*Be warned that this piece contains spoilers of the HIMYM finale*
“Are we being punished or something?” “Dad, is this gonna take a while?” These are normal questions to ask when your father sits you down to tell a story about your dead mother, right? These were the words of Luke and Penny Mosby in How I Met Your Mother’s pilot nine years ago. Following the finale’s revelation of the mother’s fate, the actions of Ted Mosby’s have led to one thing, outside of any issues that may be had with other decisions, being clear: Ted Mosby’s children are terrible people.
Perhaps all the more revolting than their seeming indifference to their father telling them the story of how he met their dead mother was their reaction at the end of the story. After Ted finishes the story, the children, smirking, tell their father that they see through him, and that the story was clearly not about their mother, that the story was about Ted’s love undying love for their “aunt” Robin. They smirk as if there’s nothing wrong with that. They encourage him to pursue Robin as if it’s okay that the story they thought they were being told was in all reality a selfish disguise for the narrator’s own wants.
In a way, we, the viewers, are Penny and Luke, and Ted is Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, HIMYM’s creators and main writers, but there is one big difference: most of us are not sitting here, smirking at this twist ending. For nine years, How I Met Your Mother aired, leading us all along, having us think that what we were seeing was just another piece in the puzzle of how Ted Mosby came to meet the woman we would later come to know as Tracy McConnell. That’s what kept us watching, through the good times and the bad. People don’t just watch terrible episodes like “Who Wants to Be a Godparent?” or “Zoo or False” for fun, they do it because they realise that these are blips in a greater tapestry, an epic love story that leads to a great pay-off.
And there was a great pay-off, it just wasn’t the pay-off that Bays and Thomas expected us to appreciate the most. The undoubted star of the show’s patchy-at-best ninth season was Cristin Milioti, the actress who portrayed Tracy. Bays and Thomas clearly did not count on Milioti being the success that she was with her wit and endearing charm. Most of all, it’s safe to say they did not count on Milioti and Josh Radnor (Ted) having the palpable chemistry that was presented onscreen, a chemistry only rivalled by that shared between Neil Patrick Harris (Barney Stinson) and Cobie Smulders (Robin Scherbatsky). Yet, in roughly forty minutes of unbelievable viewing, Bays and Thomas did away with both of those couplings to preserve an ending they concocted seven years ago.
Art imitates life and life is unpredictable and cannot be set to a fixed ending. The end scene with Ted’s children was filmed during the show’s second season, meaning that Bays and Thomas always knew how the show would end. Obviously, they didn’t know at the time that the show would go onto be wildly successful in its post-Britney Spears era and that it would go on for a further seven seasons. At the time, they didn’t realise that Cristin Milioti would steal the show as the mother and that she would be fantastic with her co-star Radnor. The question has to be asked: why, when it became apparent that Milioti was a better mother than anyone could have dreamed of, did they not scrap their seven-year-old idea?
If Bays and Thomas insisted on the ending they had envisioned all those years ago being stuck with, then why did we have to endure a ninth season that was set over the weekend of Barney and Robin’s wedding? Why couldn’t we have at least been given the news that the mother was sick and would ultimately die in a better way? Ted casually mentions the fact that the mother got sick, with neither her illness nor the fact that she actually died explicitly mentioned. Of course, the children that he is telling the story to are well aware of the fact that their mother is dead, but surely, in this tale where Ted excruciatingly detailed his various sexual conquests to his children, he could spared some reflection for the death of his spouse.
Had the writers not gone with the awful idea of staging the last season over a weekend, we might have been given the opportunity to accept the mother’s death, to see some sense in the writing. What makes the scenario all the more infuriating is Barney and Robin’s decision to get a divorce; a startling 14 minutes into the two-part finale, after 22 episodes of the season took place at their wedding weekend.
The idea of Barney and Robin divorcing is not a terrible one; in fact it makes the most sense of the major decisions. Season five already showed us that they didn’t work as a couple, although the regression of Barney following his divorce was, again, infuriating. The problem is, again, that the marriage was treated as a massive deal, it had a whole season revolve around it, and it, like the mother, was killed off unceremoniously.
It is hard to believe that the people who wrote the first four seasons of the show, the scene where Barney meets his daughter, the haunting end scene of “The Time Travellers” or the scene where Ted and Tracy finally meet could honestly think that this is a satisfying ending. There’s nothing wrong with twist endings, but they have to at least make sense. Are we being punished?
Odrán de Bhaldraithe