What was How I Met Your Mother? It was a show about a hopeless romantic, for hopeless romantics. Its main character, over the course of nine seasons, outlined in painstaking (and vividly inappropriate detail) the story of how he met the mother of his children to his children. How did it end? As Katrina Trinko put it on Twitter: the Titanic had a happier ending.
Who was the main character, Ted Mosby, the hopeless romantic? He was a guy who, despite dozens of heartbreaks and one night stands, still believed in true love. His naive search for the unattainable perfect relationship came to the point where, by the end, he resembled a 13-year-old hopelessly watching and rewatching Disney movies, waiting for his Princess Charming. The entire last season built up, in pain-staking (emphasis on pain) detail, to the weekend of his best friends’ wedding, where he finally meets the mother of his children. Viewers had been led to believe that this woman was also Ted’s soul mate, his ultimate love. Within five minutes the writers of the series finale managed to dismantle the story lines they spent almost a decade building, writing words into the mouths of characters who betrayed everything they had become. Let’s start with Ted.
Ted, the hopeless romantic, finally meets Tracy, the mother of his children. While waiting for a train after his best friends’ wedding, they immediately and unceremoniously piece together all of their near-misses over the years while under the famous yellow umbrella that has signaled “The Mother” to viewers for several seasons. After waiting years for their love to unfold, it hurriedly takes place in one unromantic scene on a Long Island Rail Road platform. A fairy tale wedding is planned between the star-crossed lovers, which was then called off due to an unexpected pregnancy (remember when those were taboo?). The Ted we grew to love would have run to the altar, eager to do the right thing, bringing his child into a marriage, not a domestic partnership. Instead Ted takes seven years to marry the mother of his two children, and the marriage is nothing but an afterthought for the two. The romantic reproposal viewers expected takes place in the living room while Tracy folds laundry. Their wedding is scheduled on a Thursday after work schedules are cleared. How could the wedding possibly get less romantic? Tracy insists on the presence of Ted’s on-again off-again ex-girlfriend Robin. No bride in her right mind would invite their spouse’s former flame to their wedding, as we learned when Ted invited the ex of his fiancée Stella, who would leave Ted at the altar for her ex.
Which brings us to Robin, the woman who we learn eventually ends up with Ted in the last moments of the finale. After years of makeups and breakups, the likes of which made Ross and Rachel seem committed, Ted and Robin finally get together, for what must be the 100th time. Their love story is far from storybook: Ted wants a stable family life and Robin wants to be a globe-trotting reporter and anchorwoman. Robin stays true to the selfishness of her character for several seasons, until she grows up and re-prioritizes her life in season five. In that season she turns down a major promotion, instead deciding to stay in New York with her live-in boyfriend and co-anchor Don. Don is offered the job instead and accepts it, leaving a heartbroken but wiser Robin, who is then mature enough to move on with another member of the group, Barney. Their wedding weekend is the basis of the entire final season, and their love story is oddly charming considering how emotionally stunted each character was before their marriage. The finale shows that both she and her husband Barney have divorced, completely relapsed, and become the characters they were in the series premiere. Robin is a fame-hungry, family-averse career woman and Barney a womanizing and shallow skirt chaser until the birth of his daughter.
The only hint of emotional progress from Barney comes with the birth of his daughter, the product of a one-night stand at the end of a month of successful nightly hookups. The mother of his daughter, who we only know as “number 31,” is never pictured, however Barney is apparently allowed a parental relationship with his offspring, who miraculously wasn’t aborted. After being handed his daughter, Barney’s character immediately does a 180, professing his love and devotion to the minutes-old infant (who looked nothing like an actual newborn, down to the pacifier that is no longer distributed in New York City hospitals). Even this moment, which was written to melt the hearts of everyone who rooted for Barney’s maturation over the course of almost a decade, fell flat. At no point did Barney ever express anything but dread when the prospect of fatherhood became a possibility over the course of the entire series. Every parent knows about how life-altering the moment is where they are transformed into a mother or father, how it feels as though mountains have been moved. The dialogue for this moment can never be accurately written, the intensity of this moment will never successfully be portrayed anywhere, ever. With this in mind, the writers never even tried. The writing was groan-inducing at best, and we’re left to wonder if the Disney movie-watching 13-year-old Ted popped into the writer’s room to write the scene’s dialogue.
Somehow fatherhood, a role Barney never wanted, changed him in a way that marriage to Robin never did. While fatherhood was never an end-goal of Barney’s, matrimony was. Barney spent several years chasing permanency, first with a manipulative stripper and, finally, with Robin. Viewers cheered as Barney struggled over the course of several years to convince himself and Robin that he was capable of settling down, and within minutes, the writers of the finale dismantled a marriage they spent years building toward. The demise of the marriage was Robin’s inability to put anything and anyone, including her husband, ahead of her career. Despite this being the driver of her divorce from Barney, we’re led to believe that somehow Robin and Ted can work out a relationship which leaves both the globe-trotting anchorwoman and the father of two, living in the suburbs, fulfilled. If Robin couldn’t put Barney ahead of her career, how could she possibly do so for Ted and the children she never wanted in the first place?
Ted and Tracy’s children, pictured in every episode for the last eight years, have not aged since the series began. The series finale was clearly pre-written at its start and was always planned to unfold in the manner that it did: with “the mother” Tracy’s death, with Barney and Robin’s breakup, with Ted and Robin’s eventual ‘happily ever after.’ What appears to have happened is the natural course of the show took its characters to places its creators never anticipated. Ted, Robin, Barney and the gang matured in unexpected but natural ways. With the series finale already pre-written, its writers somehow had to jerk the characters back in time, unraveling the essence of who they became, in order to fit into the framework they laid out while storyboarding a shallow and still immature series. Throughout the series Ted tells his children that the point of the story isn’t its ending, but how he arrived there. Perhaps that’s what the writers had in mind, preparing us for an incredibly disappointing ending to what was a fantastic ride.