Let’s Talk That Finale: How I Met Your Mother

There’s something I enjoy doing on Medium, and that is starting a series, like my “Battle Royales,” which I’ll probably never write a follow-up entry for.

Today, I’m starting a new one. “Let’s Talk About That Finale.” And, if you were keen to guess, I’ll be discussing finales, be they series finales, season finales, or conclusions to books or movies. And, for the inaugural chapter, I want to put in my two cents on that finale that everyone is talking about these days. No, not Game of Thrones; I’ve already written a piece on that subject. Let’s instead talk about How I Met Your Mother.

Anyone who knows me knows a few truths that will never waiver or change for me. Harry Potter is, definitively, the greatest book series ever written. M*A*S*H is my favorite television show of all time (more coming on that in another entry). And I loved- yes, I said loved- the finale for How I Met Your Mother. And I know that this isn’t the popular opinion; most people who I talk to about it hated it. It wasn’t that they just didn’t like it; they hated it. They felt that it completely ruined the series, that it was a kick in the nuts for any true fan of the series. And I’m going to tell you, now, why they are wrong.

You see, if M*A*S*H is my favorite television series of all time, then HIMYM- as it is often referred to- is my favorite sitcom of all time, and very arguably in my top five television shows. And, like M*A*S*H, I hold it in a very special place, not only for its memorable characters and hilarious stories, but for its ability to be funny and serious, when needed. Much like Scrubs, HIMYM balanced humor and poignancy perfectly. I loved moments such as the slap bet, but the show won my love for it in moments such as this one from season 8:

Or this one, when Marshall’s dad died:

Or the moment in season 9’s “Vesuvius” where Ted reacts when The Mother casually says “what mother wouldn’t come to her daughter’s wedding?”

HIMYM was amazing at hilarity:

But it was at perfection when the laughing stopped and characters had a moment of real life.

So why did so many hate the finale? From what I’ve gathered from the many, many people I’ve discussed this show with, it was the fact that Ted and the gang didn’t get a perfect ending. Some were upset that the season-long wedding of Robin and Barney was undone in the first ten minutes of the finale. Some were upset that Tracy died, or that she and Ted didn’t meet until the final moments. But I tell you now, if they had received said “perfect ending,” that would have truly ruined the show. Whaaaa?

You see, if this had been Friends, it might have ended that way. But, like M*A*S*H and Scrubs, How I Met Your Mother tells a story about real people, in real life. That’s what sets it apart. Yes, it is a comedy, first and foremost, but it never replaces the big, serious moments with a lighthearted comedic moment. It never cheapens the true underlying story of Ted looking for the woman who would one day become his wife.

In real life, things change. Things happen. And How I Met Your Mother is a perfect example of this. And that’s a hard thing to accomplish in a 22-minute episode, but they do it, time and time again.

And time is something that every major fan needs to take into consideration when ruminating about the finale. We’ve spent so much of it with these characters; I know I have, I’ve rewatched this show as many times as I’ve rewatched M*A*S*H. But time is also something that is not shown congruently in this show. HIMYM is built on flashbacks and flash forwards, with the entire story a flashback from where Ted is telling his two kids the entire story. But while the show is flashing backwards and forwards, we have to consider the time not shown. And that’s where the first real problem arises for many fans.

We spent the entire final season leading up to Barney and Robin’s wedding. And then it was undone ten minutes later in the penultimate episode. But there were three years in between those moments, three years that we didn’t get to see. The reason we spent so much time on the wedding and not enough on the after was because of how this story needed to end; remember, it wasn’t Robin and Barney’s story, it was, ultimately, Ted Mosby’s. And the show was always meant to end with Ted meeting the mother at Barney and Robin’s wedding. So the story could not go beyond that moment, except in the flash forwards we got.

People were also upset that Tracy didn’t get any time on screen with Ted, but again, we have to look at the time not shown. With the series ending with the moment they met, we weren’t going to get a lot of screen time with Tracy. But thankfully they implemented flash forwards, which allowed us to see glimpses of their life after they met, from various stages, such as their first date, to when Ted proposed, to when they’d been married for years. But even with flash forwards, we were never going to get as much screen time of her as we had of the other characters. So we have to take into consideration the time off screen. The years they were together.

