Critical Coin Toss: Did the ‘How I Met Your Mother’ Finale Jump the Shark or Hit the Mark?

With “Critical Coin Toss,” two Glide writers lace up their boots and step into the critical arena, debating the pros and cons of a movie, album, TV show, or any other piece of pop-culture.

JK: After nine long years (and one supremely long weekend), How I Met Your Mother has drawn to a close. The show certainly lived up to its name, finally showing us how Ted met the eponymous Mother; but the meeting was bittersweet because he told us that she is now dead (for the last six years apparently). This does give us some context for his extensive retelling of his life to his two children, but he also had an ulterior motive (whether conscious or not is hard to determine in that two minute scene). That motive, it would seem, was to tell the endless romantic saga that is Ted and Robin in the hopes of getting his children’s approval to date her.

Squeezing all of this into the final minutes of the series was a ballsy move, considering all that’s happened this season — not to mention all of the things packed into this final episode — but thanks to subtle hinting and not-so-subtle repetitive emotional arcs, these final moments felt almost entirely inevitable. Some — fellow Glide writer Jeremiah included — may argue that these plot twists were unearned or even untrue to the series. But I felt that the inevitability of those final moments hit on all the emotional marks I needed for a satisfying conclusion to this legen — wait for it — dary series.

JM:  Perhaps the most you can hope for in any series finale is a strong reaction. Whether you were delighted or infuriated at the sight of a Ted Mosby holding up that blue French horn outside Robin’s window in the sitcom’s final moments, you felt something. Everyone involved deserves credit for doing something risky, meaningful, and unpredictable to close out this beloved sitcom. It wasn’t bland by any stretch of the imagination — marriage, divorce, pregnancy, birth, death, flashbacks, fallouts and even Ted’s trusty hanging chad costume were all a significant part of the finale — but it wasn’t emotionally satisfying for the many fans that had fully bought into the show’s premise. (The fact that a CBS sitcom had a foundational premise that spent years setting up a big reveal is rare enough on its own.) That’s why so many people, like me, were upset to find that after waiting for nine seasons to actually see the long-awaited, much-teased moment when Ted, you know, met the mother, that Ted’s story wasn’t really about meeting Tracy McConnell, it was about adoring Robin.

How I Met You Mother didn’t exactly owe its viewers a super happy ending, but it did owe us more time with Ted and Tracy standing together under that yellow umbrella in the rain. The iconic moment (which still almost moved me to tears) was presented almost as an afterthought in the decades of story that happened in that 60-minute finale. As a result, the game-changing twist ending, with Ted pursuing Robin just like he did way back in the show’s pilot, felt a little bit like losing a slap bet. A cry of “betrayal” seems dramatic, but it might actually be appropriate, unless they somehow go on to rename the series How I’ve Always Loved Your Aunt Robin. Millions of us have been invested in a show called How I Met Your Mother. Who would have thought the title would end up being so deceptive?

BE: To me, it should come as no surprise that, upon Ted uttering those long-awaited words — “and that, kids, is how I met your mother” — his daughter Penny’s immediate response is a skeptical one. “The point of the story is that you totally have the hots for Aunt Robin,” she observes. And while the collective blogosphere erupted immediately following the finale, raging against just how badly the show “robbed” fans of the right ending, Ted’s children are correct. It doesn’t take long into watching How I Met Your Mother to see that the show isn’t about what the title implies. In fact, even those who were so upset with the finale usually conceded as much.

One of the most persistent talking points about this program is how the title is misleading. Even as early as season three, it becomes evident that the showrunners were using the tantalizing title of HIMYM to build on the most sentimental of cliches: “The journey is more important than the destination.” Were the show to have ended with the most literal interpretation of the title, the moment would have been a brief one: as a certain fan-made video demonstrates, it would have depicted Ted meeting Tracey for the first time, after which the camera would cut to future Ted saying, “And that is how I met your mother.”

This isn’t to say that would have been a bad ending; upon reflection, I’d have to say that ending sounds just fine — it was the ending I was expecting up until the theories about The Mother being dead started to develop. Yet, nevertheless, I like the ending we were given. I don’t think one has to take the title as a deception; in fact, by having the series end not with the grand romantic moment of meeting with the mother but rather Ted going back for that blue french horn, the writers were challenging our assumptions about what the title is supposed to mean. I like that challenge. And even though some may cry “semantics,” I think it is true to say that the show did live up to its title — and then some. Ted did tell the story of how he met The Mother. But, as with most stories, that’s not the complete picture.

HIMYMother Last Forever

But let’s say it is, as a recent TIME article put it, an elaborate “con job.” To me, that’s in keeping with the spirit of the program. The constant narrative shifting even within episodes is indicative of a writer’s room that isn’t content to gun for the obvious plot lines. So many episodes of HIMYM are based on narratives that upend expectations. That the finale did so on a much larger scale isn’t to me a “pulling out of the rug”; it’s capping things off with the true spirit of the show that fans were already familiar with.

