Last night, I got dumped. We both knew it was over, but there were a lot of memories of love, and happiness, and some sadness too, that had us feeling melancholy. Sure, it had to end, but perhaps it could be the kind of ending that you don’t mind because it signifies everything that you meant to each other. This is how I felt. The writers of How I Met Your Mother apparently felt differently.
I first came into the show around season 2; eight years later, I was still watching. The last few seasons had trouble living up to the first few, but I loved the characters too much to care or let it go. I loved Ted’s eternal struggle to find the Mom and all of the clues found along the way; loved Lily and Marshall’s highs and rare lows; loved Barney’s tenacious attitude and his humanization as the show went on; and truly loved Robin’s fierce independence and eventual honesty with herself about what she wanted. I loved all of it… until last night when the creators decided to stomp on everything I loved about the show.
The Problematic Set-up
This is the story of how Ted met The Mother. Since the end of the pilot, we begin picking up on hints and clues (like our beloved yellow umbrella) as to who the mysterious Mother was, the reason behind this long-winded story. Or was she?
Tracy, The Mother, had eight seasons of hype to live up to when she first appeared on the show. No one knew quite what to think of her, but she blew expectations out of the water. She was funny, quirky without being a manic pixie dream girl, and oh-so-perfect for Ted. The breakfast songs, the guitar, the umbrella—it was all coming together. And then it wasn’t. Because, kids, this wasn’t the story of how Ted met The Mother. It’s the story of how he loved her for a short while, but at the end of the day even the perfect Mother couldn’t compare to Aunt Robin.
Haaave you met Ted? Ted, sweet and ridiculous Ted, who believes in true love, who builds The Mother into a shining beacon that guides us through the seasons, has always been an unreliable narrator. The Mother was a red herring, a tool he exploited against his kids (and us) to get to the real point of the story: He’s still in love with Robin. In the most blatantly disrespectful way, Ted sits his kids down to tell them the story of how he met their dead mother and instead spends it mooning over Robin.
It begs the question: Does The Mother even matter? Do the kids? It all was a means to an end, and that end has always been Robin. Kids, your mother was perfect and I loved her, but Robin’s always been the one for me all along. Despite the fact that Ted and Robin repeatedly could not make their relationship work, he returns to her because The Mother fulfilled what she couldn’t. Robin never wanted marriage, Robin couldn’t have kids. So Ted finds someone who can, and once she conveniently dies, he goes back to Robin and says, “See, I can be with you now, I don’t want that stuff anymore.” Real romantic, guys.
Not to mention that Robin finally has her dream job and likely won’t stop traveling, or that Ted has (shockingly supportive) kids who do need to be looked after, and thus he can’t go following after her like the hopeless puppy that he is. Their relationship faces the exact same problem that Robin and Barney’s marriage did. I’m unhappy that they’re together and also unconvinced that they’ll make it. Meaning, Robin ends up alone, again, and so does Ted.
The Betrayal of the Fans
Lyndsy Fonseca and David Henrie, the actors who play Ted’s kids, have known since the first season how the show was going to end. Creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays had an idea and filmed it, unsure of where the show would take them or even if it would get canceled, and after 9 seasons of character growth and development they refused to change their mind. Where was their trusty editor? Did anyone try to stage an intervention?
We know from the start that Robin isn’t The Mother, and we sort of enjoy having Ted trail after her, but after a while we grew weary. We embrace other relationships in both of their lives because we were told they were not the endgame, and because they shouldn’t be the endgame. But in a twist ending she still ends up being the brighter light in Ted’s life. As a loyal viewer, it was a slap in the face.
I dedicated more hours than I care to admit over the last few years catching up on episodes and rewatching old favorites on Netflix. When friends lamented the show’s downward spiral, I defended its good points. When the rumors of The Mother’s death were flying about, I championed the writers because I believed they wouldn’t do that to us; they wouldn’t take the easy way out. I convinced myself that in the series finale they wouldn’t have me steaming, boiling over with anger and hurt feelings—because for the majority of that hour-long episode, everyone was miserable. I was trapped, watching as the friends that I laughed, cried, and bonded with over the last nine seasons had their lives devastated.
