Little did I know this story would end with me SEETHING WITH RAGE.
Recently, during a rant about the BBC's promise not to have a female Doctor on Doctor Who, I mentioned that I had just watched the finale of How I Met Your Mother, having binge-watched the entire nine seasons of that show in just 7 months. I said that it was almost inevitable that I would eventually write an extremely angry blog post about how utterly awful the finale was.
Ladies and gentlemen... This is that post.
Now, obviously, there are some pretty major spoilers ahead, so if you've not seen it before, but you're planning on watching the show and you don't want to know what happens in the end, maybe go off and do something else online, instead of reading this. And when you eventually watch the show, don't bother with the finale. Invent your own. I promise, you'll do a better job than the writers did...
If you've watched the show and you're simply curious as to what I thought about it, this is definitely the blog post for you. And if you've no intention of ever watching it, but you're also intrigued by my FIERY ANGER, then strap yourself in: this isn't going to be pretty...
Okay, so for the uninitiated, let's recap the show's premise:
Ted Mosby is an incurable romantic, searching for "The One." The show is presented in both flashback and flash-forward mode, with an older Ted telling his teenage children the story of how he met their mother. Along the way, we meet several girlfriends who didn't stay the course, including one who Ted almost married, only for him to be left standing at the alter, when she ran off with her ex.
Throughout the series, we have several clues as to the identity of "The Mother" (who obviously only gets a name - Tracy - when we meet her at long last). We're told that she plays bass. She carries a yellow umbrella. She enjoys the same books as Ted. We even come tantalisingly close to meeting her, when Ted briefly dates her roommate, but she remains just out of sight and reach.
The running theme of the show is this idea that Ted is waiting for the perfect girl. In older Ted's voice-overs, he frequently tells his children that a heartbreak we've witnessed in that episode won't matter for long, because he's getting closer to meeting the girl of his dreams - their mother. As a first-time viewer, I got excited each time Ted met someone new, wondering: is this her?! And each time a relationship failed, I reminded myself that SHE was waiting, somewhere. Someday, he'd find her. It was a remarkably simple (and arguably kind of cheesy) premise - the idea of tracking a person's romantic history and the lessons each failed relationship teaches them, all with the promised climax of that person finally meeting the partner they're destined to be with - and yet it worked. And it worked in part, because the idea of there being someone for everyone and that each heartbreak is just a stepping stone along the way to finding Mr or Mrs Right, is something that many of us can identify with. We wanted Ted to find "The One," because many of us have wished for that, ourselves, at some point in our lives.
If only the person who made this gif had got the quote 100% right, it would have been quite beautiful.
In the very first episode, however, we're introduced to a woman who Ted falls head over heels for. She's a straight-talking, rather commitment-phobic journalist named Robin. And throughout the show, Ted wrestles with his feelings for her. They date then split up. She becomes one of the core "gang" that the show centres around. Then, they get back together and this time, they fall in love. And then they split up again. Then Ted gets over her. And then he realises he still loves her. She turns him down. It's a merry-go-round of doomed romance.
Whilst having a will-they, won't-they pairing in a TV show is nothing new, this one in particular was no Rachel and Ross situation. Because, despite Ted's regularly reoccurring feelings for Robin, the show kind of beats the viewer over the head with the fact that they are most definitely better suited as friends. Older Ted reminds us frequently that "The Mother" is on her way; it might hurt that Robin doesn't love him, but someday, he's going to meet someone perfect for him who will.
Wait for Tracy, Goddamnit.
And, whilst assuring the audience that Robin and Ted are utterly wrong for one another, the show provides Robin with someone who is right for her. Someone who appears as commitment-phobic as she is. Someone whose sense of humour and gung-ho attitude to life matches her own. Ted's "bro," Barney.
When we first meet Barney, he could easily be written off as a rather disgusting and entirely two-dimensional character. He's not just a ladies man; he's a man who sleeps with as many women as possible and regards getting into the pants of any female he likes as a challenge. He disregards women over the age of 30 as being too old. He is vocally against "fat chicks." He seems to love sleeping with women, but for much of the show, he has zero respect for them. Then something happens. Barney falls in love with Robin.
