Bloggers and critics spent a lot of time over the past week remembering How I Met Your Mother. Websites posted Top 50 and Top 10 episode countdowns. Interviews were conducted with the cast. There were tours of the set. The AV Club posted a retrospective about the beauty of the series. Years of creatively bankrupt storytelling, disinterested acting, and unnecessarily prolonged storytelling didn’t deter the most ardent and devoted HIMYM fans. Something about the series continued to charm fans and critics. A sense of ‘it’ll be worth the wait’ carried fans through nonsense episode after nonsense episode, through retread of storylines past, through characters dissolving into caricature, and maybe now modern consumers of pop culture will learn an important truth about stories and endings. Do not continue watching a series thinking the ending will redeem a series, because it won’t. Endings are overrated in episodic television. Rarely will you feel happy with an ending after investing so much time into a one-sided relationship.
How I Met Your Mother concluded badly tonight. “Last Forever” spanned years and relationship upheaval. In 40 some minutes, Bays and Thomas told nearly fifteen years of story. Barney and Robin, whose wedding weekend the final season was set during, divorced within minutes of the series finale. Robin embarked on a global career as a news anchor in which her friends disappeared and her husband. By the end, in the year 2030, she’s in an apartment, living with two cute dogs. During those years, Ted had two children with The Mother, named Tracy, who eventually dies and whom no one grieves. “Last Forever” is vignette oriented. Bays and Thomas brushed with broad strokes the last pages of the last chapter of this forgettable and regrettably told tale. Barney’s flirtation with settled married life could not sustain him or the writers, because Barney mostly acted as he did for all the series until the birth of his daughter, the lone love of his life, a daughter whose mother was not named; it was a changed that motivated Barney to shame two women in a bar for doing what he preyed on for the entire series. The scene will probably be read as Barney’s maturation reaching completion, but he was a horrible character, and an example to future comedy writers for how to not write a shticky cartoon. The Barney-Robin storyline reflected the series in the end: the writers were disinterested, not committed, and those characters meant nothing to each other.
Other vignettes included the continued happiness of Marshall and Lily. It included a third child, Marshall achieving his dreams, and lots of Lily sadface as relationships changed around her. Robin, at the last Halloween party that doubled as an apartment goodbye party because Lily and Marshall moved out of it, said the gang was not much more than people who rarely see each other. The rigors of time on friendships and relationship were the reason Marshall compared Robin to a Yetti. The other four stayed in touched. Robin remained apart. She was saddened on the rooftop to see Ted with Tracy and also regretful because she knew he was the man for her. Robin was always the woman for Ted. Years of happiness with Tracy meant little. They married seven or eight years after meeting at Farhampton after having two children. Tracy barely figured into the most important scenes set in 2016, 2018, 2020. “Last Forever” opened with the gang expressing their fondness for the new girl in the city, Robin, and it ended with Robin coming into their lives through Ted.
Ted asked his children at the end of his story about the point of the story. The structure of How I Met Your Mother allowed for stories that commented on stories that commented on stories, stories within stories within stories, the power of memory and unreliability of memory, to trace the themes of one’s life and how those themes inform choices, decisions, happiness and unhappiness. Narratively, the point of Ted’s story was that there was no point. No storyteller should need nine years to tell a story that should’ve ended in the “Pilot.” The kids think Ted used the story to gain permission to pursue their Aunt Robin, six years after their mother’s death. The execution of the ending was horribly telegraphed and recklessly written. Lily commended Ted for enduring emotional tumult before his wedding day, which set up the actual ending of the series: the death of his wife and mother of his children was the final tumult he experienced.
So, this series that loved to play tricks on its viewers through dazzling gimmicks, that venerated its most reprehensible character and his habit of using the long con on those he loved the most, used those dazzling tricks and conning to stretch out a story that should’ve ended in the “Pilot.” How I Met Your Mother was essentially a prolonged short film. Yes, endings in episodic television series are overrated and a poor way to ultimately assess and critique a series because the great big middle sections of a series matter more and mean more.
A good ending is always better than bad ending, but no ending would’ve saved HIMYM from itself. HIMYM was long finished before tonight’s misfire.