How I Met Your Mother: The Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Ending

Ted standing on the street, holding a blue French horn

Where do I start with “Last Forever,” the mind-boggling (and mind-bogglingly bad) finale of How I Met Your Mother? For that matter, where do I start with How I Met Your Mother?

Sometimes, a particular piece of media, whether it’s a TV show, a movie, or even a particular album or song, feels intimately tied to a particular point in your life—you were going through a particular phase or had something missing in your life that said piece of media was able to provide for you. When such a connection is formed between a particular show/song/movie and a specific phase in your life, looking back or revisiting it often leads to one of two feelings: that of warm, nostalgic fondness, or the far too often “oh god, did I really use to like this?”

How I Met Your Mother is a show that is strictly in that second category for me. It’s a show that I found in my late teens and stuck with me until the start of my early twenties, and my prior enjoyment of the show is one that is absolutely a product of who I was and where I was in life. I was a socially awkward, perpetual loner stuck out in the suburbs, living vicariously through the show’s fantasy of big city life spent exploring bars, hanging out with friends and having encounters with multiple attractive women.

Revisiting the series almost a decade later, both the series as a whole and my prior enjoyment of it feel like products of their time. That’s not to say I think the show has no appeal whatsoever—there was always going to be an audience for what was functionally the second coming of Friends, especially with such an absurdly stacked main cast in Cobie Smulders, Alyson Hannigan, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Segel, and Josh Radnor. But it’s not hard to understand why it feels like there’s little nostalgia for the show or why you hardly hear about the recent spinoff/reimagining How I Met Your Father. Let’s just say that a lot of the core formula of How I Met Your Mother and a lot of what I enjoyed at the time are things that have…aged poorly, to say the least.

A close up of Tracy, the Mother from How I Met Your Mother

A big part of that lack of nostalgia comes from the poor execution of the finale, one that betrays years of character growth and throws away major developments in favor of a pairing that most people had moved on from by then, but before we can really dive deep into my thoughts and reminiscings on the finale, there’s one thing we have to address. I think it’s time we all admit that looking back, the main cast of How I Met Your Mother are, by and large, terrible people. Except for Marshall Erickson from Minnesota, who did nothing wrong other than enable Lily’s worst behavior. Mind you, a lot of it is played up for the comedic factor, but there’s a lot of stuff in the show that strains credulity when it comes to the idea that anyone would be able to tolerate these people, let alone that they would be able to stay friends for all those years.

Lily has a borderline sociopathic tendency to interfere in the lives of other people, the highlight of which is our season four discovery that she’s been interfering in Ted’s relationships to drive out women she doesn’t approve of to the point of planting another woman’s earring in Ted’s bed. Robin dates half of the people in her primary friend group and still chooses to spend most of her time with them, even knowing that both of said exes put her on a pedestal. The less said about Barney the better.

But the worst one of all just might be Ted Moseby. Ted is the archetypal “nice guy” to an absolute fault, prone to selfishness and veering between the extremes of obsession with the women that become the objects of his affection and discarding the ones who he feels don’t live up to his standards while rarely (if ever) working on his own faults. We certainly see some growth over the course of the show, but even at the very end he almost leaves Barney and Robin’s wedding early to move to Chicago, only to wind up sticking around because he meets a girl. Now, the woman in question is the titular Mother, but at the time it is very much that Ted won’t stick around until the end of the wedding of two of his best friends but will stick around for a girl he just met.

The first problem with “Last Forever” is its pacing. Normally, when a finale tries to stuff in multiple big events in at the very end, it’s due to the show being cut short, so it feels especially weird because How I Met Your Mother actually got an extra season beyond what the creators had originally anticipated. This final season is essentially a season-long bottle episode, spent almost entirely during the weekend of Barney and Robin’s wedding and focusing on the leadup to both that event and the long-awaited meeting between Ted and future wife Tracy.

Ted and Tracy embracing in the bar after the news that Tracy is pregnant

I think I can somewhat understand what the series creators were going for with “Last Forever”, the idea that there is life after “happily ever after” and how life will take us in unexpected directions no matter how much we try to plan it. It’s just that when you have an entire season of a show—the final season mind you—focus on two events and proceed to then render both of those events meaningless before the end of your finale, it makes that entire season feel like a massive waste of time. We spend an entire season building up to Barney and Robin’s wedding and the two of them are divorced about fifteen minutes into the finale. We spend an entire season (and seemingly an entire show!) waiting to see Ted finally meet the future mother of his two children, and before the finale is over we find out that she has already died and Ted is now once again trying to pursue Robin.

The only characters who make it out of the finale (mostly) unscathed are Marshall and Lily, if only because their stories are little more than a continuation of their long-established stable, married life. The other three have virtually years of character development that get sacrificed at the altar of the Ted/Robin pairing. Following their divorce, Barney does a complete 180, regressing to his previous disgusting habits and giving us multiple sequences of him growing older while still chasing after hookups with women in their twenties.

