How I Met Your Mother Season 9, Episodes 23 & 24 “Last Forever (Part 1 & Part 2)”
Written by Carter Bays & Craig Thomas
Directed by Pamela Fryman
Aired 3/31/14 on CBS
“Love is the best thing we do.” – Ted Mosby
In the wake of How I Met Your Mother’s messy, backtracking, emotionally manipulative finale, I found myself returning to this quote from the end of the series’ penultimate episode, “The End of the Aisle”. For everything the finale botches, it does stay true to this important philosophic foundation; regarding any of the three main couples on the show (Tracy/Ted, Barney/Robin, or Marshall/Lily), love would be the best thing they did in the show’s final hour… even if that love was geared towards illogical sources of inspiration, they still existed (and overshadows the other shitty things they’ve done for the last nine years of their adult life, suggesting that yes, this is the best thing they would do).
In that sense, we can’t say that How I Met Your Mother betrayed or disappointed us in its final moments: with that particular quote as a framing device, “Last Forever” was exactly the episode it should’ve been. Everyone gets their “ending” (except Lily, who literally is just “babies” and regret over losing Robin), and it ties back into that quote: Ted loved Tracy (and Robin) like no other, Barney loved his baby more than he loved the one-night stand he created her with, and Marshall and Lily love each other, able to survive the melodramatic roller coaster of their marriage after Lily throws Marshall’s career plans in the wind once again for a short-lived stay in Italy. When it comes to love, How I Met Your Mother certainly attempts to stay true to itself in the final hour – but does so in literally the most manipulative, audience-enraging ways possible, turning “Last Forever” into one of the more confounding, manipulative, ultimately hollow series finales I’ve ever watched.
It’s hard not to feel misled by the 200+ episodes that preceded it, even though it’s an ending we all know Bays and Thomas designed (and stuck to) eight years ago: like LOST‘s elusive hunt to find the “light” of the island, Ted’s journey to meet the mother turned out to be inconsequential to the story. After all, the final scene revealed the whole story to be Ted’s way of convincing his children that while their mother was awesome, she was marginally important in Ted’s life compared to the news reporter who rebuffed him, married (and divorced) his best friend, then separated herself from the group for years when she couldn’t handle seeing Ted happy. The mother? She literally does not matter AT ALL to the story Ted’s been telling his children for who-knows-how-long: in the end, Tracy is just a female version of Ted, proving that the only person in the world he could truly love (besides Robin, of course) was himself. They even have the same fucking initials, for Christ’s sake: instead of writing a REAL character, How I Met Your Mother created a mirrored version of Ted with a vagina, and said “Here’s his perfect match.” Not really: two people that are exactly the same are not necessarily made for each other – something the construction of HIMYM‘s final season could never address, given that it spent its ENTIRE SEASON at a wedding that (in narrative terms) lasts for about forty seconds, quickly devolving into divorce when Barney can’t handle Robin’s career (which, by the way: what the fuck?).
Can you tell I’m starting to lose my cool facade? I opened this review promising myself not to get angry: but fuck, the ending of How I Met Your Mother is so wrong-headed. Sure, the Mother can die and Ted and Robin can get back together – in fact, I buy those two events more than anything else that happens in the series finale (except Marshall becoming Fudge Supreme; if anyone deserved a happy ending, it was Marshall). Much of what happens around it is pure bullshit, constructed to undermine everything they did with Robin and Barney as characters to bring them together. Barney’s maturity? Gone out the window, even after he shares a tender moment with a baby he made sleeping with a different woman every day of the month (isn’t it endearing the mother of his child is forever known as “#31”, by the way?). Robin’s growth as a human, or her trepidations about being with Ted? Gone the moment she sees him happy, breaking up with Barney and never enjoying the globe-trotting career she always wanted for herself (again: How I Met Your Mother stays true to its philosophy, but it undermines the character in a huge way).
