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What Went Wrong With the Finale of “How I Met Your Mother” - Nicholas Kaufmann's Journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
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What Went Wrong With the Finale of “How I Met Your Mother” [Apr. 3rd, 2014|08:20 am]
International Bon Vivant and Raconteur

[No spoilers here, although some will undoubtedly appear in the comments.]

I’m not a big sitcom guy these days. I can count on one hand how many sitcoms I tune in for. How I Met Your Mother was one of them. I didn’t start watching it from the beginning. In fact, I was barely aware of the show until I started catching cable reruns on the weekends in 2011. I fell in love with the characters and found myself watching it more and more, catching up on everything I missed on Netflix. I found Ted, Barney, Lily, Marshall, and Robin all relatable in their own ways, and even when an episode’s plot would go off the rails, the emotions at its core would remain authentic. And while I’ll admit that Ted’s plotline quickly faded to the background for me in favor of all things Barney, the show’s conceit, that future Ted (inexplicably voiced by Bob Saget) is telling the story to his children of how he met their mother, and its inherent mystery remained compelling to me on some level. With every new woman Ted dated, I wondered if this, finally, would be the woman he winds up with. She never was.

Then, at last, the mother appeared briefly at the end of season 8, although really she didn’t become a character until season 9. We were shown the mother meeting each of the gang separately, all leading up to the big moment when she and Ted would meet. In between, we were treated to flash-forwards, Lost-style, to their courtship and life together. It built an expectation that the last episode, maybe even the final scene of the last episode, would bring it all together in the sitcom equivalent of a harmonic convergence.

And then the final episode came, a two-parter called “Last Forever,” and it was seriously disappointing. Some people liked it. Most hated it. A few, like author Chuck Wendig, seemed personally offended by it. It’s not hard to see why. The finale is wildly problematic, but its biggest narrative fumble is that it marginalizes the mother completely and makes her irrelevant to the story.

This marginalization is demonstrated perfectly in a scene at MacLaren’s, the bar that has been the characters’  home away from home for nine seasons, where the gang asks the mother to take a photo of them all in their favorite booth. So they all sit together for the picture, and the mother stands away from them and takes the photo. I kept waiting for one of the characters — and really, it should have been Ted, her fucking fiancé — to say, “Hold on a moment, you should be in this picture too,” and get someone else to take it. But the writers obviously cannot imagine such a thing, and so the photo is taken to commemorate the moment without the mother even in it. Later in that same scene, the gang makes a toast that’s all about Ted and how it’s been a long, hard trip to this moment of lasting coupledom, which is sweet, except nowhere in the toast do they even mention the mother…or even say her fucking name! IN A TOAST TO THE HAPPY COUPLE! AND SHE’S SITTING RIGHT THERE!

It is clear that to the writers the mother literally does not matter, except as the source of Ted’s children. This irrelevance is further borne out in the final minutes of the episode, which succeed not only in negating everything the show was building toward, but also nine seasons’ worth of character development. I really liked in the episode before the two-part finale when Robin wonders if she should be marrying Ted instead of Barney, and Ted tells her, “I’m not that guy anymore.” No, scratch that, I loved that scene. It was character development at its finest. Ted has moved on. Emotionally, he’s ready for what’s coming next. Bravo, writers! And then they fuck it up at the end of the finale with the most tone-deaf few minutes the show has ever, ever had. Ted hasn’t changed or grown or learned, the writers seem to be saying. Ted is pretty much exactly the same as he was from the start. Mother? What mother? Thanks for watching.

This is what happens when you plot out your finale nine years before and then rigidly adhere to it without allowing room for spontaneity, character development, or the ability to change your mind when you realize something else might work better. In the end, How I Met Your Mother, which I had been very close to calling one of the my favorite TV comedies ever because of its intricate and clever plotting, closed out its story with a lazy contrivance that left a bad taste in my mouth. One that’s very hard to forgive.

Edited to add: Some kind soul on the Internet has edited their own version of how the finale should have ended, and it’s a thousand times more perfect than what we got.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.


[User Picture]From: bev_vincent
2014-04-03 02:24 pm (UTC)
That was a great alternate ending. I always wanted Ted and Robin to be together, throughout the series, so I wasn't terribly disappointed by the finale, but it wasn't exactly what I hoped for, either. I never bought it that Ted had "moved on." Not with the lengths he went to for that locket.

My biggest problem is that we didn't see enough of the mother for it to seem like she had earned her place in the group, making fun of Barney. She felt a little like an interloper. She was cute as a button, but I wish we had been able to spend a little more time with her, or else not see so much live action with her in the future. The snapshots, that was good.
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[User Picture]From: nick_kaufmann
2014-04-03 02:26 pm (UTC)
She died the way she lived: off-screen.
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[User Picture]From: temporus
2014-04-03 04:28 pm (UTC)
It's funny, I watched this show as one of my few shows, for 8 seasons. But I just kind of got tired. And I skipped this entire season. But I watched the Finale, because, you know, I wanted to see how it all comes together. And...meh.

It wasn't bad. It wasn't great. I felt whelmed. I'm not even sure I feel excited enough to go through this past season to see what I missed.
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[User Picture]From: nick_kaufmann
2014-04-03 04:29 pm (UTC)
There's some good stuff this season, but nothing epic or memorable. Just wrapping up, mostly. Then shitting on it.
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[User Picture]From: temporus
2014-04-03 04:58 pm (UTC)
BTW, the fan edit nailed it. Not sure why they couldn't see that was the best way to go. Would have been such a more satisfying ending.
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[User Picture]From: nick_kaufmann
2014-04-03 04:59 pm (UTC)
Because the creator of the show was stubborn and wanted to stick with the weird, stupid ending he thought of nine years ago.
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