I won't lie. When it first became obvious that Barney - a man who had seemingly never loved a woman (besides his mother) in his life - was falling for Robin, I was rooting for them. Hard. When they finally got together, I was overjoyed.
And then they split up. That never sat right with me, but that's probably because I SHIPPED THEM SO HARD, YOU GUYS. But Barney's character had changed for the better as a result of his time with Robin and he became a deeper, more compassionate person (albeit still one who viewed women as predominantly sex objects). He eventually got engaged to someone else. He proved he could have a serious, committed relationship. But there was a sense that his feelings for Robin might not have gone away, completely.
Finally, after what felt like way too long and with way too much false hope along the way, Barney won Robin back. He may have done it by pretending to be in love with her arch nemesis (I was totally fooled by that storyline, by the way), but when he laid his feelings bare, it became clear that he had never stopped loving Robin. The scene in which he proposes and Robin accepts actually made me shriek "YES!" at the screen:
And so, the scene was set. The two other main characters in the series, Marshall and Lily, were happily married and had had their first child. Robin and Barney were back together and were hopelessly in love and planning their wedding. Ted was putting his feelings for Robin to bed at last and was just waiting to find "The One." And, at the end of season 8, we finally saw her for the first time. Now, it was just a matter of waiting for she and Ted to meet. We knew who "The Mother" was. We were on course for a final season that tied up any loose ends and finally gave us the happy ending we had spent eight previous seasons wishing for Ted to get.
What could possibly go wrong?!
EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING COULD DO WRONG.
Earlier on in the show, it had been made clear to us that Ted had first spotted his future wife and the mother of his children at a wedding. Later, it became apparent that the wedding in question was that of Robin and Barney. So, the fact that the entire final season takes place over the wedding weekend is bizarrely understandable. We know there's a lot of ground to cover: Ted and Tracy's first meeting, the beginning of their relationship, Robin and Barney's happy-ever-after...
But, despite there being several flashes to Ted and Tracy's future relationship, the majority of the season passes by without them having met, yet. Instead, we get to know Tracy before Ted does. She becomes a major character, without him having so much as said "hello" to her.
We see her meeting each of the rest of the gang. We get to know her. We fall in love with her. We know that she's the future mother of Ted's children and we could not be happier; she's perfect for him. Despite Ted having yet another wobble over his feelings for Robin, we know that the real love of his life is just a day or two away from sweeping him off his feet. We even see Tracy inadvertently save the wedding, when she bumps into Robin and calms her last-minute nerves.
Shortly before that encounter, we see Robin having a freak-out, in which she wonders whether she ought to be marrying Ted, instead. She questions whether Barney loves her the way Ted has over the years. She wonders if he's capable of being honest with her, given his track record of lying to get what he wants.
But Tracy is there at the right time to calm her down. Barney puts Robin's mind at rest. The wedding goes ahead and we see how blissfully happy Robin and Barney are. Now, all that remains is for Ted to finally meet Tracy himself.
And it's at this point that I have to ask myself whether someone in the writers' room asked: "Hey, do you think we could just MASSIVELY mess up this whole thing in the finale and really upset the vast majority of the show's fans?!"
So, here we are in the finale. We've made it through nine seasons. Nine seasons of Ted intermittently pining over the wrong girl. A girl the show has consistently told us is not the person he should be with. That girl is now married to the man the show has perfectly paired her with; a man we know is her ideal match. Ted is finally just moments away from meeting the love of his life. We've spent more than twenty episodes, having Tracy cleverly introduced, without her having met Ted. We're on tenterhooks, waiting for that moment when everything will be perfect. Lily and Marshall are having their second child and they've come through a stressful period in their marriage and are even more rock solid than ever. Robin and Barney are married and now all we're waiting for is the final piece in the puzzle: How did Ted meet the mother of his children?!
And then the finale takes everything we loved about the show, rolls it up into a burrito of disappointment and force-feeds us every last morsel.