However, I have a hard time saying the finale was all that much a surprise; writers all over the internet started predicting the finale before it occurred. This isn’t to say that their disappointment is illegitimate because of it; even if one can see the car wreck about to happen, the experience itself can still be shocking. But I do believe that in this case, much like Penny’s observation about her dad’s feelings for Robin, the signposts for the direction the finale was going to take were more than plentiful. For that reason, I’m skeptical that “surprise” is a fitting word for the finale.

JM: It still seems to me, surprise or no surprise, that the writers took the only out that they had with the finale. By ending the pilot with the “Aunt Robin” line, we’ve always known that Robin wouldn’t be the kids’ mother. But there was nothing in that steady Bob Saget narration that said that Ted and the Mother still had to be together in 2030.

It may seem like a last-minute writing maneuver to throw in this sort of Shyamalan sitcom twist, until you stop and realize that that they actually shot the kids’ reaction to the end of Future Ted’s story way back in 2006 during season two. Believe it or not, this was the plan all long.

At the same time, the writers didn’t plan on the show becoming one of the long-running sitcoms in recent memory or that fans would become so invested in the unlikely relationship between Barney and Robin. Maybe even more than that, the decision to make the character of Tracy someone we would get to know, and admire, over an entire season instead of someone new holding an umbrella in the last few minutes of the show surely complicated things. By seeing glimpses of Tracy and Ted together in the last 24 episodes, we saw the best thing to happen to Ted, and maybe even to the sitcom, itself in years.

And as beautiful and poignant as their fleeting glimpses were together in the finale, it’s obvious that the show runners stuck to the original plan, even if they maybe shouldn’t have. So…Tracy got sick and abruptly died. And like many fans had feared, Barney and Robin didn’t work out long term. Leaving Ted to move on to Robin, even though he’d been trying to let her go for about 200 episodes. I’m not one to claim this storyline ignored what all had developed between Robin and Barney or even Ted and Barney’s friendship, but I guess I could see why people are viciously blogging about it at this very moment.

This last season of How I Met Your Mother built itself entirely on the long weekend’s journey toward Barney and Robin’s wedding. And after roughly 20 episodes spent leading to that wedding, the finale proceeded to show us only a few moments of the couple actually married before things went sour.

There’s also been enough outcry over the character development of Barney Stinson, the kind that a fan-created YouTube edit of the finale might not fix. Barney went from being a womanizer to a sensitive man who was ready to settle down, back to being a womanizer, now divorced, holding a new playbook. I don’t understand why people were upset about this. Sometimes people digress when you hope they don’t.

But there was tear-jerking closure to this, though, wasn’t there? There were several relatively surprising, if not downright surprising, plot turns, none of which greater than Barney divorcing Robin and fathering a child with a lady we never meet on screen. Barney’s baby changed him in a way a woman, even Robin Scherbatsky, ever could. This scene, maybe more than any other in the last episode, was a nice reminder that the series was always about more than Ted meeting The Mother; When Barney gazes into his newborn’s eyes and says, “Everything I have and everything I am is yours forever,” your heart should have melted. I liked that about the episode’s many, many flash-forwards. It was messy; it was complicated. And it was also beautiful, like life.

When the finale was beautiful, it was stunning. When it was messy, it was very messy. After all, How I Met Your Mother made a very big ordeal of Ted letting go of Robin, as he literally did in “Sunrise” and, I’d argue, like others have, that the point of their relationship was to ensure he was fully able to open his heart and devote himself solely to The Mother when he finally met her. It also spent so many episodes leading toward Robin/Barney marriage that would ultimately fail after only three years; it didn’t really spend an entire season building up to the moment with Ted chasing Robin with the blue French horn. Viewers, I think, had moved past that. By killing off Cristina Milloti’s lovely titular character and jumping ahead six years, we saw Ted and Robin again reunited as love interests long after we’d stopped rooting for them to be together. Maybe that’s the problem I have with this finale episode. I’ll still take a yellow umbrella over a blue French horn any day. The writers, however, insisted we get both.

JK: Writing a series finale is hard, and it’s even harder when they’ve written it seven years prematurely. But even if they had written it seven months ago, they still would never have been able to make everyone happy. For every person who likes something, there are three others blogging on the Internet about how awful they think it was. So I choose to revel in the showrunners going with the ending they had envisioned for the show when they first created it. There is a reason they are given creative control.

Yet regardless how you feel about the finale, it’s undeniable that it’s gotten everyone’s attention. It dominated the Internet for the same length of time as that surprise death on The Good Wife did the previous week. Not to imply that either were done solely as publicity stunts, but both events had an impact on their fans. So many people hated the LOST finale four years ago, yet it’s still being discussed today. Some have even changed their minds about it, having had time to mull over their initial reactions.

Maybe, with time, fans of HIMYM will be able to grow past their adverse thoughts about the finale and grow to enjoy so much of what was done (and maybe even accept it). After all, time heals all wounds, just as it healed Ted’s heart after the passing of The Mother.

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