And that brings me to the final thing many fans hated: Tracy died. But that makes sense. It makes sense that Ted would tell the story of how he met her after she died. It made sense, seeing his reaction in “Vesuvius,” when Tracy mentioned a mother missing her daughter’s wedding, because Ted knows Tracy won’t be around for their own daughter’s wedding. And, if you look back at that first clip, that moment makes sense, too. That wasn’t present Ted talking to the Mother, explaining that he wanted 45 more days. That was the Ted that is telling the story to his kids, six years after she died. That is the Ted who has already lost her, wanting 45 more days.

Many fans, too, were upset that we spent an entire series waiting for Ted to meet the titular “Mother” only for him to go back to Robin. Some felt that this cheapened his relationship with Tracy. But you have to remember the time not shown. The final two episodes were a whirlwind of clips showing us important moments to come in our favorite characters’ lives. But in those two episodes, and the season before it, we saw glimpses of the eleven years they had together.

It is hard to think about how long they were together when all we saw was roughly an hour or so of footage. And maybe the show could have benefitted from giving us a whole season following their meeting. But the show was titled How I MET Your Mother, and that’s what it was about. It was never about showing us Ted living happily ever after, it was about the journey to meeting her.

And more importantly, this is a show about real life. In real life, we don’t know how long we have with those we love. We could one day drift apart, like Barney and Robin. We could move away, like Ted almost did. We, or our loved ones, could die, as Tracy and Marshall’s father did. We don’t get perfect endings, and neither should characters on a television show, not when everything before that has been realistic. Even if it is a comedy, it is a comedy that can make us cry.

And it isn’t about Ted finally getting together with Robin, as the last moment shows. Anyone who felt that this turn of events cheapened Tracy’s life, and death, missed the words Ted said right before that:

It was at times a long, difficult road. But I’m glad it was long and difficult, because if I hadn’t gone through hell to get there, the lesson might not have been as clear. You see, kids, right from the moment I met your mom, I knew… I have to love this woman as much as I can for as long as I can, and I can never stop loving her, not even for a second. I carried that lesson with me through every stupid fight we ever had, every 5:00 a.m. Christmas morning, every sleepy Sunday afternoon, through every speed bump. Every pang of jealousy or boredom or uncertainty that came our way, I carried that lesson with me. And I carried it with me when she got sick. Even then, in what can only be called the worst of times, all I could do was look at her and thank God, thank every god there is, or ever was, or will be, and the whole universe, and anyone else I can possibly thank that I saw that beautiful girl on that train platform, and that I had the guts to stand up, walk over to her, tap her on the shoulder, open my mouth, and speak.

That was what How I Met Your Mother was all about. It was about learning that things do end. That life happens. Life moves on, and things won’t ever be the way they were. Life is messy, that love can be hard to find, and that when we find someone to love, we need to hold on to them.

I saw a great video today, which no doubt prompted me to write all of this, and it makes a beautiful point. Listen to how he describes the time seen, those moments in time that we are shown, are like snapshots. It is an accurate example: throughout this show, and especially in the finale, we aren’t shown every moment of these characters’ lives, we are only shown glimpses, the “snapshots” and we have to read between them to get the fullest picture. No, we weren’t shown those eleven years together, but we were shown just enough moments from those eleven years that we know how much Ted was in love with Tracy.

How I Met Your Mother was never a regular sitcom, and that means it shouldn’t have ended like a regular sitcom would.

I love the show and love how they ended it. I know some people didn’t, but I will love that finale as much as I can for as long as I can, and I can never stop loving it, not even for a second. I’ve always felt that, through all the comedy, HIMYM has always shown us real people, in real life. Sure, Barney Stinson may have been a bit exaggerated, but when it got to the serious stuff, they took it seriously, from Robin’s inability to have children, to Marshall’s dad dying, to Ted’s messy dating life, and to Robin and Barney’s marriage that failed. Sometimes the marriage doesn’t last. Sometimes the ones we love the most die too soon. Sometimes we tell our children nine seasons worth of stories about the rocky road to meeting their mother, which was peppered with all the times that we went for the wrong girl. But everyone seems to think that the Mother got cheated out of the story (though frankly the show never was about her, it was about the long road that lead to her), I see it different: Ted could never find the right girl, because he was always hung up on Robin. Robin was the one, the perfect one. Until Tracey McConnell came along. She was the one girl who he fell for and never looked back to Robin. Tracy was the one. The only. The Mother. I know some people don’t like the ending, but I personally think that it is one of the most finely crafted endings, and series, that has ever been on television.

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Joshua Beck

Joshua Beck

I am just clever enough to get into trouble…