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‘How I Met Your Mother’ and the Inevitable Disappointment of TV Finales

How much did you hate that series finale of How I Met Your Mother? Or maybe you loved it? It’s OK, you can admit it. This is a safe space. This is a weird morning for television, one that’s vaguely reminiscent of the mornings after Lost and Breaking Bad ended, mornings when we’re all aimlessly wandering around Twitter, searching for answers and like-minded opinions. The Internet is a mess after a long-running and beloved television series ends. It’s understandable because seeing a show end can be like losing a group of friends, but the aftermath is also often full of rage. Endings are difficult, finality is weird, and television rarely does what you want it to. That’s what you sign up for as a fan.

It should go without saying that there are spoilers ahead. Last night’s final How I Met Your Mother episode was everything that I had spent the last few years predicting it would be, and that’s precisely why I didn’t like it. As expected, The Mother died. As expected, Ted and Robin eventually got together. Ted and Robin were always the endgame; these nine seasons were just about finding a way to get there. How did they get there this time? Barney and Robin ended their marriage — and the show made Barney even more disgusting than usual, though he did become a father, in a move that still didn’t feel right  — and The Mother got sick, resulting in Ted and Robin both being conveniently single at the same time. This reunion was evident from the start, and it meant the episode wasn’t very fun to watch. My living room was full of disgusted groans and frustrated sighs during the hour, eye rolls and “Are they really doing this again?” questions. Not the greatest reaction one can have to a sitcom.

To be fair to the show, it wasn’t all bad. I like that Marshall and Lily are still a good example of a wonderful and complicated marriage built on hard work. I like that Robin continues with her career. The moment when Ted actually does meet The Mother is beautiful. How I Met Your Mother wasn’t about The Mother, not really, and this episode dealt with that tricky moment when you’re trying to stay friends but everyone is growing up and growing apart. It’s easy to be friends in your 20s, when you’re still drinking in a bar booth until the early-morning hours, when you can still go to work hungover, and when you don’t have to deal with crying children. Then your friends get married, have children, start legitimate careers, and everything becomes “I can only have one beer” or “We’ll see each other on birthdays.” That was the good stuff in “Last Forever.” (Well, with the exception of Barney. I can usually deal with his character, but he felt completely off-putting.)

Still, I can’t put aside my distaste for that ending enough to love the rest of the episode. There is a lot to hash out here. It showcases the problem that I sometimes have with television that has a clear, non-negotiable ending. I don’t mean a time limit, which I think can greatly work in a show’s favor, but a concrete ending for the story. The writers all have to work toward that ending, shoving in unnecessary and annoying plot devices (The Mother, who I’m now just remembering was given a name but I can’t even recall it, was basically a MacGuffin) instead of realizing that maybe something isn’t working. Maybe it’s time to try something different.

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There is also the question of whether this episode ruins the integrity and ideals of the entire series. It’s always been a show that can value these gimmicky episodes and joke callbacks over its characters, but this feels too cheap. It makes much of the series feel cheap, too — especially this season, which took place entirely during the wedding weekend of a couple that later gets divorced with a shrug, and introduced Ted to The Mother that would soon die. I’m sure I’ll still like those earlier seasons (and I’m probably always going to be iffy on those later seasons), but it’s going to feel much different. I can understand those who want to write everything off.

It’s a frustrating thing to see good work come undone; it’s how I felt the first time I watched the Roseanne finale. I had no desire to go back and rewatch Roseanne like I did with, say, 30 Rock, a sitcom that had a nearly flawless finale. I revisited that final season recently and was struck by the emotional depth and how affected I still was during those last three episodes. I doubt I’ll ever view How I Met Your Mother in the same regard. It’ll be hard to, knowing how much character work is unraveled and knowing that it ultimately leads to this mess.

But at the end of the day, how upset can I really get about this? Series finales are hard to nail down and it’s impossible to please everyone. I always get stuck in this conflicted state about how much a show owes me. Last night, many people made comparisons to the disappointment of Lostmyself included, albeit jokingly — and I don’t want to keep comparing How I Met Your Mother to other finales because it isn’t fair, but: Lost fans always felt like they were owed something more than the “They were dead, but not really, but yeah, they were” ending that we got. (Though I should admit that the Lost finale grew on me.) Here, even though I stopped caring too much about HIMYM, I feel like I’m owed a hell a lot of more than something as contrived as, “Ted and Robin get together, and then they don’t, but then they do.”

Yet this sitcom does not owe me anything — it has given me plenty of laughs over the years and, more importantly, gave me a way to kill time with binge-watching during those post-collegiate unemployed years — but I formed such an attachment to these characters and stories that I want the ending that I want. It’s a selfish and childish reaction, but I can’t help it. And selfishness aside? It just wasn’t a good ending. It was a slap in the face, not a high five, and the show deserved much better.

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