These sequences alternate between creepy and pathetic, with an outburst of “if it wasn’t going to happen with Robin it’s not going to happen with anyone” thrown in for good measure just to remind us that Ted isn’t the only one who can put her on a pedestal. This all culminates in Barney unexpectedly having a daughter from a hookup gone wrong, which apparently is what he needs to finally change his ways and decide to do another overnight 180 and try to be the perfect dad.

Barney holding his newborn daughter

Robin, meanwhile, responds to their divorce by finally doing the healthy thing and moving on from the friend group that is now one-quarter ex-boyfriend and one-quarter ex-husband to focus on her career as a reporter like she had always wanted to do. But even this is colored by the revelation that she still has unresolved feelings for Ted, even after being married to one of his closest friends. We don’t really see much of her for the second half of the finale, only showing up when the whole group finally both reunites and reconciles at Ted’s wedding.

As for Ted, even though we watch him seemingly find happiness with Tracy, it all feels for naught with that final twist. Not only has the Mother been dead for more than five years now, but Ted wants to once again try and make things work with Robin. Even Ted’s own children call bullshit that his story has been about their mom this whole time, and despite giving him permission to go after Aunt Robin, said children are almost certainly going to need therapy after the ordeal of listening to their dad ramble on about how their mother was so wonderful and awesome and how happy they were together but also she’ll never compare to a woman who is so close to them that they know her as Aunt Robin. The show ends almost identically to the end of its first episode, with Ted standing outside Robin’s window with a blue French horn, with the implication that this time things will totally one hundred percent work out. Surely.

The show wants us to buy this as a grand, romantic gesture, but it comes off as something closer to insanity, of Ted making the same mistakes for the umpteenth time to once again try and make a relationship work where it hasn’t worked before on multiple occasions. On top of that, it’s an insult to both the character of the Mother and the premise of the entire show.

There’s never really a moment where we see Ted actually mourning his wife’s death (another issue that can in part be chalked up to the pacing and overall rushed feel of the finale), and while I don’t think this was what the creators intended it certainly feels like she ultimately gets reduced to the means to an end for Ted’s actual happy ending with Robin. The issue of having kids was always one of the biggest obstacles in the Ted/Robin relationship, and it almost feels like the Mother’s purpose is ultimately to solve that particular problem and then exit stage left. There’s a way where an ending like this could have been poignant or moving, like if it was about Ted wanting his kid’s permission to date again or wanting to introduce them to someone new in his life and wanting to make sure no one will ever take their mother’s place in his heart. But him wanting to go back to try and date Robin (again, Aunt Robin to these children) makes it seem like this is the pairing that he (and, on some level, the show’s universe) always wanted.

This is the message that How I Met Your Mother chooses to end with: that if you truly want to be with someone, you should never let them go or try and move on, not even if you get married and they get married or if you’ve tried dating multiple times and things haven’t worked out on multiple occasions. Don’t ever give up on her and maybe someday you might end up together years down the line. Think of how many times you hear about a woman having trouble with a guy she’s not interested in refusing to take “no” for an answer (or how many times you might have experienced it yourself), and you probably get some sense of why I find this to be an ugly, downright disgusting message for the show to wrap things up with.

Marshall and Lily anxiously looking at Ted taking a phone call

The worst part? It didn’t even have to be this way! There’s an alternate ending for the series that exists on DVDs of the series, implying that Barney and Robin eventually get back together and that the Mother is alive and well! Am I perhaps the architect of my own frustration, looking far too deeply into the implications of “attractive white people in a bar for nine seasons”? It’s very likely! But when a show is as big for as long as How I Met Your Mother was, there’s something to be said about what kind of message the show chooses to send!

Even now, almost ten years after it aired, I think the finale of How I Met Your Mother is still the worst final episode of any television show I’ve ever seen. As…poorly received as the finale of something like Dexter or Game of Thrones might have been, the truth is those final episodes were ones that came after what is universally acknowledged as a steady decline in quality for both of those shows. How I Met Your Mother might never have achieved the same highs as either of those shows, but not only did it never need to, it was solid, enjoyable, and for the time inoffensive television up until the very end. Even that final season, for as much as it was obviously a bloated victory lap with just about every random character we’d met showing up to Barney and Robin’s wedding seemingly just to have their story get wrapped up, was still up to the standards of previous seasons.

I don’t know what was going through the minds of series creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas when they were conceiving of “Last Forever.” Maybe they felt locked into a particular ending, having filmed the ending scenes with Ted’s children years earlier (never mind that whole alternate ending). Maybe they felt like they needed a final twist to cement the show’s place in the hearts and minds of its fans. Maybe they just really liked the Ted/Robin pairing and didn’t notice that the rest of us had moved on after about the third time. Whatever they were thinking, the end result is the same: years of goodwill for a show reduced to atoms in little over an hour, tearing down years of character development and basically shifting its entire universe to make sure one insufferable guy gets absolutely everything he ever wanted. It’s undoubtedly a terrible ending, but the more time goes on, the more I think it’s the ending the series deserves.

Goodbye, How I Met Your Mother. And quite frankly, good riddance.

Written by Timothy Glaraton

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *