SERIES FINALE SPOILERS AHEAD, so proceed with caution, you Mother lovers!
Season Nine; Episodes 23/24: “Last Forever”
Written by Carter Bays & Craig Thomas; Directed by Pamela Fryman
It’s finally here: the How I Met Your Mother finale (#HIMYMfinale). It’s a real doozy of an episode that already has social media backlash! But what series finale doesn’t garner backlash from the entire population of Twitter? However, let’s try to enjoy the episode for what it is.
September 2005: We’re back where it all began. The gang is sitting at MacLaren’s, and Ted has just failed to pick up a chick at the bar. Robin is sad that her use of the “Have you met Ted?” pickup line failed. Barney pipes in because he doesn’t know who this Robin chick is or what made-up country she comes from. Robin’s only been in NYC for two months, and Lily happily adopts her into their group. But Lily lays down an important ground rule first: Neither Ted nor Barney can bang Robin unless they marry her.
Cut to: Barney and Robin’s wedding day. Barney and Robin are dancing. Marshall and Lily ask Ted if he’s ready to move to Chicago. He’s a bit gloomy about it, but still trying to be optimistic — until he sets eyes on the bass player in the reception band. They lock eyes, but neither makes a move. Barney sees her, remembers their deep talk on the bench, and realizes Ted should date her. Ted says no way and that he has to leave.
The five of them go somewhere quiet so they can all say their goodbyes to Ted. First, to Robin, he says, “It’s been a major pleasure.” (They salute to Major Pleasure.) As he hugs Marshall, Marshall expresses his jealousy that Ted could have Gazzola’s pizza whenever he wants (although Ted points out that Marshall will be in Rome). Lily is too emotional to deal with a goodbye hug, so Ted does the E.T. farewell. To say goodbye to Barney, they do the most ultimate high five to end all high fives — a “high infinity.”
And so we’re back at the train stop, and Ted has finished recounting the weekend to the old lady on the bench. But all she really cares about is pressuring him to go back and talk to that bass player chick. “What if the Universe sent a gigantic sign that this woman was your destiny?” the lady asks. “Then would you talk to her?” Ted admits that he would probably have to. She then excitedly points out the girl with the bass guitar standing in the rain holding a yellow umbrella. Ted is still hesitant because in 24 hours, he’ll be starting a new life in Chicago, far removed from anything happening here.
24 Hours Later: Marshall and Lily enter MacLaren’s, already reminiscing of a time when the whole gang used to be there all the time. But, when they reach their table, Ted is sitting there drinking a beer. He didn’t go to Chicago because he fell in love with the bass player. After lecturing him about that epic, sad goodbye, they are excited that he talked to the bass player. They tell him to wait three days before calling her, but he does it anyway. Marshall is frustrated by Ted’s pattern with women, but Lily can tell this time is different.
2015: Ted is planning the most elaborate wedding, complete with a castle and a hot air balloon. Barney and Robin are amazed at all the money he’s spending on it. When Ted asks how they’re doing, “It’s great,” Barney says (in a very fake way). Her Worldwide News job has her jetting off to foreign countries more than Barney would like, but they seem to be doing alright. The Mother shows up and tells Ted that they can’t get married in September because she wants to actually fit in her wedding dress. Ted is ecstatic that she’s pregnant.
May 2016: Ted and The Mother are settled into that house in the suburbs that he bought seasons ago. The gang gathers on the couch — the same couch that we’ve seen Ted’s children sitting on in the future. Marshall is back in corporate law and hates it so much he only says positive things about his awful job. Lily is certain that karma will bring Marshall a judgeship since he turned it down so she could fulfill her dream.
The Mother asks Barney and Robin about their recent trip to Argentina. We flashback to their hotel room, where the two are arguing about how unhappy things have become in their lives (namely because of Robin’s frequent traveling for work). She offers him an “exit ramp” from their marriage at this three-year mark. First, they get drunk and have sex and wake up in the wrong hotel room (which we saw earlier this season). Then, back in their room — and deeply hungover — Barney says he vowed to always tell the truth. And so, they got divorced, and only just told the gang.
Lily is sad, not wanting to have to choose sides (although she’d obviously pick Robin). But Barney and Robin say they can still be friends and things don’t have to be awkward. Lily just wants the gang to stay together. But, as Barney points out, they already don’t hang out together that much. Ted and The Mother are now living in the suburbs, and Lily is now clearly pregnant with her third child. Lily makes them all promise to always be there for the Big Moments, and everyone heartily agrees (except Robin who seems to already be looking for an exit).
October 2016: Marshall and Lily are in that familiar apartment, but with the new baby on the way, space is starting to get pretty tight. They quickly suggest that they should move somewhere bigger. They’re relieved, but they’ll also miss this apartment and all of its memories (except for that scary cockamouse).
To say goodbye to the apartment, they throw one final rooftop Halloween party. Marshall is dressed as Captain Ahab at Lily’s behest — because she is dressed as a giant white whale (to match her giant, pregnant stomach). Robin shows up, costumeless, and sees everyone living their lives without her. Barney is picking up chicks, and Ted (still rocking the Hanging Chad costume) is with The Mother (who’s wearing a Gore/Lieberman costume to go with his). Robin is saddened by this, and she splits. She runs into Lily as she sneaks out, and Lily tries to stop her. But Robin can’t bear to be around the “gang” anymore because there are too many painful memories. “We’ll always be friends. It’s just never gonna be how it was,” Robin says.
