(This post discusses last night’s finale of How I Met Your Mother, so there will be SPOILERS. All the spoilers. Like…as soon as this sentence is over.)
Well, the HIMYM finale arrived, and the theories were right. The mother is dead. Barney and Robin get divorced. The whole story has actually been about Ted asking his kids if it’s all right to start seeing Robin in 2030. Oh, and Barney had a kid, which nobody really predicted, though I suppose it’s an almost unavoidable outcome of his lifestyle.
I wanted to cry for this finale. I really did. I wanted to feel sad and happy and emotional, but instead, all I feel is disappointment.
Several of the events that take place in this episode are depressing, but I was ready for that. I was all set to get teary-eyed at the mother’s death, to feel heartbroken at Barney and Robin’s divorce. What I was not prepared for was the emotional vacuum that would accompany these events.
Barney and Robin treat the divorce cavalierly, and the show is joking about it ten seconds after it happens. Every major break-up in the show’s run has carried more emotional fallout than the couple’s divorce after three years of marriage.
And the mother’s death was almost overlooked. We see the scene of the mother and Ted in the hospital (a no-doubt touching moment buried under Ted’s voice-over), but her fate is still left up in the air for several minutes.
When it is finally, officially revealed that she is dead, it’s only as a side-note in another conversation. There is no emotional closure at all. I had to re-watch The Time Travelers and Vesuvius to fill my feelings void.
I could have accepted these events if they had been handled well, but they were not. For years, How I Met Your Mother has captured moments of profound sadness and haunting melancholy with admirable skill…only to completely drop the ball at the end, when it matters most of all.
In the end, I believe the poor handling is why the finale fell flat, not poor story. The pacing was off, the jokes weren’t funny, and turned the sad moments from poignant to depressing. The final conversation, recent footage of Ted spliced together with years-old video of the kids, felt fake and unconvincing as a result of the editing job.
But the thing that kept me up all night, long after 2 a.m. came and went, is the inconsistency of this finale when looked at in the light of the entire show, and what it means for the future of the characters. Specifically: Barney will be a terrible father, and Robin and Ted still won’t work as a couple.
For nine years, the underlying theme of How I Met Your Mother has been that people change. Priorities change. Feelings change. You outgrow the behaviors and desires you once had.
And tonight, in 42 minutes (and 17 years), the finale tells us that, in fact, no, people do not change. Robin still lets her career destroy her relationships. Barney goes back to being a manipulative, womanizing sociopath. Ted still wants to be with Robin. Everything comes full circle. Nobody really changes in the end.
And then it tells us not to worry: Barney has learned to put his newborn daughter’s needs before his own. Ted and Robin will finally be happy together.
But these conclusions are completely at odds with what the finale has just told us: People don’t change.
Barney has had feelings of selflessness before, for Robin, Nora, Quinn, and Robin again. In each case, his change seems genuine and heartfelt, and in each case, he reverts to his former self instantaneously as soon as the emotions wear off.
His relationship with his daughter Ellie will be no different. Yes, his speech to her in the hospital was beautiful and touching and feel-good…but so was his season-long wedding to Robin. Until tonight, that is.
Once raising Ellie starts to get really difficult, Barney’s overriding selfishness will raise it’s ugly head, and New York City will be blessed with one more young woman with crippling daddy issues. If we believe Barney will be a good father, we’re just the next dumb sluts he’s managed to bamboozle.
And Ted and Robin are still not going to work. Seven years ago, they broke up because she wanted to travel the world and rise in her career, and he wanted to have kids. Now Ted has kids and Robin travels the world for her career. It pushed her and Barney apart, and a few years down the line, it will push her and Ted apart too.
The show’s finale gives the show a metafictional air. The “Robin and Ted” ending is Robin, and the show’s creators are Ted, doggedly trying to make that ending work, no matter how hopeless that cause is. Barney has pulled one final play on us to make us believe he is a decent human being. And we, the audience, are Lily, wanting to fix things, but forced to watch helplessly as everything falls apart. Unfortunately, this real-world parallel contains no Fudge Supreme to overturn the verdict.
I’ve loved How I Met Your Mother for nine seasons…I just wish this finale could have passed the front porch test.