9×23-24: “Last Forever”
So here we are: the series finale of How I Met Your Mother. For me, my love of the show began I think five years ago, right after I graduated from high school. I was so mad because one of my favourite webcomic writers said The Big Bang Theory was no HIMYM, and I sat down in front of the TV to prove him wrong.
And it turns out he was right: there’s no show like this show, not Friends or Cheers or any of those other shows that deal with friendships and heartache and all the things that happen when you share your life with people.
I might just be saying that because this show belonged to my generation, because I’m pretty sure people have said that before. But that’s my truth, and it’s true for everyone who has watched this show and been invested in it and waited with hope in their hearts for the end they knew was coming. And now it’s here, and my feelings aren’t at all what I thought they’d be.
As with every finale, this episode was about moving on and letting go. Very little of the episode was set in the “present,” which for Ted and his kids is the distant past. It all starts at Barney and Robin’s wedding, when Ted is leaving for the Farhampton train and they all promise to be there for the big moments and for each other. And from that point on we skip around and see the gang’s lives and how they progress.
Lily and Marshall are happy, as expected. They return to New York after their year away with little Marvin and Daisy in tow. Lily gets pregnant again, and they move out of that beloved old apartment and into a bigger house. Marshall, having given up his judgeship, is given the opportunity to try again, and eventually he announces he plans to run for a seat on the Supreme Court (which we already know he gets). We don’t know how Lily’s career turns out, or if she pursues her art, but we do know that they’re perfectly happy as only they can be.
Barney and Robin, on the other hand, only last three years. Robin travels all over the world on World Wide News assignments, and whether Barney comes with her or stays at home, they’re both completely miserable because they hardly get to see each other. So after three years, they get divorced. Robin regrets that she never ended up with Ted, so she buries herself in her work by travelling even more and becoming world-famous, and no one sees her anymore.
And Barney goes back to his predatory ways, musing, “If it wasn’t going to happen with Robin, it’s never going to happen,” and closing the book prematurely on the Barney I came to know and love. But then he has a “perfect month,” in which he nails 31 women in 31 days–and knocks up number 31. This nameless woman has a daughter, Ellie, who Barney immediately falls head-over-heels in love with. And as a father, he’s finally able to cultivate a healthy relationship, knowing full well how to avoid making the same mistakes his own father did.
Ted meets The Mother (whose name is Tracy, but to me she’ll always be The Mother) on the Farhampton platform. Their relationship progresses, they get engaged a year later, and they stay engaged for years. During that time they move into Ted’s house, have two kids (Penny and Luke), and have what looks like an amazing life. They really are perfect for each other, and through it all, even through The Mother’s illness (I have never been so upset to be proven right), they never stop loving each other.
So maybe that’s why it’s such a shock to me at the end of the episode, when we come to the real reason Ted’s telling this story to his kids. It’s not so that they’ll remember their mother, because as Penny says, she hardly appears in the story at all. Her illness is skated over, her death mentioned only in passing, her contributions to Ted’s life and his overall happiness gone in the blink of an eye. It’s like she only existed to live up to the title of the show, to give Ted a fleeting moment of happiness and fulfillment, and then to disappear after giving him the required children to tell his story to.
I built up this legendary relationship in my head and in my heart. I rooted for Ted through all of it, every time Robin shot him down, every time a relationship crashed and burned, every time life kicked him in the nards, because I knew there was something bright and shining at the end of it all. I knew The Mother, this amazing woman who was worth all the heartache and all the pain of Ted’s adult life, would be standing there at the end of it with a yellow umbrella.
It was a bait and switch. The Mother really was there only long enough for Ted to fall in love with her. They had a wonderful relationship, the kind people dream about, a relationship between two soul mates who were absolutely perfect for each other, had the insane kind of luck that nobody has any more, and actually found each other. This show built up that relationship for nine years, promised me that it was all going to be worth it in the end, and yanked the rug out from under me by saying, “Whoops, just kidding, she’s dead now.”
That I could have lived with. That I wouldn’t have minded. I would have seen that as a beautiful tragedy. And it would have been wonderful for Ted to be telling this story to his kids because he wants them to remember her. But he’s not. No, the real reason he’s telling this story to his kids is because he wants to ask out their Aunt Robin.
In fairness, I guess that fits into the overall theme of the story, especially at the beginning when he’s talking about how he met Robin and why that was such an important moment in his life. It makes sense that he wants them to know that Robin isn’t just some woman and that moving on is actually a big deal for him.
But that doesn’t stop me from being emotionally, irrationally angry. Because this show isn’t called How I Met Your Mother and She Died Tragically and Now I Want to Nail Your Aunt Robin. It’s How I Met Your Mother. And don’t tell me that I’m reading too much into it or placing too much meaning on the title, because I know you’re probably thinking that right now.
Yes, there’s poetic symmetry in Ted returning to Robin’s apartment with the blue French horn, his hair greyer and his face more lined. Yes, with any other couple it’s sweet to think about them getting together after they’ve lived their lives so they can be happy in the end. But for years, the writers of this show beat us over the head with a bat labelled “Robin and Ted don’t work together.” They made us invested in the idea of The Mother. Hell, they made us invested in what really was the perfect couple: the scotch-swilling, cigar-smoking, laser tag-playing, totally awesome dynamic duo Barney and Robin. And they tore all that down for the sake of “Ted and Robin finally get together at the end,” ruining two separate happy endings for the sake of one.
This entire season–and several of the previous ones, in fact–has been for nothing. They spent ages getting Robin in the right mindset to marry Barney and blew that up in an Argentinean instant. They spent even longer maturing Barney and really showing him “how to live,” and that went flying out the window the second his marriage fell apart. Lily and Marshall’s legendary conflict blew over when they found out she was pregnant, and they’ve been happy ever since, and they’ll be happy forever and ever, amen, until the day they die, because that’s who they are and what they do.
And Ted? The relationship that was supposed to define his entire life, the relationship that was supposed to be worth everything, the relationship that the entire show was about–it was with Robin, a woman who was too selfish to give up her career to make her marriage work. You think that’s gonna be any different with Ted? She couldn’t even make time to see him when they were friends. And if she didn’t have time for Barney, there’s no way she’s going to make that kind of time for Ted.
That relationship is going to crash and burn just as it always has, and Ted’s going to keep trying to make it work, because that’s what he does, and Robin is going to pull away because she’s turned into a cold and bitter person, and the kids are going to be caught in the crossfire, even though they’ve already been through more than enough pain by losing their mother.
This episode made me cry three times. The first time was when The Mother got sick. The second time was when we saw how young the characters looked in season 1. And the third time was just now when I realized what grade I would have to give this show, the show that I loved so hard for so many years. “Last Forever” seemed like some horrible, horrible joke, a psych-out before the real thing. But it’s not. It’s the end. It’s the last forever, and it was the most heart-crushingly disappointing episode I’ve ever seen, because it made me believe in love before yanking it away.
It’s a good thing How I Met Your Mother is over, because if it weren’t, this would be the point where I gave up on it.
Final Grade: F