Twenty minutes from the end of the show, we discover that Robin became a super-famous news anchor/reporter and divorced Barney, because their relationship apparently buckled under the stress of her being away so much. Robin disappears from the group, becoming distant even from her best friend, Lily, who mourns the loss of their close friendship. We see Barney go back to his former Lothario self, before he discovers that he's gotten a conquest pregnant. He falls head over heels with his baby daughter and it's her that finally makes him change (despite the fact that his love for Robin had done that, already and it was actually pretty hard to believe that he'd slip quite so easily back into his former patterns and not experience enormous depression at the end of his marriage). Then, heartbreakingly, but some might argue predictably (there were many rumours that this would happen), we find out that Tracy - the mother we waited so long to meet - died several years ago, from an illness that is literally never explained. We get a few brief moments in which we see the first, almost unbearably cute meeting between she and Ted and that's it. Her part in the story is over.
But we're not done, yet. Oh, no. The show hasn't finished ruining the previous nine years.
Because the kids' reaction to hearing the heartwarming tale of how their parents met, is to admonish their father and basically tell him: "This was never a story about Mom. It's about how you love Aunt Robin and you want to know if we're okay with you dating her. Go get her!"
I'm so enraged, the spelling mistake in this gif, which would usually annoy me so much I couldn't use it, gets a pass. Because maybe the person who made it was furious, too.
I have MANY feelings about how wrong this ending was.
To get the full impact of how bad it was, I have to compare it to a finale I liked and say that it would be like Rachel getting off the plane in the Friends finale, only to tell Ross that actually, she really was in love with Joey. Whilst, across the city, Erica tells Monica and Chandler that she's decided to keep her babies, causing Monica to throw herself out of the damn hospital window. Meanwhile, Phoebe finally gets arrested for all the many crimes she's long hinted at having committed, whilst her twin sister records a comedy album, featuring all of Phoebe's funny songs from the entire ten seasons, and is immediately hailed a genius. The show ends with Chandler, sitting alone in the empty apartment he shared with his now dead wife, asking himself: "Could this be any more tragic?!" before weeping inconsolably as the final credits roll.
THAT IS HOW MESSED UP IT IS.
Brace yourselves, I feel a list, coming on...
- Literally the ENTIRE final season is set during the weekend of Robin and Barney's wedding. We see them have their last minute doubts, but we see those doubts resolved. They love one another. They are right for one another. Their marriage is the culmination of a beautifully written love story, between two characters who could barely commit to a lunch date, before finding the perfect partner in one another. We are sold their relationship as the happy-ever-after for these characters and we believed in that. To take it away, with barely any real analysis of how the end came about, was a slap in the face to everyone who rooted for them.
Bobin forever, you awful writers. BOBIN FOREVER.
2. The show had spent NINE SEASONS telling us how wrong Robin and Ted were for one another. They wanted different things. Robin had told Ted to his face that she didn't love him. Their story was resolved; they were destined to just be friends. Ted was determined to come to terms with that fact, somehow, just before he met Tracy. The Robin we see in the finale - the woman who puts her career ahead of every relationship in her life - is far closer to the Robin we meet in the first episode, than the Robin she became, too. So, not only did they undo her entire character progression in order for this to happen, but they turned her back into the woman who was DEMONSTRABLY WRONG FOR TED. What message were they trying to convey?! If you wear someone down over the years, they'll eventually cave and decide they want to be with you after all?! Or that if you've had a thing for someone for years, it eventually stops mattering whether or not you're right for one another?!
3. The show spent the whole of the final season, introducing us to Tracy and showing us that she really was perfect for Ted. Prior to that, the WHOLE SHOW was about it not really mattering what heartbreak Ted endured, as long as he learned a lesson from it, because those lessons could be carried forward into his eventual relationship with Tracy. In other words, those doomed romances weren't so important in the grand scheme of things, because he hadn't met the love of his life, yet. Every woman Ted dated - Robin included - was eventually shown to be not quite right for him, in one way or another. But in Tracy, we found someone who embodied everything Ted needed in a partner. She fitted into his gang of friends. We could see her being a part of his world, before she even became one. We were given the chance to fall in love with her almost on Ted's behalf, prior to their first meeting. To kill her off with no explanation was cruel enough (we never even find out what illness killed her). But to actually write her importance out of the show completely, by suggesting that Ted's whole story was never actually about her, was far too harsh. Tracy deserved much, much better.
