Yep, I’m going there and throwing out yet another HIMYM finale response, because like the girl who “doesn’t even go here!” in Mean Girls, I have a lot of feelings to work out, okay?
I was 17 when I first met How I Met Your Mother, and I wrapped up the series close to the same age the characters were supposed to be when it started. Saying that I went through significant years of my life with the show is not an understatement. When it first premiered I was still starry-eyed as to what being an adult meant, and having yet to attend college I watched Ted, Marshall and Lily’s flashbacks to their years at Wesleyan with excitement, hoping I would leave with an amazing clique and we would go to New York City together, where we’d live in a spacious apartment and hang out at a pub all the time. While that didn’t exactly pan out, I did successfully recruit a few friends to the fan-side of show by showing them my favorite episodes (“Arrivederci, Fiero” always won them over).
The show, I fully admit, had started to lose its touch over the past few years, drifting into too silly territory and letting characters become more ridiculous versions of who they used to be (except for the most part Marshall and Lily, always rocks to the series). But I hung on.
When the finale aired Monday night, I, like most other hardcore fans, was rather devastated by the dark spiral the show took. Giving us the peeks at the mother’s life throughout this season–at her wit, at her quirkiness, at her perfection for Ted–and building her up so we fall in love with her, only to have it ripped away in moments, felt like a slight punch in the stomach (or maybe one of Marshall’s infamous slaps to the face). I had, deep down, been a fan of Robin with Ted for years, questioning if they would somehow create a way for them to work out because they kept bringing us back to them. But after I met the mother that desire drifted away. When they gave me what I had claimed I wanted for quite some time, I almost felt guilty.
After the finale I went to bed feeling uneasy and woke up still in mourning. Then I saw a tweet from a random guy (that I definitely can’t find right now) that said something along the lines of, “I don’t understand how true fans are angry. They’re missing the point of the series. It’s the perfect ending.”
“Seriously, dude?” I thought to myself. How rude to criticize my reaction–and the reaction of so many other people. But his tweet kept flashing into my brain as I tried to make sense of the finale, and through my stint on the bike at the gym yesterday morning I began to realize: this random dude, he has a point. And this finale, well…I’m finally okay with it.
Like many are saying, How I Met Your Mother has always been about the winding road. Again and again we’re told that that everything has to happen as it does, that there’s a web connecting us, a web connecting everything. And it’s always been a show that hasn’t hidden from life’s mournings. We see Marshall mourning his break-up with Lily, the death of his father, the changes to his career course; Lily mourning her artistic dreams and the aspirations she traded in for Marshall; Ted mourning his engagement to Stella, Robin marrying Barney, and the architectural career he fought hard to create; Robin mourning her non-existent children; Barney mourning the childhood and father he didn’t get to have. We even see the mother, Tracy, mourning as the first love of her life dies. And in the finale we see the mourning of that period in their lives when they could be a tight group with plenty of time for hijinks. Lily standing, tears in eyes, in her white whale costume in the middle of the empty apartment was perhaps the saddest scene for me.
The show has been inherently sad yet always optimistic, taking the bad with the good and never focusing on the destination too much. Perhaps the biggest message is that there isn’t really a destination at all, that everything life throws our way must be enjoyed or admired or appreciated for its ability to take us through the lowest lows and highest highs. We can’t be well-rounded humans if we don’t experience the full spectrum of emotions.
But in reality, while Ted is without a doubt the main character, the show has always been about Robin to some extent: what she means to the group, how she changes the group, how she strives to fill different roles for different people at different times. The series starts with her introduction, and as the first scene of the finale shows, Lily needed her to be her female partner-in-crime. Barney needed Robin to test a different side of himself and discover if it really could exist and thrive. Ted, of course, needed to fall in love and find the person he could have the life he imagined. Marshall perhaps was the only one who didn’t have a stake in Robin’s existence, though they did bond over their outsiderness in the group for their fond attachment to their Minnesotan and Canadian roots. But he was also optimistic for Ted and Robin, dropping the hint that there was a future for the two of them during his and Lily’s bet on their relationship. When Lily tried to get him to pay up after another Ted and Robin break-up, he held out, saying not just yet.
Overall, Robin failed at all of those roles. She didn’t lose her friendship with Lily entirely, but she couldn’t be the friend Lily hoped for once Lily’s life drifted to motherhood. She couldn’t be the person who changed Barney because as we learned, only his daughter could be that life-changing love of his life. She couldn’t be who Ted needed because she had too much she needed to do to become her full-self: successful, well-traveled, the journalist with the prize career. But if Robin really didn’t matter, if we weren’t meant to see her fulfill a greater purpose, then why hold onto her so tightly throughout the story lines?
There were plenty of fans in the “Barney and Robin 4-Ever” camp, though I admit I never felt assured it was the right choice. I also didn’t expect they would actually make it down the aisle. They were, in some (or many) aspects perfect for each other. But in reality, the traits that made them perfect for each other were likely their downfall–“bro” like behavior, fierce independence and love of their lifestyle, etc. In their first go at a relationship they didn’t just have a bad relationship, they suffered as human beings, drastically falling apart and losing themselves entirely to become miserable blobs. They did better the next time around, but their issues weren’t gone. And everything Robin was concerned about leading up to the wedding was valid. They could have never been happy together forever. It’s just not who they are.
Ted and Robin, though, could never have run off together at this younger phase in life, either. Ted would have resented her for her career aspirations, for her lack of desire to be a mom (not inability, because there clearly would be ways around that). But together they never fell apart in ways that Robin did with Barney. They didn’t destroy each other. Were there moments of emotional turmoil? Yes. But fundamentally they were still the same people, and to say that type of heartbreak doesn’t exist in real life would be naive. Their relationships were often brought down by personal desire, but personal desires that, at a certain point in life, don’t mean as much as they used to.
Many people have argued that the ending was shallow, that it abandoned all growth Ted had made, that he waited for the mother to die just to snatch up Robin–which in reality is the most ridiculous statement you can make. The look Ted gives the mother when he sees her for the first time, his nervousness to approach her at the train station, the magical ending to their first date, the loving connection they have at the Farhampton Inn at various points in time, their excitement at becoming a “successful old married couple”–that’s not the example of a man settling for a woman, settling for second best. But if you want to get truly technical, Ted was her second choice, as well, and after Max dies and she closes herself off to love for years. It’s also another example of timing being key: had Ted met her any sooner, had she not had the relationship following Max to get back into the mindset of being open to relationships and love, had she not already said no to the proposal, she likely would have brushed him off and never experienced their profound connection.
The mother is important. The mother is everything Ted needed, everything Ted wanted. She was the once-in-a-lifetime connection. She was the mother of his children. And they did live happily. It just couldn’t be ever after. But again, the show never wanted us to see or believe that we get fairytales and everything we want for our life. We get messes. We get imperfection. And we get plenty of heartbreak. Ted will never not be in love with the mother, and perhaps the fact he spends six years in between her death and the great return of the blue French Horn is the greatest testament to that (in fact, he stays single far longer than the majority of widowers who re-marry in real life).
Robin, in return, is argued as being selfish for loving Ted after she can’t have him. Maybe it is selfish, but you can’t argue it’s not human nature to want something when you know you can’t have it. But I also never fully saw her as selfish. In the last few years when she made it clear she did not love him, I always felt that it was not, in fact, the case, that she only stated it because she knew she couldn’t be the person he needed to be with to fully actualize his dreams of romance and parenthood. She distanced herself from him prior to her engagement with Barney largely to help him heal and move on. Maybe she did selfishly distance herself from the group post-divorce, but the way she laid it out did make sense. She would have been a miserable person to continually be reminded that her marriage had failed, that Ted might have been the better choice, that Lily was now first and foremost a mother. Who could blame her wanting to avoid that, and wanting to avoid making the rest of them miserable in the process? She also didn’t pursue Ted in his grieving process. She maintained distance, and from the kids’ fondness of her, it appears she likely helped step in to help him with his kids and be what he likely really needed after the mother’s death: a friend. She let him make the decision to pursue her on his own, whereas the selfish move would have been to take advantage of the situation early on.
Was the spacing of the finale off? Maybe. Probably. But then again this was a show built on giving us bits and pieces of the puzzle at a time, a flashback here, a flashforward there. It mainly focused on rooting us in the here and now, because only when you’re fully present can you enjoy the experiences. It wouldn’t have been the true nature of the series to show us all of the future at once. So instead we get the key points, the moments that matter, and the grand gestures that change it all.
Arrivederci, How I Met Your Mother.
Additional reading: This interview with Josh Radnor about the finale and how he got to keep the blue French horn.