Yes, tough jobs and divorce are a fact of life. But when I remember these characters who I’ve grown up alongside, I don’t want to think about Marshall being reduced to a job where he’s demeaned by his boss; don’t want to see Lily still living with her dad; don’t want to see Barney back to his old tricks or the stupid Playbook after so much character growth; don’t want to see Robin up and abandon the only people who have been consistently there for her; and do not want to see Ted finally get what he’s wanted… only to go back to who he was at the beginning of season 1. The finale was a regression, not a continuation of the storyline and characters the fans have been loyal to.
Character Growth… Reduced
People change, but not really. That’s what I learned from HIMYM—that for the sake of looking clever, character development can be shoved aside. The two characters who were hit the worst were my two favorites: Robin and Barney.
Robin’s independence has been her greatest strength and weakness from the start. Her need-no-one attitude made her a tough friend, but once she was in your corner, she was there until the end… kinda. In a show about friendship, Robin commits a cardinal sin when she decides to disappear. It’s made abundantly clear that it’s her choice, not her career, that keeps her from her friends. Marshall is angry, Ted is devastated, but I doubt either are as hurt as Lily. She fought for Robin to become a member of the group, and the two became best friends.
My heart broke when Robin snapped at Lily, claiming she never sees her, when it’s her own decision to cut herself out of the group. She then returns for Ted’s wedding, claiming to be coming back to not miss the big moments, but how many big moments did she miss in Lily’s life? Just as Ted throws The Mother aside for Robin, she throws everyone aside for him. They selfishly make exceptions for each other, and don’t seem to care about who gets hurt in the aftermath. When Robin had the audacity to cry at Lily’s speech, I wanted to scream.
Friends growing apart is a harsh reality, one that the TV show Friends dealt with in a finale filled with class, honesty, and heartbreak. HIMYM made a poor decision to reduce Robin to the girl who needs no one, takes care of herself, and pretends to like it that way, and not the woman she became. When Ted shows up on the street in front of her house, blue French horn in hand, she’s exactly where she was at the beginning of the show—dogs flanking her on either side. As someone who related strongly to Robin’s independence and need for self-sufficiency, it was gutting to see her progress reduced for the sake of a cliché.
No one, however, was more reduced than Barney. What were charming and funny antics in the early seasons, are truly sad to witness in the finale. Barney’s used his Playbook as a mask, but over the course of the series we’ve seen him strip it away page by page until we reached what was true and honest. He was scared, just like everyone else, and if he were going to take a leap it would be for Robin. He leapt after her time and time again. I refuse to believe he’d so easily give up on her because of years of loving her from afar never swayed him, so how could this? It deeply upsets me that the writers took his character from a place so low to one so touching and then undid it in an instant for the sake of… I’m not even sure. Then in yet another cliché in a disappointing arc, Barney gains faux growth back when looking at his daughter, a gift to him from a mother without a face or name. Lucky 31.
I grew to love Barney and Robin as a couple, and any hint of their break-up was stilled by Craig Thomas. “We always knew it was going to be Barney and Robin,” he told TV Guide in 2012. “It had to be her. They’re a special couple.” In yet another case of advanced planning, he shares that they knew for years that the two would get married. Did he also knew he’d divorce them in the same episode? Did he take into account that fans would feel devestated and lied to after years of encouragement that Barney and Robin were a couple made to last? Even for those who never truly hopped on the Barney/Robin train, I think they can admit the creators’ poor choice in dedicating an entire season to their wedding. The time that went in to building up Robin and Barney’s relationship, and the few moments it took to shatter that, are unbelievable and not what I signed on for.
The HIMYM finale was heartache for the sake of heartache, gut-ripping for the sake of gut-ripping. It was the Red Wedding with no point or purpose. It’s the story of how Robin and Barney grew to fall in love, fall apart, fall in love, and be torn apart; of how the woman Ted spent his entire life searching for actually didn’t matter because creators were too wrapped up in their original concept to accept the growth and evolution of their characters over the nine-season show. Disappointed can’t begin to cover it. Legendary? I’m still waiting for it.