I name this ship Tred. And it floats a whole lot better than Trobin does.
4. Barney deserved better, too. We'd already seen him turn his character around. He'd found someone he adored in Robin, and he'd done the seemingly impossible and gotten married. Between the end of his first engagement (to Quinn) and getting back together with Robin, he may have returned to his playboy ways, but we saw plenty of suggestions that he was actually maturing as a character and was no longer completely happy with his lifestyle. We saw a softer side to him. We watched him confront his demons and become a more fully rounded person. By the time he proposes to Robin, he's proven that he is willing and ready to give up sleeping around and treating women badly. In the finale, we see only brief flashes of any emotion after his split from Robin and he quickly goes back to being the Lothario he was, before. He openly denounces the idea of real love, or pledging yourself to just one person (and whilst this could arguably be as a result of his painful divorce, we're literally never given the chance to explore his feelings) and only finally changes his ways for good when his daughter is born. This felt almost like a slight to Robin, given that she can't have children, but it also gave rise to several questions: Why do we never meet the mother of Barney's child? She never even gets a name, being referred to only as "Number 31," the final girl in a "perfect month" for Barney (in which he sleeps with a different girl on every day of the month). Is Barney sharing custody? Because if so, this new, reformed character that he's become as a result of fatherhood surely wouldn't be referring to the mother of his child as merely "Number 31." And if he has sole custody, how did that even happen??!
5. If Robin has become this incredibly successful journalist, travelling all over the world, to the point that Lily comments on the fact that they rarely ever see or even hear from her anymore, how is Ted still in close enough contact with her to know that she's living at her old apartment and is single? If he's still in close touch with her, why isn't her supposed best friend? Robin's lifestyle led to the break up of her marriage and a loss of closeness with the group, but somehow, we're meant to believe that she and Ted are still so close that he can just turn up at her home, knowing that she'll be in?! And if Robin really has distanced herself from the whole group (which is very heavily implied), how is Ted even close enough to her to still have romantic feelings for her? Ted is portrayed throughout the show as someone who values friendship and feels it's important to make time for the people in your life. If Robin had disappeared from their group as much as it's suggested, surely he'd have had very little to do with her over the years, especially as he had his own issues going on, such as raising two young kids, dealing with the sickness and then death of his wife and becoming a single father?! Where would he find the time to chase someone who had purposefully distanced herself from the group?! And if Ted really hasn't seen much of Robin in the last few years, it makes his casual dismissal of Tracy in favour of Robin at the end of the story much, much worse.
6. Who was "The One?!" Tracy is sold to us as the love of Ted's life literally throughout the entire nine seasons of the show. Well before she's ever appeared on screen, she's the person we're rooting for Ted to meet. But with the kids saying that the story was never about her, but was actually always about Robin, is the show trying to make the point that there's no such thing as "The One," after all?! And if so, why, considering that this was a show that never shied away from having its main character philosophising on life and love, did Ted never speak about that? We're left asking ourselves whether the show was trying to make a point about the concept of "The One," or whether they were suggesting that actually, it was Robin all along. Which, considering how long they spent ramming home the idea that she was wrong for Ted, makes it feel like a really stupid ending. "The One" is the one it didn't work out with, but who you still have feelings for, anyway?! Okaaaay.
At this point, I actually yelled "NOOOOOOO" a la Luke Skywalker at my TV.
7. We know that Ted supposedly left Robin and Barney's wedding early, because he was due to fly to Chicago the next day, but what was Tracy's excuse for also leaving early? She was the bassist in the wedding band; did her set end and she decided to duck out? What entertainment was there after the band finished? And why was she getting the train home again, when we saw her driving a van (which she used to pick up Marshall and baby Marvin) just a day or two before? Come to think of it it, if she had access to that van, why did she have to catch a train to the venue?! This point may have been cleared up, but I think I was so upset by the Bobin divorce at this point, I was too consumed with rage to notice...
