Last night, I decided to marathon my way through the last nine episodes of How I Met Your Mother‘s final season. I first discovered the show on DVD, and I’ve often felt, particularly in the last couple of not-quite-as-good seasons, that the show holds up a lot better, at least for me, in larger block viewing. There’s a certain momentum to watching it like that, and while it can sometimes throw a harsher than usual light on the show’s flaws — like, for instance, that this last season had surprisingly very little momentum of its own — it can also underline the show’s strengths and build up my investment in the characters. I’d watched most of this last season already, but I’d decided some two-thirds of the way through to take a break and let the remaining episodes pile up for one long, final watch.
And then I started hearing over Twitter about terrible the series finale was.
I should probably say that this post is going to contain some spoilers. Also, that the Twitter chatter was right. It was a very disappointing way for the show to end.
Todd VanDerWerff, who is one of my favorite TV critics, wrote a long post about the show, and the episode, and he sums it up I think nicely:
The ultimate takeaway from the final season is that series creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas were at once too good and not good enough to tell the story they ultimately wanted to tell.
The problem for me was this: for the show’s creators, the title was apparently just a misdirect, another joke nested within all the others. And yet for those of us watching, those of us who cared about these characters, it was the driving force behind the show. We wanted the love story, wanted that genuine — and moreover earned — happy ending, and, yes, we wanted to know how Ted met his future children’s mother.
Bays and Thomas simply looked like shitty long-term planners, unable to understand that getting the audience so invested in the Barney and Robin coupling or in Tracy as a character would make it all the harder when the series finale abruptly dissolved the former and treated the latter’s death as an aside in the narration. That the show never seemed to suggest Ted mourned her feels like a vital betrayal of his character.
So they were telling a different story than they seemed to be, and the evidence suggests that they’d been doing so all along. (A scene at the end with the kids was clearly filmed very early in the show’s run, if not in the very first season.) But it’s the story they seemed to be telling that I cared about, and this other story, the one in which “How I Met Your Mother” is just a joke, was terribly disappointing. I don’t think it’s a story that could have worked when introduced like this, and after nine years with these characters.
So I don’t know if I hated the episode, but I did kind of hate where it ended the show, and what it decided to break in its attempt to get there.