(Spoiler Alert: Do not read if you haven’t seen the How I Met Your Mother finale and think you might want to at any point)
I know this is supposed to be a sports blog, but there’s something that’s been troubling me for three months. Ever since the finale aired on March 31, I can’t get over the fact that I hated the ending of my favorite TV show, How I Met Your Mother. For years, that show helped shape many of my beliefs about the world. The show gave me hope, broke my heart, and gave me hope again. It taught me everything from learning when to go to bed to how to find love. But in one of the most disappointing minutes of my life, the show was nearly ruined for me. The ending was not perfect. And I was not okay with that. They had let me down and broken my heart.
I was angry for a long time whenever I thought about what had happened. I used to watch an episode almost every day, but I could hardly bring myself to watch even one anymore. I tried convincing myself the ending never happened – I even watched the finale again, ending it where I wanted to so I could see if that helped me feel better – it didn’t. It absolutely killed me that I was mad with my favorite show. But this month, I started watching How I Met Your Mother from the beginning with my sister who had never seen it before. And watching season 1 again with fresh eyes, reliving some of my favorite moments that I’ve watched so many times, I remembered why I loved the show so much. And I became determined to make peace with the finale. I have thought about it long and hard, rewatching many old episodes, and finally, I can say that I’m okay with things again. Allow me to explain.
(Spoilers start here)
There are a billion lessons from the show – ones that will be referenced for years to come by this generation of TV watchers. But because the little messages were always spot on, I looked for an overall message that was even more meaningful than the rest. And it was all set up to be done perfectly. The mother’s death was heartbreaking, but it was a beautiful end that gave Ted’s story a final message – enjoy every second you get with the people you love, because it won’t last forever. The final episode was even called “Last Forever,” so how could the message not be that only memories last forever? I could have lived with that, as it lined up with what the show had been saying all along – that life is much more about living than it is about any end. As the finale was unfolding, and it became clear that the mother was indeed dying in the closing moments of the show, I was expecting one last Bob Saget voiceover, telling us these exact things. But instead, it all went wrong. Suddenly, my tears of sadness turned sour.
I guess in some ways, the Ted and Robin ending lines up with the message I outlined above. Because the story wasn’t about the death of the mother, it was about all that happened leading up to it. However, that view doesn’t work with the story completely, as too much else contradicted that end message. Why did the entire last season exist to make us believe Robin and Barney were meant to be together, only for them to divorce? And why didn’t the final season involve more of the mother? And then on another note, if that was the main message, was it telling us that the mother wasn’t really “the one” for Ted?
I couldn’t accept that as a possibility because the mother was indeed perfect for Ted. She was everything he deserved and more. Going into season 9, I was quite skeptical about how the mother could ever live up to expectations. But she did, and in a big way. That was probably the reason I hated the ending so much – because the mother was objectively better for Ted than Robin ever was or would be. If the writers wanted me to root for Ted and Robin, they shouldn’t have made the mother such a lovable character. As such, Ted and Robin getting back together was a failure on the part of the writers.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that failure has always been a driving force on How I Met Your Mother. In season 1, every character had dreams – Marshall wanted to be an environmental lawyer, Lily wanted to be a painter, Robin wanted to be a successful reporter, Barney wanted to continue being Barney, and Ted wanted to find love as quickly as he could. But as the show went on, each character saw their dreams significantly blocked. At times, they were all failures in what they wanted to do. Even their secondary and tertiary dreams ended in failure most of the time too. Think about the amount of times characters got fired or broke-up with their significant others. And beyond that, they failed at simple things too – the episode “Arrividerci, Fiero” sticks out as a moment when a failure – not fixing the car – taught everyone a lesson in moving on. The day-to-day lives of these characters were far from perfect.
When the characters failed, their friends were always there to help pick them back up though. The lesson became that when you fail, you can always get back up. Don’t linger on the failure, but instead revel in your friends that help you through it. Or in other words, focus on the positives of the experience, and move on from the failure itself. Looking at the finale that way allows me to criticize it, while shifting my focus towards all that got us there in the first place. Moreover, I can hate the ending, but cherish the series. I’m not saying the creators made an ending that many fans would hate specifically so we could experience this lesson firsthand. But what I am saying though is that we should have learned that lesson throughout the show. Nothing is perfect after all, not even How I Met Your Mother.
The last main point has more to do with Ted’s moving on to Robin many years after the mother died. For me, one of the show’s most poignant scenes was in the 200th episode, a moment when everything seemed to stop. If you can’t guess, it’s the scene when the mother steps outside to talk to Max – her first true love, who had died long ago – up in heaven. She asks him if she is allowed to move on. And he says yes. It is in this scene that we are supposed to impose Ted. Ted’s story to his kids is the equivalent of the mother’s speech on the porch. They are both examples of incredible love – there is no doubt the mother and Ted love their deceased lovers as much as they possibly can. But yet, the message remains that at some point, you must move on. If there’s anyone I trust to be morally correct, it’s the mother, for we have no evidence to suggest she’s not the perfect character. So if she can move on, so can Ted.
After that scene, it’s a wonder none of us predicted the final outcome of the show right then, for it had just been shown to us as plain as day. There would come a moment when it was time to move on. It will be the toughest thing you’ll ever have to do, but at the end of the day, somebody who truly loves you will always place your happiness above all else. The mother got to be with Ted after moving on, so clearly she made the right choice. But yet we know she doesn’t love Max any less, and I don’t think she should. So when Ted has the chance to move on, he knows deep down that she’d want him to be happy – even if that’s with Robin. Ted won’t love the mother any less for it though. I don’t want to get into the ethics of whether Ted should be friends with someone he clearly has romantic feelings for when he’s happily married, but ultimately, we all know he’d be happy with Robin. And after all that, Ted deserves to be happy.
I guess I have to look at the show’s main message in those three parts now when I think about it. There is the main message that the experiences you have are more important than the end result. Then there is a larger point about how failure is okay. And finally, there is the tertiary message that moving on is an important part of life. In the end, if you’ve lived with people you love, sharing moments you can treasure forever, why does it matter if you fail at something? Get back up and look at all the positives. That’s the approach those of us who disliked the finale should all take to the ending. Live with the failure of Ted and Robin being the end game of the show, and instead focus on everything else that we loved.
There’s no question that we’d all like to find that person with the yellow umbrella, but whether she’s with you right now or not, we must love the people we’re with currently, cherishing every second we get with our best friends. For at some point, there will come a time when somebody must move on. But as long as we have the memories, the best of times will always exist in some form. But then we make new memories, not letting ourselves live entirely in our pasts, as the mother warned an aging Ted not to do. For there are multiple stories to tell in life. Live each one and love each one with all of your heart. And at the end of it all, you’ll be happy. That’s what How I Met Your Mother has taught me.
I will never love the ending in itself, but I can’t disagree with the messages I have come to terms with. How I Met Your Mother may be over, but its characters and messages will always be with me. And now, I am finally at peace with the show. The girl with the yellow umbrella is out there somewhere, but for now, I’ll love every second I get with my true best friends. And that will be enough. Thank you, How I Met Your Mother, for giving me reason to think, reason to do and reason to love. Marshall, Lily, Ted, Barney, Robin and Tracy McConnell will always stay with me.