8. The show spent NINE WHOLE SEASONS devoted to the notion of Ted finally getting a happy ending with the mother of his kids. WHY DO THE BUILD UP AND THEN RIP AWAY THE ENDING????!!!!!
Look, I know there were fans who liked this finale. I know there were people who felt like Ted and Robin did belong together. But if that was the case, you know what? Just have her be the mother all along - if Robin couldn't have kids, then have an emotional moment where Ted tells her it doesn't matter, because he loves her enough not to have them. Or, have them talk about adoption. If it had to end with those two getting together, don't spend nine years focusing on how it wouldn't work between them, or telling us how perfect she and Barney are for one another, instead. If it was always meant to be about how there's not just ONE perfect person for all of us, have Ted ruminate on that fact.
The ending felt like an afterthought. It felt like the whole show had been leading up to something, but the writers decided "nah" and just wrote a load of scenes that felt out of character from almost everyone (aside from Marshall and Lily), without thinking for a second about what they'd spent nine years creating up until that point.
Arguably, the ending of the show had been decided upon in season 2, when the final scenes with Ted's future kids were shot, so that they wouldn't continue to age over the course of the show. So, back in season two, it was decided that Ted would end up with Robin.
But, you know what? If that's where the writers were going all along, they had plenty of time to make it feel like a satisfying ending. They had literally years to build the Robin and Ted storyline up to a crescendo, where all the fans were rooting for them to get together.
They didn't do any of that. They did the opposite of that.
And look, I know a lot of the fans who did like the ending, did so because it was a "surprise twist." But was it? Really?!
Because the mother's death was pretty heavily foreshadowed a few episodes away from the end, when we see her and Ted having a meal together in the future, during which she says: "what sort of a mother would miss her own daughter's wedding?" and Ted breaks down in response. Why else would he be crying, unless he knew Tracy would miss her daughter's eventual wedding? Ted was sensitive and prone to getting emotional, but not to the degree that he'd have randomly burst into tears at that comment, without it having a deeper meaning.
And as for Ted and Robin? As a fan of the show who never saw the two of them as being right for one another, I literally spent pretty much any episode in which it was so much as hinted at that Ted still had feelings for her, muttering under my breath: "if they end up together, it'll be such a predictable cop-out."
I don't see it as being a big, shocking twist. I just see it as being atrociously poor attention to detail right at the end of a brilliant run. There were too many unanswered questions, too many out of character moments and the entire, nine-year premise of the show felt like it was completely undone in the last twenty minutes.
Willow Lily. I need copious amounts of alcohol, too. Enough to make me forget.
You know what? Even if the writers filmed the final scenes with the kids back in season 2, and they went with the whole "you're in love with Aunt Robin" vibe back then, they didn't have to stick to it. It was their show. That's the beauty of writing; you sometimes have an idea of what you want to happen at the end, but if you're really paying attention to the story and the characters, you allow the plot to be driven by them, somewhat. In my novel, Cracked Mirrors And Torn Reflections, I had an idea of how Jenna and Richard's relationship needed to pan out. But how it got there changed along the way - I went with the story as it developed. The How I Met Your Mother finale didn't feel like writers going along with the characters' natural development, or the story's own path. It felt like a natural progression up until the final twenty minutes, when someone remembered: "Oh, heck, we wrote the ending seven years ago" and then tried to shoehorn everything in.
That's why it was so unsatisfying. That's why it was so divisive. Because it felt as though the writers didn't put the same amount of thought and care into the finale as they had the whole nine seasons up until that point.
An alternative ending was released as part of the DVD boxset, in which the mother doesn't die and Ted hints strongly that Robin and Barney get back together. Maybe it's trite. Maybe it's sentimental. But for me, that's the ending that should have aired on TV.
That's the ending I'll think of, whenever I remember the show. Because, for a show that spent nine years leading up to a happy ending, I feel like it should have actually given us one.