How I Met Your Mother Season 9, Episode 17 “Sunrise”
Written by Carter Bays & Craig Thomas
Directed by Pamela Fryman
Airs Monday nights at 8pm ET on CBS
Letting go is never easy. It doesn’t matter what it is: something as silly as a favorite pair of ratty shoes gone ratty, or something as serious as the end of a long-lasting relationship. It takes time, and always involves a lot of fucking up: often, we make the same mistakes over and over again until we’re devastated (yes, even applied to the whole shoe theory… ever broken your ankle wearing your “lucky” basketball shoes, or gotten soaked feet walking in the snow in a pair of beat-ass slippers?). It’s part of what separates us from the other creatures of the world: we hold grudges with best friends, we fall in love with the wrong people… we have all these thoughts and feelings and ideas about happiness, that in fact are what keeps us from actually attaining it.
Ted Moesby is no exception: for eight and a half seasons, we’ve really been watching How I Can’t Let Go Of Your Aunt. From the moment the pilot established that Robin Scherbatsky was not the mother of Ted’s two children, it’s been the show’s primary story. Here is an architect who trying to build the most important foundation of his life, yet doesn’t understand he can’t build it on top of an existing structure: for eight seasons, Ted’s tried to build over and around his feelings for Robin, and it never, ever works out. Somehow, it’s always been tied to Robin – partly out of narrative convenience, but also because she remained the most important obstacle between Ted and the happiness he’s so desperately pilot.
But these are semantics when we’re talking about a popular sitcom running for years without an end date: until Ted let go of Robin, he wouldn’t even be able to meet The Mother. He might walk past her in the street, see her on a college campus, or listen to her sing a beautiful song in the middle of the night – but he wasn’t ready to meet her, or fall in love with her. those moments throughout the years show that Ted was so close to finding his happy ending, if he could take the most important step in his adult life, and let go of everything he once believed in. For all intents and purposes, Robin represented The One for Ted: no matter her flaws, Ted clung onto the idea that she was the romantic story he’d always dreamed of having as an adult, even when it became obvious she wouldn’t.
That white-knuckle grip Ted has on Balloon Robin is the epitome of every Moesby-ism in the book – like the Rain Dance, it’s Ted believing that you can manifest your desitny through the power of concentration and relentless focus. Try hard enough and the reward will come: if he finds her old locket, he thinks he’ll be able to save himself from a lifetime of loneliness and self-hate. But as Ted works his way from Stella to Victoria to Janette, it becomes very clear that Ted’s inability to stop looking at the sky (an image that harkens back to Cristin Miloti’s finest scene in “How Your Mother Met Me”, looking upward to speak to her own balloon) is what’s held him back for eight years.
Even when Ted realizes it, he’s unable to let go: he insists that it’s better to fight for something he knows than give up and search for another “disposable” relationship. And for many, I suspect it is this particular scene that either sinks or floats the entire episode for most viewers: it’s not a note that HIMYM hasn’t tried to hit before (many, many times), backing away from Ted moving on whenever an opportunity for relationship dramatics arose. But its repetition doesn’t negate the fact that it’s true: whether it’s attributed to redundant storytelling, existing without an end date, or simple self-indulgence, the truth remains the same. Ted hasn’t let go of Robin, at least not yet. Not until he says the words: Jeanette can throw every single possession of Robin’s into the river, but it doesn’t matter until Ted makes the changes himself.
And in one of the show’s most beautiful, silly, hamhanded, poignant moments of the series, he does.
Yes, the moment is cheesy as fuck, and it certainly doesn’t need the flashbacks to the episode’s opening story (which in itself, was introduced as a throwaway joke in “Unpause”) – but it is the single most important series, hearing Ted say “I have to let go.” He does: it doesn’t mean he can’t love Robin, it doesn’t mean he has to run away to Chicago and take a crappy job (which he most likely won’t do; after all, he’s still living in the first house he bought), but he’s finally ready to accept that she isn’t ‘The One’. Maybe there was a point in the past when she was, or at least could’ve been, but like the audience realized years ago, that time is over; and now that Ted has FINALLY let go of Big Canada, he can head towards Barney and Robin’s wedding reception and the life that awaits him.
