Everywhere you look on the internet today (and last night) you will find an article either in defense of “How I Met Your Mother” or an enumerated list of what the finale did spectacularly wrong. In an effort for catharsis, I too need to air my grievances with the finale; after all, what’s the use of a blog if you can’t use it for a good ol’ rant.
But first I’d like to comment on my title’s assertion, that this show will become a case study of the planned narrative versus a show with a more rambling, flexible structure. As intricate as the timeline became on the show, the writers were always pushing toward one end goal, established after the first season. And for whatever reason, deviating from this end does not appear to have been an option for the creators, even though the show morphed into a long running hit that slowly altered the character dynamics. Nowadays writers can go on the internet and get a general feel of what fans are thinking and feeling, but apparently the end game was set in stone and inflexible. This failure to adapt to the changing show dynamics is as disastrous as writing a show with no end game in mind that will inevitably be unable to wrap up a complex mythology. In the end, I think a successful formula is to have a well thought-out idea about your show when you get to your pilot or halfway through the first run of episodes. How do you foresee the plot trajectory? When the series ends, where will a particular character likely be? With these ideas in mind, you can write coherent stories that are true to characters, but at the same time be more adaptable. Do two people have surprising chemistry? See where it leads. Change your ideas just as real human beings change their minds. Obviously the ability to stick to a mishmash of the planned versus flexible is highly dependent on the foreseen lifespan of a show as well as a particular show’s subject.
My Primary Issues with the Series Finale:
- We spent the entire season, not just on Barney and Robin’s wedding, but also reinforcing how much Barney and Robin love each other and were making the right choice by getting married. Never mind the fact that Barney’s elaborate proposal plan was, for me, one of the most enjoyable moments of the penultimate season. Obviously the creators knew that the marriage was doomed to failure and still thought staging an entire season around it, then abruptly erasing the marriage three years later was a good idea.
- One of my biggest pet peeves is recognizing where and how characters react solely in service of an outcome the writers want to reach. The plan here: Barney and Robin get married, freeing Ted from Robin (enough to meet the mother), Ted gets to have the family he always wanted (a point of contention with Robin when they were a couple), Barney and Robin get divorced, the mother eventually dies, and after a tasteful six years, Ted pursues Robin again.
- Barney finally becomes a father. This I have very mixed feelings over. On the one hand, the only reason I was confused over Barney and Robin getting married was, once again, Robin’s stance on children. A few seasons ago made it very clear that Barney wanted to have kids, and that was never something Robin wanted in life. I’ve already struggled with my feelings over the episode where Robin finds out she can never have kids, in a time when Barney and Robin were not even a couple. But the show led me to believe that Barney’s love for Robin trumped his desire for children.
- Speaking of Barney, we as viewers expect (and desire) to see our characters grow, learn lessons, and develop along different paths. Most striking in “How I Met Your Mother” is Barney renouncing his womanizing ways to settle down with Robin. However, and most disappointingly, Barney immediately reverts to his old ways following his divorce. The show seems to suggest that we prefer the old Barney and the reintroduction of the playbook…but I can easily imagine some viewers did get a chuckle out of seeing some new plays. Certainly not this viewer, who saw it as the ultimate backslide.
- Who in the writer’s room thought it would be satisfying to watch the whole friend group fall apart for over half of the finale? The gradual dissolution of the group (which appeared to be accepted by every character except Lily) contradicted the show’s message about friendship and love. Also, how telling is it that the titular MOTHER took a picture of the group on her own wedding day, without anyone saying that she should be included? You’re in the group for life, provided you aren’t written off to be killed in a few years. (Note: See included pictures. While I couldn’t find a screencap of Tracy taking the picture, I found one from right before: even this still is telling. Tracy (in her wedding dress, no less) stands between Robin and Ted, just like the obstacle she ended up being. The other screencap is of the picture taken by Tracy.)
- Anyone that was remotely concerned about the “mother is dead and Ted is going to hook-up with Robin” theory could see from a mile away that it was actually happening almost immediately. Once again the story gears ground toward that conclusion throughout the majority of the finale, particularly with the emphasis on Robin’s absence from the group.
- The finale (although obliterating the friend group for a large portion) was still an exercise in wish fulfillment for the characters. Lily gets to go to Italy. Marshall gets his judgeship after a few years of demoralizing work. The show remembered that Barney wants children so he gets a daughter and is partially cured of his womanizing ways.(?) Ted gets to be with the mother for a decade and then gets to be with the love of his life Robin. Robin gets to travel the world. Tracy is the real loser in this scenario. She loses her first love. She finds love again with Ted only to get sick and die while her kids is still young. What did she do in a previous life to love and lose so much?
