How I Met Your Mother was a strange beast, wasn’t it? Airing only a year after the finale of Friends, I have a hard time believing anyone thought it would become the cultural behemoth that it did. Here was a story about a male lead character searching for the love of his life, the one, his other half–a concept that seems almost contrarian for its time. Love stories aren’t new in Hollywood, but they rarely focus on the male’s perspective, and at that time there was this idea–it still exists now, but to a lesser extent–that men were supposed to be pre-occupied by action movies and sports. Showing too much emotion was unmanly.
That’s not to say our lead led the perfect single life. By all accounts, he was still a dude. He still wanted to get laid, but time and time again you watched him yearn for something greater. Whether it was out of boredom, desperation, or a short lapse in his belief that his girl was out there, the viewer watches him get with countless women, some with the sole intention of having sex. On some level, this is what made the show appealing to a wider audience. It constantly passed itself off as a raunchy comedy, which it was at times, but there was always something deeper bubbling beneath the surface, and that’s what I stayed for.
When the show ended two years ago, the finale had the internet in an uproar, myself included, so at this point I had to ask myself whether or not I had anything new to add to the discussion. I mean, I wrote almost 1,800 words* a week after it aired, which was the longest thing I had written up to that point, so what else could I possibly say that hasn’t been said before? Honestly, I don’t know, but I’m going to do it anyway, because for the past three months I have re-watched all nine seasons, and that journey came to an end this past week. Surprisingly, even though I knew it was coming, re-witnessing the finale resulted in a swarm of emotions, both good and bad, that I wasn’t quite expecting.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
In today’s world, when How I Met Your Mother is brought up in discussion, it is usually followed by some variation of, “The show took a dive after season four.” If you got in early and watched it week to week as it aired, it’s hard to dispute this. However, when you binge watch it over the course of a few months, the quality issue is perhaps not as apparent. Though there are obvious low points in the series–seasons six and eight, specifically–as a whole, you can really see the growth in both the writing and the show’s lead characters. Life is a big, messy puzzle, and despite the show losing some of the brilliant laughs found in earlier seasons, it does a good job of portraying this undeniable fact.
Best of all, it shows how even some of the worst and most offensive people in society can grow and change for the better. One of the main reasons Barney existed in the fist place was to provide some comedic relief, and he was created in a time where sexism and womanizing were not adamantly contested in mainstream media. As our societal standards grew and changed over the years, so did his character. The viewer gained an understanding as to why he chose to act out the way he did, the writers showed how vulnerable and broken he truly was, and Barney finally grew up and wanted something serious.
Ignoring Ted for a moment, Barney is arguably the most fascinating character on the entire show. From the start of the series we see him go from one woman to the next, only to learn it was because he vowed to a school bully that he would sleep with 200 women. That was it. He was also raised by a single mother who slept around, he has a gay black brother, and the man he always thought was his uncle turned out to be his father. In perhaps one of the more poignant and heartbreaking moments in the series, he says something that brings incredible depth to his character, “If you were gonna be some lame, suburban dad, why couldn’t you have been that for me?”
With the exception of maybe Robin, he was always the one we knew the least about. We never knew his motivations, we never knew what he did for a living, and he was kind of an anomaly in the group. But little by little, piece by piece, the writers created someone who was aggressively relatable in some way to so many people. He didn’t hate women, and he wasn’t some huge asshole, he just didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing. This doesn’t dismiss what he did, or who he hurt, but it makes him easier to understand. So when he finally decides to settle down with Robin, the two broken pieces feel perfect together.
And within an instant, all of that is washed away.
Because what Craig Thomas and Carter Bays told us in the finale is there is no such thing as change or personal growth, not if you have an immense amount of baggage. Once broken, a person’s wounds will never heal. You will always be someone with commitment issues, you will always be that girl who yearns for her father’s love and approval, and you will always be that guy who has sex with anything that moves. Throughout the entire show, Robin’s internal debate was always love vs work, and while she chose love for Don, they made it excruciatingly clear she wouldn’t make the same decision for Barney. Because, well, how could two broken people ever make it work, right?
This is what I was trying to get across to people when the finale originally aired. My issues don’t stem inherently from the writing decisions, but in what they mean on a microscopic level. It’s more than a failed marriage or a character death, it’s a blatant lack of respect for the characters and who they became over the span of nine years. In the blink of an eye, we were back in season one; Barney’s back to his old ways, and Robin was once again a stranger. Because not only did Robin choose work over Barney, she chose work over everyone. She cut ties with the same people who were there for her through the good times and the bad, as if sending a text, an email, or a letter were impossible tasks while traveling the world.
Life’s tough, I get that. People move in and out of our lives constantly, but I have a hard time believing it’s that easy to just lose track of your friends, who are essentially your family, simply because you’ve been traveling for work. On multiple occasions you hear her try and put the blame on everyone else, but we see Lily and Marshall hang out with Ted and Tracy, so just because your friends’ lives are moving forward that doesn’t give you an excuse to ditch them. People get married, couples have kids, things happen, and it seems like there’s not enough time, but as I was always told, you make time for the people who matter in your life.
The upsetting thing is that, had this been the only issue, I might have been able to live with it. It would have still sucked, I would have still hated the decision, but at least everything wouldn’t have been ruined. But as you all know, it wasn’t the only issue, because the writers still had one more relationship to dismantle. The Robin and Barney situation made you angry, but now they were out to break your heart. Looking back, on some level I’m surprised they didn’t trash Marshall and Lily’s marriage too, but they had been hinting at something else since season eight, so it was time to drop the worst bombshell of all.
