Why I Liked How I Met Your Mother’s Ending

A couple weeks ago, I wrote an article detailing all the reasons why I believed How I Met Your Mother should be recognized as more than your run of the mill sitcom. One minute but important detail I mentioned was that, upon writing the piece, I had not yet finished the show. Rather I wanted to present my argument whilst still ignorant of its conclusion.

The reason behind this logic stemmed from the fact that every person I had ever encountered who watched the show from start to finish shared a defining characteristic- they hated the ending. Initially, I thought I might’ve arbitrarily stumbled across a few unsatisfied viewers. But the more I asked, the greater my pool of data grew. And the results always spurned the ending. I even had one friend confess that the finale ruined their entire experience of watching the show.

I knew my first article focusing on the show had to be written while I still held it in high regard. But despite all the warning I’d received, as I neared the dreaded conclusion, I kept wondering how bad could it really be? And how could one or two episodes ruin a series that provided me with so much laughter and joy?

To my immense relief, it didn’t. I must admit that I quite liked it, for a multitude of reasons. However, when I closed my laptop and attempted to reign in the stampede of emotions from my seat in the dining hall (a bad setting to watch a series finale come to think of it), I took a few minutes to reflect back on the chain of events I had just witnessed. I decided that logic dictates one shouldn’t approve of the ending. But if you push past the surface and delve into the deeper motifs and themes of the show, you realize the ending is, in fact, rather extraordinary.

Taking stock of the elephant in the room, the mother, our unidentified icon of a beloved comedy lasting nine seasons, was revealed and then killed off in a single season. That twist is the fatal shot to the heart I believe is accountable for the disillusionment of so many loyal fans. Let’s put our shock and irritation on hold for a minute though, and think about the timeline we’ve followed for 208 episodes.

The sitcom is called “How I Met Your Mother” Not “What Happened After I Met Your Mother” So while it is understandable to feel upset that the women we’ve waited so long to encounter is then cast aside, we shouldn’t allow a single event to ruin our experience of tracking the journey it took to meet her. Let’s also not forget that we were gifted an entire season to absorb and laugh at the manner in which she individually entered each protagonist’s life. She fed Lily during her anxiety attack on the train, picked up hitchhiker Marshall before he could collapse from exhaustion, gave Barney much needed emotional insight into his romantic pursuits, and halted Robin’s panic-stricken flight on her wedding day. Furthermore, the show presented an episode detailing her past romantic obstacles in the unexpected and heart-wrenching wake of her first love’s death. In the end, we were not robbed of Tracy’s wit, intelligence, or compassion simply because she failed to grow old with Ted. I was honestly surprised at the abundance of time viewers spent with her, which might contribute to the general sense of sadness at watching her perish.

Taking a break from the issue of the mother, the other reason I believe people so ardently dislike the ending is due to the show’s turn from sensational comedy to stark reality. We are used to watching a show where the characters suddenly break into song and dance on the streets of NYC, get butterfly tramp stamps, or avoid Jennifer Lopez’s sexual advances by leaping into the Hudson River. The show catches everyone off guard when, in the last two episodes, it gets intimately deep about the harsh realities of adulthood.

Robin and Barney get divorced. Barney gets a girl pregnant. Lily and Marshall are forced to leave the beloved apartment in favor of bigger living quarters. What hurts the most, however, is the steady dissemination of the group we thought would never grow apart. Robin, in particular, appears to cut ties for an indeterminate period of time to pursue her career. Why, all of a sudden, is our larger than life band of savvy New Yorkers drifting into separate spheres of life?

Well, for starters, that is very much a reality we will all face. For every Lily and Marshall who meet in college and maintain a committed and undying love, there is also a Barney and Robin, who will always love each other but cannot uphold a successful marriage. Life is not like Friends, where each character can just couple up and appear to have found eternal happiness. But comfort and hope are found in this revelation upon realizing that each character still finds what they’ve always desired most. From day 1, Robin wanted a glorious journalistic career. And that’s what she found as she traveled the world reporting the news. Barney, despite what he thought, found his true purpose raising a daughter. Lily got her year as an art critic in Rome. Marshall becomes a judge and later runs (and wins) for state supreme court. They both grow old with multiple children, for Marshall’s true dream was being a dad. And Ted, at the end of a long road, finds true love and has children, moving into the house he painstakingly built from ruin.

There is a small portion of Lily Aldrin in all of us- the part that resists change and tearfully tries to convince Robin to come hang out with the gang just like old times. Robin reminds us that change is inevitable, and in order to achieve our highest goals, we can’t stay glued to our seats in Maclaren’s, reliving the past every night. This moment, witnessed at the farewell Halloween party, is one of the most grounding realities the show can present. As a result, it leaves audiences feeling hollow, believing after a certain point, life will plummet from a state of exhilarating youth to mundane adulthood.

But once again, the show gives you hope. Robin, despite missing the first few “big moments”, comes to Ted’s wedding. Her appearance cements the realization that while drifting apart is inevitable, it is impossible to sever friendships as deep as those in How I Met Your Mother. We’ve lived through enough remarkable adventures with these characters to know they treat each other as family. And in the moments that count, your closest friends, your family, will always show up.

Lastly, Ted’s daughter reveals the true culmination of the plot when she corrects Ted, stating his story wasn’t about him and Tracy. Rather it traced the history of Ted and Robin. Whether you rooted for Ted and Robin or Barney and Robin, there’s no denying Ted genuinely loved her, and evidently never stopped. So why bother with Tracy? Why not just have Ted and Robin end up together and skip over the mother’s death?

Ted and Robin would have suffered through a failed marriage if the show merely had them come together in a climactic moment of romantic confession. Ted wanted kids. Robin couldn’t have them and didn’t want them. Robin wanted to travel. Ted wanted a stable home where he could raise his children. Logically, they were a horrific match. But the ending of the show reveals it is possible to defy logic. You just need to get the timing right. Ted found the love he so desperately yearned for. She wore driving gloves and collected coins. They had children and had rewarding careers. And when this love was cut short, he got a second chance.

Ted and Robin show it is possible to find each other later in life. That against reason and the apparent demands of adulthood, you can still steal the blue French horn and recapture the magic first felt in your youth. They show that love is completely irrational and that often to make it work in an annoying rational world, one must be patient. The ending is brilliant because it shows people can make their way back together, and that feeling this deep never truly disappear.

Is the ending what you imagined? Probably not. And while it can be upsetting when TV shows get wise with us, be a Ted Mosby, and hold out for the good that life will always give you. Even if it takes a little while to find it.

 

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