2018: Barney, Ted, and Lily are back together at MacLaren’s with Marshall on his way. Barney wants have another legendary night, not letting them leave despite their desire to get home to their kids. Marshall arrives with the news that he’s going to become a judge. They stay up too late, and Barney shows that he hasn’t changed, chasing after the first pretty girl who walks by. He just wants them to let him be his normal, Barney self.
2019: Marshall, Lily, Ted, and The Mother are at Robots vs. Wrestlers. Marshall asks when Ted and the Mother are finally going to get married, since it seems they’ve put it off ever since her first pregnancy. Barney shows up and has a sad story to tell. He’s regressed so much to his old self and written a second Playbook. This time he’s trying to outdo his “Perfect Week” (seven girls in seven nights) by attempting a “Perfect Month.” Lily is unsure if she’s more upset about the month aspect or the Playbook aspect, but she still disapproves of Barney (more rightfully now than ever). But Barney’s playboy lifestyle has caught up with him because the last girl, Number 31, is pregnant.
2020: Ted is telling fun facts about the Goliath National Bank skyscraper to his little daughter. Robin happens upon them. Ted congratulates her on being literally everywhere, as a bus drives by with Robin’s face on it. She kneels down to talk to little Penny who says, “I like you, Bus Lady.” “And that was it,” Ted says to Marshall and Lily in a hospital waiting room, having recounted his random run-in. They’re having another Big Moment that Robin is not there for (if, Big Moments are meant to include “the birth of her ex-husband’s lovechild”).
Number 31 won’t let Barney into the delivery room, but the nurse comes out with her congratulations to the father. He now has a little baby girl named Ellie. “You are the love of my life. Everything I have and everything I am is yours. Forever,” he says to his newborn daughter amidst tears.*
Back home, Ted asks The Mother for her engagement ring back. It’s been five years since he proposed, and he feels like he needs to re-ask her. This time, he asks her to marry him on Thursday — he’s already checked her schedule and knows she’s free. On Thursday, Ted is at MacLaren’s with Barney, Marshall, and Lily. This time Barney is the one exhausted by his child. But that doesn’t stop him from approaching some young, attractive women. He’s goes to them and delivers a harsh life lecture and sends them home to their parents. Lily can’t believe what has happened.
Robin enters (having been prompted by The Mother to appear). She knows she’s missed some Big Moments, but she had to come to this one. Marshall announces that he’s running for State Supreme Court. The Mother shows up (despite the back luck it would incur) and takes a picture of the five of them. Marshall waxes sentimentally about all that has happened in that very bar.
“You see, kids,” Future Ted begins to narrate, “Right from the moment I met your mom, I knew I have to love this woman as much as I can for as long as I can. And I can never stop loving her, not even for a second.” As Future Ted continues to talk about his life with The Mother, we see them getting married. We see photos from their life together. And we see him reading to her in the hospital when she got sick (thereby confirming what was hinted at earlier this season).
Back at that train platform, none of that has happened yet. She’s still just a woman with a yellow umbrella. Ted gets the nerve to go over to her. They chat about how they know each other (through Cindy and that infamous Econ class) as she shares room under her umbrella. He suddenly realizes that she has his umbrella, the very one he left at Cindy’s apartment. But she one-ups him because she knows it’s her umbrella. She just happened to have lost it for a couple of years after a St. Patrick’s Day party. By now they seem almost intrinsically linked forever, and Ted points out that his initials, T.M., are on the umbrella. But those happen to be her initials as well because her name is Tracy McConnell. “Funny how sometimes you just find things,” she says, thereby setting off their amazing love affair.
“And that, kids, is how I met your mother.” We’re now in the present with Future (Aged) Ted. “That’s it?” Penny asks, disgruntled. “That’s not the reason you made us listen to this,” she continues, saying that she thinks Ted is in love with Aunt Robin and this was his elaborate way to get their approval of him dating her. The Mother, Tracy, has been dead for six years now; they urge him to pursue Robin, wanting him to move on.
But he doesn’t call her. Instead, he does one final big gesture. Robin arrives back at her apartment (which she’s had since the Pilot), having walked all of her dogs. Someone is buzzing, but the apartment security camera won’t come on. So she goes to her window and leans out to find Ted. He holds up the blue French horn. She smiles with just the faintest tear in her eye.
Series finales are hard to pull off (apparently). Everyone thinks they know what will (or should) happen. And this finale, which kills off the eponymous Mother in the final five minutes of the series and then puts Ted with Robin, has sparked a very one-sided debate. No one seems to be very pleased with this ending, but I found it very poignant and fitting.** Sure, there’s a lot of stuff that happens in this episode as we constantly flashforward Six Feet Under-style. But we’ve earned the right to see what happens in everyone’s lives (especially in a show that plays with time and place so much). And this episode felt true to the series and to the creators’ personal vision for the series.
Now for some random thoughts and my favorite moments of the night…
*Barney’s one true love was the one thing that Robin couldn’t provide for him: a child. Maybe having a kid could have saved their marriage, but would an adopted child bring as much joy to Barney or Robin? And how fitting that he had a daughter who will inevitably grow up to have daddy issues?
**There’s been a connection between Ted and Robin from the very pilot that this episode references. They’ve had an epic on-again/off-again relationship made more frustrating by the fact that she was never going to be “The Mother.” This last minute plot twist may not ring true to some of us, having sat through three or four excruciatingly awful and drawn out seasons, but Ted’s relationship with Robin is what began the entire series, and fueled most of those beautiful and hilarious first seasons. This feels like the ending that Ted needed.
I couldn’t address everything that happens in each scene of the episode because each one was so jampacked with jokes from throughout the entire series, but it was great seeing everything come together.
Before the final credits roll, we see the cast credits imposed over clips from the very beginning. Another poignant reminder of that first great season.