01 April 2014

The "How I Met Your Mother" Finale: Heartbreaking

So incredibly beautiful.  How disappointing to discover
this beautiful relationship was a distraction in the minds
of the writers.  They, and we, deserved better.
Yeah, okay.  I'm writing about a television show.  And I'm really mad.  Heartbroken.  Good art can do that to you sometimes.  Unfortunately, this time it did it because what happened in the last few minutes nearly ruined the whole run for me.

I should start by saying I have loved this show from the very beginning.  It was quirky and funny and I saw a lot of myself and my friends in Ted Mosby and his.  Kudos to the show's creators for an interesting, original concept that was lightyears ahead of most every other comedy that's come out over the past nine years.  Folks, 99% of what you did worked really, really well.  You didn't have the long weird/creepy stage that "Friends" had for a few seasons.  We literally laughed out loud every week for nine years.  You provided all sorts of quotes and games I'll be playing with my wife for years to come ("General Studies!" /salutes)  And of course, it was your show.  You get to end on your terms.  But we loved it for a lot of reasons, and here are three reasons why some of us wish you'd stopped about five minutes earlier than you did.

1.  No one likes to watch their friends keep returning to toxic relationships.
 Let's face facts:  Robin & Ted were great friends and a terrible couple.  Worse than Robin and Barney by miles.  Some relationships just don't work no matter how much it appears they should.  You know what?  That's okay.  People are flawed and they make mistakes.  Sometimes those mistakes are just too much to overcome and everyone will be better off if those relationships are severed in such a way that the parties involved can actually be more healthy.  As one of my seminary professors put it when I was going through my divorce, "'To death do you part' is a promise, not a sentence.  If your relationship is killing the both of you, God would rather the relationship die so you both could live."  Learning how to be at peace with that failed relationship (failed because two good people just couldn't make it work) has been central to all the growth I've experienced over the past ten years.  Watching the last few seasons of HIMYM made me think the same thing happened for Ted.  He seemed at peace.  He seemed to be healing and growing.  Hard to believe that was true when the whole reason for telling the story of your true love was to figure out what to do about Robin.  Sometimes you shouldn't go back, Ted.

A meet-cute story that deserved to be celebrated,
not shoved aside for an elaborate MacGuffin.
2.  Your Mother had a name.  It was Tracy.  And she deserved a much better eulogy than a horny widower and two incredibly callous kids.  My Beloved and I have been together ten years, and she's as intoxicating to me today as she was the day I first met her in a classroom at Luther Seminary in the fall of 2002.  I was thinking about that last night as we wound our way toward that wonderful scene in the train station.  You don't want to ever forget those first moments with those you love.  There, under the umbrella, in the rain - that should have been the lasting memory of How I Met Your Mother - finally meeting the mother.  We even got scenes of their life together, wonderful images of Sunday naps and vacations and coffee together and all the things that make lasting relationships so incredible:  being known down to our very cells and being loved more the deeper that knowledge goes.  Even her premature death was okay - life is cruel like that sometimes.  But rather than letting us imagine the ten wonderful years Ted and Tracy shared, and even being happy to think that maybe Ted might be falling in love with someone new, what we were left with was the unfortunate thought that even in the midst of those wonderful ten years, Ted's heart might have always been pining for someone else.  Those we love deserve our full attention and the primary spot in our hearts.

This was beautiful. For so long. Until it wasn't.
Photo credit: Ron P. Jaffee (c) 2014 Fox Television
3.  Everyone got to grow up.  Except Ted.  And that's what hurts the most.  Think about this for a minute.  Every character in the show changed over the years.  Marshall and Lily might be the best married couple on television since Tim and Tammy Taylor on Friday Night Lights.  They hung in there through all kinds of stuff like good couples do.  Barney's maturity was harder to see, but in some ways it was always there, hidden, revealed when he did things to help his friends and the people he loved.  Watching him grow this past season as he committed to Robin was wonderful.  Even though the writers ruined that particular growth with a slapdash divorce, that growth was (sloppily) reasserted when he became a father.  Robin made her choices - no kids, career first, world travel and professional success - and appeared to be dealing with the consequences.  That's what grown-ups do.  You don't get everything you want.