It’s a very hard moment for How I Met Your Mother to pull off: and if one steps back and looks at the macros of the situation, the logic doesn’t completely hold up – but as the show’s first real moment of finality in its final season, it brings one of the show’s biggest running narratives to resolution in the most meaningful way it could, even remembering to throw their signature twist (there was no locket as a wedding gift!) in for good measure. How else could they close it? After nine years of dancing around the point, the writers realized The Mother and Ted couldn’t even share a conversation until he’d put Robin behind him – and despite that coming mere hours before he meets the woman of his dreams, it brings the show back to its original central thesis: that love is waiting for us everywhere, that the person we’ve been looking for our whole lives is right around the corner. “Sunrise” gives perspective to that journey, pointing out that looking for someone is what gets us in the trouble in the first place – Ted thought he’d found The One and chased it for eight years, throwing him into a vicious, self-deprecating cycle that nearly broke him (I mean, he’s trying to take a job with Hammond f-ing Druthers, people… though his new clamshell styles are apparently all the rage in architectural circles).
With so much weight attached to the resolution of Ted and Robin, it’s not surprising that Barney gets to spend the night alone, bro’ing it up for the audience one more time before he moves onto the next phase of his life. Connecting it to Marshall’s conversations with Ghost Lily (and Past Ghost Lily, and Ghost Marshall’s Dad, etc), all of “Sunrise” is about ghosts, the things that haunt us in the darkest hours of night (often leading us to make those bad decisions after 2am Ted’s always referencing). The only place it doesn’t really connect is Marshall and Lily: their entire fake argument in this episode might come to a conclusion, but it’s an empty one – after all, doesn’t anyone remember Lily not only leaving him for San Fran, but lying to him about a massive credit card bill that stopped him from pursuing his career dreams, instead putting him on the path to eventually become a judge?
I’m not saying what Lily said to Marshall doesn’t hold water: but a hypocritical woman threatening Marshall that his behavior is going to ruin a marriage is silly. It takes two people to ruin a relationship (except in the most extreme of cases, of course… but let’s be serious), not one: and Marshall being resentful about something for the first time in his life actually adds significance to their relationship, being the first time he’s been completely honest with his wife since way back in season one.
But I digress: where Marshall and Lily fail, Ted’s (and to a much, much smaller degree, Barney) resolution delivers on long-standing promises of change to its main characters, showing the growth in them that have transformed them over the years to the people they are at the Farhampton Inn right now. “Sunrise” ends with Ted letting go of Robin: but it’s also the show letting go of everything that came before it, all the long-winded dramatics, misleads, and revealing moments. HIMYM is finally, FINALLY entering its endgame (after a three-week Olympic break), and doing so on a wave of creative renaissance in 2014 – could this show actually live up to its years of hype and deliver a fantastic ending? “How Your Mother Met Me” and “Sunrise” (and to a degree, “Unpause”) certainly suggests it can.
– I don’t think a Kyle/Justin spin-off would be very entertaining, but I’m guessing there will be some reference to them in the last eight episodes of the series, which I’m looking forward to. What happens of The Playbook in the hands of these two formerly depressed kids?
– there’s a TON of green screen in this episode: it’s all horrible, and at times, really threatened to undermine the whole episode. Not a good move.
– Zoe should be on both lists: when she was first introduced, she was terrible. Then she got kind of cool, and then was undeniably awful for the rest of her run on the show.
– “You can never let go… not even for a second.” Those are not the remarks of a man ready to move on with his life – is it believable to think he could become that in a matter of days? I suppose we can’t say for certain until the season’s finished and we can re-watch, but it feels like a bit of a stretch (something one would want to avoid when setting the stage for the most important moments in the series).
– Wow, I probably haven’t heard the words “James Blunt” spoken since 2006 – Ghost Lily’s comments put the show’s timeline into perspective so well, despite them being just throwaway jokes.