having them divorce — and divorce not because Barney is an unrepentant sleazeball (which would be confirmed later in the finale), but because Robin's great career was a burden on them both — within the first 20 minutes of the next episode, you have to be prepared to have the audience feel jerked around.
* The amount of Tracy in the final season wound up being exactly the wrong amount. Had Bays and Thomas stuck to their original plan of introducing her at the very very end of things (as would have likely happened without this ninth season), then what does anyone ultimately care if we're told that she died at the same time we're seeing the moment of their meeting? And if the framing device of the final season hadn't been the wedding weekend, but future moments from Ted and Tracy's life together — essentially, the final episode stretched out over a season — we would have felt like we got a reasonable amount of time with those two and wouldn't feel like the show was glossing over the death of Ted's broodmare and his ensuing grief so that he could get on with the more important business of hooking up with Aunt Robin. Instead, they gave us just barely enough of Cristin Milioti over the final season to appreciate how wonderful she was, and to make it feel like we were being cheated out of more of her in favor of omelet-making contests and Barney trying to reunite his parents.
So I think if they had done better with Ted and Robin, with Robin on her own, tamped down on the sheer tonnage of Robin and Barney drama over the years and been smarter with how they deployed the Mother, the ending could have worked, even after nine long seasons. It wouldn't erase some of the other issues that cropped up post-season 4 — of characters becoming broader, and meaner, and of diminishing returns on once-beloved gags like the slap bet — but it would have made this specific ending feel earned, rather than a vestige of something that was filmed in season 2 and that bore little connection to what the show and its characters had become in the years since.
It's their show, their stories, their character. They absolutely have the right to start and end it how they want. But they could have done a whole lot better at making the ending match what had come before it.
And if they had at some point during the final season recognized just what a home run they had hit in casting Milioti, and how much their long-planned Ted and Robin reunion no longer worked in the way they once thought it would, they could have just given us an ending like this fan-made one below, and I'd have turned off the TV at 9 on Monday with a big smile on my face, and a strong desire to immediately loop back around to watch the pilot and "Okay Awesome" and "Come On" and "Swarley" and everything else:
UPDATE: Well, the video got pulled due to a copyright infringement claim by the studio. Often, this kind of fan video is allowed to live online, but I'm guessing nobody who made the show was happy that so many people seemed to prefer this ending (which, if you didn't see it, concludes with Ted and Tracy realizing their destiny via the yellow umbrella, Future Ted telling his kids that that is how he met their mother, and the closing credits) to the actual one.
UPDATE #2: A new version now exists online, at least for now. See above.
What does everybody else think? Two days later, has anyone's opinion been swayed positively or negatively by the many arguments about the finale?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org