Because it’s been on my mind since it aired Monday night, I want to say a few words about the How I Met Your Mother series finale and a storytelling motif I was really disappointed to see it use. Stop reading now if you don’t want the ending spoiled. Also, stop reading if you don’t want the ending of David Copperfield spoiled, because that comes up, too.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD! ***
In case you haven’t seen the finale (or the series) and are reading anyway because you’re curious where I’m going, a brief summary of the series and its finale:
HIMYM followed the lives of a single guy named Ted and four of his close friends, using voiceover narrations by a decades-older Ted to his teenage children as a frame device. Throughout the show’s nine-season run, Ted repeatedly dated, fell in love with, broke up with, and pined for Robin, one of the other four central characters. We knew their romance was doomed in the first episode, when narrator-Ted identified this wonderful woman he’d just met as “your Aunt Robin,” and one of the reasons they broke up was that Ted really wanted kids and Robin really didn’t. Still, he spent much of the show’s run agonizing about whether or not he should be with her anyway, even when one or both of them were in relationships with other people.
In the finale of the penultimate season, viewers were given their first glimpse of the Mother, who became a regular character in the final season before Ted finally met her in the finale–following the wedding of Robin and Barney, another of the four. A series of brief flashbacks recounted Ted’s relationship with the Mother (whose name is revealed to be Tracy), Robin and Barney’s divorce, and Tracy’s illness and death, among other events.
Ted’s children picked up right away on the fact that their father’s excessively long story about meeting their mother didn’t actually include their mother until the very end–and that it began with Ted’s meeting of Robin. They pointed out to their dad that he and Aunt Robin had always seemed pretty keen on each other whenever she came over for dinner, and they encouraged him, now six years a widower, to finally ask her out. Ted went to Robin’s apartment, made what she would recognize as a romantic overture, they smiled at each other, fade to black.
In fairness to the creators, the finale provided a satisfying answer to the question of why, in his story that was ostensibly about how he met his kids’ mother, Ted didn’t actually meet their mother until the very end. I’ll give ’em that.
But that was pretty much the only thing I found satisfying about the way the series ended.
When it was revealed in the first episode that Robin was not the kids’ mother, and even moreso when it was revealed a few seasons later that she would eventually marry Barney, I was quite happy at the news. There are already plenty of love stories out there wherein two people meet, fall in love, maybe have a few problems, but eventually marry and live happily ever after–and that’s good. But those stories already exist. I was eager for a tale in which what seemed like the One True Couple would not end up together, especially as a result of their own choices rather than external circumstances, and in which they’d each have to seek–and find–happiness elsewhere. That kind of tale would force the characters to wrestle with complex emotions and to make choices about which ones to feed and which ones to starve, and that’s the direction I was really hoping HIMYM would go.
But it didn’t.
No, it kind of pulled a David Copperfield on us. The hero married somebody other than his putatively obvious best match, and after a few years she died of an unnamed illness, leaving him free to marry the woman whom the fans thought he should have been with all along. Tracy was a really good match for Ted while Dora turned out to be a complete idiot, so Tracy’s death grieved Ted deeply while Dora’s struck David as more relief than tragedy, but both endings bothered me because they both basically granted the One True Couple a romantic do-over. The heroes got to be with the romantic partners they should have had (according to the fans) all along; apart from Ted’s grief at Tracy’s death, the negative consequences of their relationship choices didn’t stick. (Ted Kissell writes something very similar about Steven Moffat’s handling of Doctor Who.) A deus ex machina turned what was building toward a moving, emotionally complex, and unusual ending into something almost jarring in its blandness.
And that’s what I found most unsatisfying. The characters and their story deserved better.