Around the fourth or fifth season of How I Met Your Mother, I started to jokingly liken the show to a sitcom version of Lost. Both are full of twists and turns to keep us guessing; have a central mystery that lends itself well to the fun of internet sleuthing; are heavily reliant on flashbacks (technically, the entire series can be considered a flashback) and flash-forwards; and, with every new season, it became more and more worrisome that both series’ finales would be more disappointing than not. (It can also be argued that both overstayed their welcome, though I’d say Lost knew exactly when to go.) Both shows have also, since the beginning, been the subject of “the main character is actually dead” theories — and last night’s episode added fuel to that fire.
Granted, when it came to How I Met Your Mother, the theory was often played as a joke, usually at the expense of an increasingly insufferable Ted — “Wouldn’t it be funny if Ted was just alone, crazy, and talking to ghosts this entire time?” — because it never felt like a real possibility. The show doesn’t shy away from pathos (the death of Marshall’s father was a real sock in the gut), but to kill off the mother doesn’t exactly fit with a lighthearted sitcom anchoring a Monday lineup of sex jokes (2 Broke Girls), fat jokes (Mike and Molly), and alcoholism jokes (Mom).
Last night’s episode, “Vesuvius,” strongly hinted that the future death of the mother could very well be a possibility. Like most episodes, it revolved around Ted’s constant storytelling. Ted and the titular Mother are playing the role of an old married couple who have been together so long that they already know every one of each other’s stories. There are some hints that the Mother will die soon: the reactions when she asks what sort of mother would miss her daughter’s wedding (hinting that the Mother died before her own daughter got married), her worry that he’ll get lost in his own stories (Ted is always telling stories, perhaps because he’s trying to keep the Mother alive long after she’s gone), and Ted recalling the gang all worrying about the last day they’ll ever spend together (the Mother quickly puts an end to this conversation). I’m sure there are multiple other clues sprinkled throughout the series.
If this is true, it’s a bold choice for the sitcom and a pretty gutsy move for creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas. It’s also a move that could, for many of the show’s fans, ruin the entire show. This is the same position that Lost fans found themselves in a few years ago. The theory that Jack was dead — or that all of the characters were dead — was incredibly popular during the later seasons, and fans had already begun to revolt (via message boards, as television fans are wont to do) and claim that this ending would cancel out their enjoyment of the series. It’s the drawback to being a rabid fan of television: you spend years following a group of characters, form a strange sort of connection to these fictional people, and come up with an idea of how you want this all to end — and it sucks when the actual ending doesn’t fit with your plan.
Personally, my enjoyment of the show has dwindled such that I no longer have much interest in how it ends, but I can still see why this could be a problem for the series. It’s a show that has invested so much time and energy into crafting this perfect love story between Ted and the Mother that it’s confusing to imagine why Carter and Bays would yank it away and negate so much of what they built in the earlier seasons (and it’s just plain weird that Ted would spend a lot more time talking to his children about Robin or Barney’s playbook than telling tales about their actual deceased mother).
There is still the chance that this is all a fake-out, a move designed to keep viewers on their toes as we near the end of the series, just something for us to obsess about all week. Either way, there are only four episodes left for this show to figure out where it’s going, and it’s not looking too good.