Tracy McConnell, the woman you grew to love almost instantly, the shining light in an otherwise terribly rocky final season. Tracy McConnell, the love of Ted’s life, the mother of his children, and his missing puzzle piece. Tracy McConnell, dead and gone, stripped away without a moment’s hesitation, leaving no time for the audience to grieve the loss of Ted’s best partner, his only true match, and the one who made the entire journey worth it.
I loved Tracy more than I’ve loved just about any romantic interest in any movie, show, video game, or book. In some ways, she is the ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but not quite. Having only been in brief flashbacks and flashforwads–with the exception of “How Your Mother Met Me”–the writers still managed to give her so much depth, so much character, that it’s impossible not to feel like she’s been a part of the show from day one. She was strong when she needed to be, she never hesitated to lend a helping hand, and though we only spent a small amount of time with her, it was made clear that her journey to Ted was no easier than his journey to her.
Prior to Tracy, I was always in the Victoria camp. Stella was nice, but I never felt like she meshed well with the group; I found Zoey to be immensely annoying from the jump; and Jeanette was a huge waste of time. But Victoria was special, and even though they didn’t work out, “Drumroll, Please” is still in my top five list of favorite episodes. When they returned to the relationship later in the series, my excitement was quickly tempered as it was obvious they didn’t belong together. They were no longer the same people, and though they tried, the relationship was doomed. Of course, we knew that going in because Tracy was still out there, walking around New York City, holding on to that yellow umbrella.
That knowledge, that sense of hope, that’s what propelled me as a viewer to remain invested. Through the useless one night stands and serious relationships that obviously wouldn’t last, you just knew they would find each other, and everything would be perfect. And it was. From the moment you see Ted and Tracy together at the end of “Coming Back,” you know she’s the one. Because if Thomas and Bays only got one thing right in season nine, it was Tracy. She came into Ted’s life right when he needed her most, she was exactly who the fans deserved, and Cristin Milioti was the perfect casting choice, as shown by her on-screen chemistry with Radnor.
The love and affection shared between these two characters was deeper and more meaningful than most relationships I see in real life, and for good reason. We watched Ted go to hell and back for nine seasons. Though not a perfect character by any means, his troubles and hardships in both his love and professional life shouldn’t be understated. He got rejected multiple times by Robin, was left at the alter by Stella, lost his job at one point, and when the bar scene wasn’t successful, he tried finding a match online, and even that was a failure. So to see him finally find the person he’s been searching for, it was a relief to see she felt exactly the same way.
It wasn’t good enough, though, and that’s what hurt me in 2014, and it’s what hurts me now. When it was all said and done, Tracy felt like a footnote, another girl in his life, another stepping stone to get to Robin. I take no issue with her death, I really don’t. It hurts me as a viewer, but it’s fitting within the context of who Ted Mosby is. With that said, I will forever take issue in the fact that Tracy became a plot device, and once that blow was felt, it was like a domino effect. Barney’s regression, Robin’s selfishness, Tracy’s death. All unfortunate, yet understandable story elements on their own. However, when you mix them together and season it with “You’re totally in love with Aunt Robin,” you’re left with something I can only call a stab in the back.
Ted and Robin don’t work, they never did. They tried season after season, but they were two people who wanted very different things in life. He wanted marriage and kids, she didn’t, and although she eventually married Barney, Ted met the love of his life only hours after leaving the reception. After the deterioration of her marriage, Robin gets to travel the world for work, just like she always wanted, and Ted has kids with an amazing wife, like he always wanted. Perfect. The only catch is the mother dies and, whelp, Ted got what he wanted, so let’s go chasing after Robin Scherbatsky again. For a show so full of love and hope to do something so selfish and asinine is incredibly fucked up.
As I sat on my couch in tears following that final scene, as I’m prone to do, I couldn’t even articulate why I was upset to my concerned family. I was upset that it was over. I was upset that they nuked nine seasons worth of struggle and character growth. I was upset because, in some weird way, these characters feel like extended family. But most of all, I was crying for Tracy and the fans. I was crying because I really fell in love with every ounce of character they gave us in that final season, and though Thomas and Bays obviously never understood that these characters grew out of the ending they wrote seven or eight years prior, I knew without a doubt in my mind that Tracy deserved better, the gang deserved better, and the fans deserved better.
From the moment it aired, there was this funny misconception that detractors hated the finale because it wasn’t a fairytale ending, but that was never the case. The show was never about fairytale endings. Though it was built on laugh out loud moments, the reason it worked so well was because it constantly hit the viewer with moments of genuine reality. This is where “Last Forever” failed. In trying so hard to paint some dystopian idea of real life, it never allows any of the big moments to settle, and therefore they never feel tangible. They spent years building up these relationships, so when they destroyed all of them in the span of 45 minutes, they ruined any chance of these moments leaving a worthwhile impact.
As consumers, we always feel like we know what’s best for the fiction we become invested in. There are all these grand ideas and theories swirling around in our heads, almost to the point where it becomes impossible for anything to live up to the pressure and expectation. That was never the case with this show. My vision was simple, it was sweet, and it was concise, but that’s not what I was given, because that’s not how the world works. As previously mentioned, I never had a problem with Tracy’s death, but I do have an issue with Ted’s continued pursuit of Robin, which is why, in my eyes, our story ends on that train platform. With Ted and Tracy looking into each other’s eyes, knowing they just found someone special. That’s the only ending that exists, “TM–to me.”
*I didn’t read my old post before linking it because reading my old work makes me cringe, so if there are similarities, just know they are purely coincidental.