Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Mother of All Finales

Though I've never written about How I Met Your Mother here on the blog before, last night's series finale seems like an event worth noting. (And in case it's not abundantly obvious, I'm going to talk spoilers here.) Like any show that runs that long (nine years!), it had brilliant stretches, became "not so good anymore" for stretches, and got "good again" (if not so great as it used to be). And befitting all that, the final episode was a bit of a mixed bag.

There was plenty that was great, because the finale was true to the spirit of what the show had been along the way. The show had regularly played around with time, and the finale did that in spades, first taking us back to the beginning and then jumping farther and farther into the future to show what would become of the characters. Over the years, the show had dared to mix emotion, drama, and sentimentality with the laughs, and the finale did that too.

The creators of the show, Craig Thomas and Carter Bays, clearly planned their finale way ahead of time. Episodes from months and even years ago pointed to how the story would end, so much so that many online fans predicted it exactly. And the final minutes included footage filmed years ago with the in-real-life-no-longer-young actors that played Ted's kids. But this sticking to the master plan was also what led to what was not good about the finale.

Specifically, in retrospect, I feel like there never should have been a season nine. I didn't feel that way at the time it was unfolding. As I mentioned, the show wasn't as good overall as it was in its heyday, but there were still many great moments along the way. Most of them revolved around getting to see and know The Mother in bits and pieces of episodes (and the one episode that focused entirely on her back story). I wondered how Thomas and Bays could ever have thought to really just have the Mother show up only in the final episode of their series and have it be in any way satisfying.

But now, with the realization of the Mother's death, it's crystal clear how that would have been satisfying. The story was never about the Mother, title notwithstanding. This too was true to the nature of the series, which was always Ted's saga with Robin, right from the very first episode. It always seemed like it was the story of how Ted had to get over Robin before he could find the Mother, but true as that was, it was ultimately revealed to really be the story of how Ted and Robin were always meant to be.

Except the ninth season as a whole really soured that ending in a number of ways. It served up too many glimpses of how perfect a fit the Mother was for Ted. It even gave us plenty of how great a fit she was for the group, by way of all the moments that revealed her meeting everyone else before Ted. And it provided too many future glimpses of how happy Ted and the Mother were together to then deny us their happily ever after.

Even more problematic, the series had made us invest far too heavily in the relationship between Barney and Robin. Yes, their ending does make narrative sense -- the two weren't really good together (and had broken up before), and the only thing that was really going to change Barney was a daughter, which he certainly was never going to adopt and which Robin could otherwise never give him. But dammit, we spent an entire year watching their wedding. (Which as it turned out was a significant percentage of the time the marriage actually lasted.) We sat through the twelfth "Ted lets Robin go, for real this time" episode. We were really sold -- oversold -- "Barney and Robin," and it turned out to be a lie.

In short, the ending does make sense, given what the show was. Absolutely. (Well... with one exception. If the thing that drove Barney and Robin apart was how much she traveled, how was it likely that Ted and Robin would end up any differently?) But this final episode, this ending, would be a lot easier to accept if it had come at the end of season eight. And so How I Met Your Mother managed somehow, frustratingly, to simultaneously stick the landing and fall flat on its face. Whether you consider the "final chapter" to be the entire season or just this last hour, whether you were a fan of the Mother or were 'shipping Robin and Ted from the pilot episode, one way or another the ending just wasn't right.

I'm still very glad we had the series as a whole. It served up many great laughs over the years, while also daring to challenge what a sitcom could do and be. But I think the finale only rates a C.

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