- Finally, what happens with Barney? The show implies that having a daughter cured him of chasing younger women and perhaps led him back to the man he was when he married Robin. Does the show have any definitive answer on whether Barney would settle down again, solely concentrate on raising his daughter, or…? He seems to disappear from the narrative. (Of course I could be forgetting any number of flash forward scenes that give a clue to this).
Like I said, there are plenty of articles outlining these points and just how much the finale screwed over the characters, the storyline, and the viewers. This write-up by James Poniewozik at Time expertly examines and expands on many of these same points. His review not only encapsulates the faults of the finale, but also my sentiments in the wake of the end of the series as a whole.
As Alan Sepinwall tweeted today, last night’s episode of How I Met Your Mother turned out to be a very polarizing episode, one that I have yet to sort out my feelings about. Initially, I completely agreed with Alan’s review: pulling the rug out from under us viewers should have been expected, but was infuriating nonetheless. I keep expecting the show to do something radical; to make all of the beating around the bush worth it. Don’t get me wrong; I love Ted, Barney, Lily, Marshall, and Robin. I even understand that, given the show’s increasing popularity, the creators may be prolonging the reveal of the mother (although couldn’t they eke out endless seasons on dating the mother/drama? Cue the “It isn’t called “How I Met Your Mother…and Then This Happened” naysayers). The show only feels like its dragging its feet when it churns out less than stellar episodes (like the majority of last season).
Last night’s episode, for me, was a thought provoker instantaneously; by that I mean the plot got the wheels in my head going, thinking about all the different avenues they were opening up to take the rest of the season and move forward with the show.
I felt the force of the opening scene like a bomb: the show, seemingly, nonchalantly revealed that Barney and Robin would be raising two kids in the future. I did grow suspicious after the initial shock, since Future Ted has revealed that Robin never had children of her own. I used that emphasis to justify that if Robin cannot have children of her own then surely she may end up adopting in the future. So with that thought, I figured this episode was showing me that Barney and Robin end up together and, one way or another, Robin raises two children with him, biological or no. (While apparently, all of the viewers who staunchly support Robin’s decision to never have kids were letting out a collective “NOOOO”). So, I figured (even with Becki Newton coming in as a love interest for Barney) we would spend the rest of the season finding out what happens to get Robin down the aisle to Barney.
Then the show put the kibosh on that. The children Robin was playing “How I Ended up Raising You” with were fragments of a life that no longer existed for Robin. And in that moment I felt my hope for this show go out the window. What a teaser with no payoff (other than an amazing performance by Cobie Smulders). I felt like once again, the show made me feel like something monumental happened in the series, when really it was only reinforcing the idea that Robin will never have kids. I wanted to write an angry letter; I wanted to say, “You think you can arbitrarily mess with the viewer experience and it will have no impact? I have been getting to know these characters for 7 years, I care for them. And I feel like that isn’t acknowledged by you.” And because I care, I am going to keep watching no matter how much I feel jerked around. And the episode where Robin decided to stick with Kevin over Barney was already a struggle for me this season; another example of the show presenting an opportunity to change the formula but lacking follow through. Alan Sepinwall’s review echoed my sentiments and of course I took to the comments section to see other reactions. While some comments defending the episode failed to sway me, others did make me lean more towards the idea that the show was effective in making a statement, transcending the necessary role of the sitcom to make us laugh. I understand that we are supposed to see Robin’s total despair in imagining kids that for her will never ever exist. And Cobie did a great job. I truly felt that a woman like Robin, who was adamant against having kids, would feel utterly different if she realized her choice wasn’t a choice at all, but a twisted turn of biology. And I think I have to applaud the show for demonstrating her heartbreak in this manner.
I think the best solution to avoid this backlash would have been to show Robin having a thought experiment at the very beginning of the episode while she stressed out in the bathroom: what if I had to tell this story to my kids in the future? Therefore, the structure would already be slightly different from normal; we wouldn’t be surprised by the same narrative structure used by Future Ted being used by Robin (I mean, what are the odds that Present Robin would employ in her fantasy the same formula of Future Ted?). As Robin found out she wasn’t pregnant and eventually, unable to have kids, of course her fantasy would change in her head. After she discovered she wasn’t pregnant the “sorry” to the kids could have been merely, “Sorry that this story makes it sound like I didn’t want you.” Thus the kids fading at the end would still be sad, but not as shocking. I suppose the writers were looking for the emotional impact; I understand.
The issue: people (me) who are invested in the Robin/Barney relationship were easily led astray by the beginning. We focused much less on the idea of Robin having kids and much more on the idea that Robin’s raising kids with Barney in the future. Our minds churned with the implications. And when the kids faded, so did our dream of that future. We were back to reality, where not only was Robin still with Kevin, but she had also just rejected Barney and found out she can’t have kids. Dark.
I think I am sad because the storytelling and the character development was so, so good; but the structure of the episode made me concentrate on other things that cheapened what the creators were trying to convey…