Ted, on the other hand, ended up right back where he was at the start of the nine year journey - a lovesick schmuck desperate to be fulfilled by someone else, particularly if that someone else happens to be Robin.  The best kinds of love teach you how to become more of yourself, more certain about who you are, and more able to live on your own if, God forbid, that loving relationship ends.  Ted made the wise, mature decision to say "no" to Robin the day she married Barney - that decision would have still been wise and mature 16 years later, but apparently he didn't grow enough to make it.  Alyssa Rosenburg from the Washington Post put it best:
The finale of “How I Met Your Mother” had the same problem that the show has always had. It privileged gimmicks over its emotional core, and Ted’s cheap, childish obsession with Robin over the more adult vision of romance and marriage that it did so much to build. And the worst part of that lapse is that “How I Met Your Mother” squandered what, over the course of nine seasons, had proven to be a remarkable capacity for real feeling and clear-eyed thinking about the compromises and unexpected victories of adult life.
What made us love "How I Met Your Mother" was that it was different.  When it started, the big comedies were "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "The King of Queens," which followed the schtick formula my Beloved calls, "He's an idiot, she's a bitch."  "How I Met Your Mother" was different.  Ted was different.  He was the guy we were rooting would find real, lasting, genuine, strong, healthy, passionate love.  Which he did.  Which we got to enjoy for a few fleeting scenes, until the creators ripped it out of our hands and stabbed us in the heart.  Guys, that was bad enough, but survivable, like life tends to be.  End at the hospital bed, we're weeping but happy that Ted enjoyed those ten years.  If you ask me, that might have been just perfect.  But then you stabbed us in the back by sending Ted to Robin and thus making those incredible ten years seem like an afterthought.  Ted, Tracy and all the rest of us who hoped for them for so long deserved so much better.

Footnote:  other takes on the finale that I think sum up the problems:
"The 'How I Met Your Mother' Bailed On The Entire Show" - Margaret Lyons @vulture
"Why We Deserved More From The 'HIMYM' Series Finale" - Emily Orley @Buzzfeed
"Oh, 'Mother': An Awful End To A Long Love Story" - Linda Holmes, posted by NPR
"Not-So-Legendary?! A Second Opinion on the HIMYM Series Finale" - Emily Cottone


  1. Well, I haven't read the other critiques. I'm not sure I want to. But I loved last night. I cried when Barney held his daughter, and when Tracy got sick. And the blue French horn was THE symbol for Ted's vulnerability and openness, which is what makes him different from most male sitcom characters. Yeah, Tracy deserved to be called by name, and Robin is flawed. But I don't think Ted returning to Robin negates his love for Tracy. He waited six years.(That doesn't exactly make him "a horny widower". And those "kids" are grown up.) We get to love more than one person in our lifetime.

    1. So much of what you say is right, Jules. But...

      We do get to love more than one person. But the way they told the story, Ted really got just the one love: Robin. Not Tracy. Even though Tracy was Your Mother, it turned out in the end to have been about Robin all along. One of the other articles said if they'd said after season one or two that it was going to be Robin in the end, it would have been okay. But the story grew. Ted grew. He stayed the vulnerable, open guy, but he found the one with whom he could be that guy and receive the same or more in return. Robin was never going to be that person. I didn't feel happy for Ted at the very end - I felt worse for him going back to Robin than I did watching Tracy die. Maybe the horny widower was unfair. But I still felt like Ted got cheated twice in the end, and he's the one guy in the show who deserved a happy ending.

  2. Well said!! EXACTLY how I was feeling... both Tracy and the rest of the world got cheated.