Had the final seasons of How I Met Your Mother (or in all honesty, everything from season two on that referenced her) teased the presence of The Mother, the finale might be a little easier to digest. There were no requirements for how much time we spent with Tracy in the final season – although after so many years of teasing, the few scenes we got with her only left us wanting more. But Bays and Thomas clearly had no idea how to build this character: and instead of making an original, breathing creation, literally created The Ted in the Fridge (The Woman In The Fridge), a character so similar to Ted, we wouldn’t even be able to distinguish what about their relationship actually worked (with so much time discussing the events leading to their meeting, Ted told his kids the story of how he loved Robin, not how he met and fell in love with their mother). Their scenes together this season were just another big tease: for all intents and purposes, Tracy was a construct to push Ted’s plot forward, not reward his (very small) character arc for the series with the girl of his dreams.
And despite all this, I couldn’t help but find myself enjoying those final few moments of the show, when Ted returns to Robin with blue french horn in his hand. It’s an iconic image from the pilot, and represents the show coming full circle – though it’s not the show I thought I was watching, it’s still an ending to the story they’ve (mostly) told for nine seasons. People can change: they can fall in love with other people, take jobs, or travel the world – and during that long journey, there will be people that stick with them. Sometimes, that person is a friend, or mentor – or a woman, a woman with whom one’s chemistry was undeniable and lasting, a connection that ran deeper than the emotional/physical distance between them. For better or worse, sometimes we never fall out of love with someone – and often, the randomness of the universe and the branching highways of life will pull apart people who (for lack of a better, more realistic phrase) “belong” together.
Maybe that’s who Ted and Robin were – it certainly seemed that way for Ted, which if anything, this series got correct. Ted never let go of his love for Robin, and even though we may not understand why (didn’t the show posit he loved Tracy more?), it makes sense. Does it sell out the entire series to backtrack to that final moment, selling out characters like Robin and Barney without a moment’s hesitation, in order to reach an ending they’d written (and partially filmed) eight years ago?
You’re damn right it does – and that’s what makes this finale so frustrating. Part I is just ugly, ugly television – Part II is actually cathartic and rewarding (even in situations that don’t make sense and sell the character short, like Barney meeting his love child after designing a second Playbook) in many moments, including that final one. However, it’s extremely baffling that a show would build up to their climatic narrative, only to deflate it by making the most important character in said narrative non-character who exists as a non-presence in a story. Yes, the last scene should be Ted meeting the Mother (hence the TITLE OF THE SHOW): instead, it ends with Ted re-meeting the girl he’s chased and harbored feelings for, for two-plus decades.
It’s that logical dissonance that’s fueled much of the internet vitriol being flung at Bays, Thomas, and the rest of the creative team in the wake of the finale. If we were watching a story about Ted meeting his wife, why is that such an afterthought (especially since they’ve been building it up for years, dropping hints here and there that Ted’s destiny was right around the corner)? Why does the final season take place at a wedding that ultimately doesn’t matter…. at all… in any sense of the word? Barney and Robin’s marriage is forgotten the minute it ends, turning into a story of bitter Robin and sad Lily, instead of how Ted finally learned to love, let go, and love again (speaking of: way to completely ruin the end of “Sunrise”!).
Ultimately, it’s because that’s not the story this show was interested in telling. How I Met Your Mother is just Ted wasting a lot of time asking his children if he can sleep with their Aunt Robin, avoiding the question like he avoided growth as a human being for so long. Everything done in this final season with Ted’s character turns out to be insignificant: in the end, Ted Moesby just wanted to love Robin Scherbatsky, a gun-loving Canadian who didn’t want kids, a family life, or any of the things that Ted wanted in his – that is, until that time passed, and it turned out they were perfect for each other (… but were they?).
It’s definitely an ending – but one that betrays its characters for one more surprising, frame-of-reference altering twist, a wholly disappointing way to end one of television’s most endearing, hopeful long-running comedies in recent memory.