Monday, April 7, 2014

How I Met Your Series Finale

Hi there! Welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You and no, I have no idea what the damn pineapple was doing there! 

I'm Dave-El and today we mark the one week anniversary of the end of How I Met Your Mother, the long running, ground breaking sitcom that aired Mondays on CBS. In the intervening days, we have tried to deal with our loss, find words for our grief, search for meaning in what we lost and embrace the joy of what we gained in our time together.  




Sorry about that. 

To be honest, I'm...okay...with the series finale of HIMYM. There are some brutally honest moments in the finale that the producers deserve some considerable credit for daring to show. The gang does not stay together. Love doesn't work out exactly the way we hope. Life doesn't go just like we plan. 

By the way if you care about HIMYM but have not seen the finale and you've read this far, screw it! I'm gonna talk about the finale. This is your only warning.

In many ways, I found the series finale of HIMYM a very successful wrap up of all that began in the pilot 9 years ago. 

The problem is stuff has happened since the pilot, most notably the last 3 seasons. Viewed in that perspective, I can see how the series finale of HIMYM could be seen as a unmitigated slap in the face. 

Two things we knew early on: 
1) Ted loved Robin.
2) Robin was not the mother. 

In the year 2030, Ted is telling his kids about how he met their mother but the first story out the gate is how he met "their Aunt Robin". The rest of the stories involve Robin and the relationships of Ted's gang of friends. The "mother" of the title doesn't show up in Ted's narrative until 9/10ths of the story has been told. It's clear that the title of the show aside, this is not about how Ted meets his kids' mother. There's a larger story to be told. 

By the time we get to the finale, we have met the mother. Her name is Traci and she is adorkably beautiful and sweet and just perfect for Ted and Ted is just perfect for her. They fall in love and they start a family. But there's a shadow over all this. It's something that fans suspected even before we saw Traci for the first time, buying a train ticket to Farhampton. It was a seed of an idea that was planted back in the first episode. 

Why is Ted telling this story to his kids?

The suspicion was that he was telling this story because, by the year 2030, their mother is dead. Of course, we held out hope for another alternative. After all, the kids seem more put out than anything by Dad's recitation of his story; their behavior did not seem in step with grief stricken kids who might actually want to hold on to any story about their lost mother. 

Nope, she's dead. And as we learn from the kids in 2030, she's been dead for six years. And they call him out for the real purpose of the story: it was the story about Robin and how Ted still feels about her. And the kids are OK with that. Their dad needs to move on.

If you look at the finale as a direct link to the pilot, it makes sense. Why is Ted telling this story? Why is he telling it this way? Ted and Robin connect but they're not ready for each other. Ted's still too immature and needy. Robin's still searching for her identity. Time leads them to other people, other choices. For Robin, she marries Barney but sadly it ends in divorce. For Ted, he finds Traci and she is everything to him; but then she becomes sick and dies. Love and joy hand in hand with pain and loss. Messy, just like life. But these experiences have informed both Ted and Robin and shaped them, not into different people but wiser versions of who they are. 

The problem here is that there's a bunch of stuff between the pilot and the finale. The last few years have invested a lot of time and energy in convincing us that the story of Ted and Robin as a couple was done. Barney and Robin was the new reality, the future. Whatever feelings Ted had for Robin, he had, with considerable effort, let her go. His true love was still out there for him, the woman he would settle down with and have a family. 

The finale's closing scene, Ted on the street below Robin's apartment, blue french horn in hand, is a validation of the foundation laid in episode one. It is also a repudiation of the last three years of the show. And there in lies the root of the consternation of the finale, the dichotomy that the finale was perfectly right AND perfectly wrong. 

Look at Barney in the finale, an aging lothario still playing out ridiculous pick up schemes from his overstuffed "playbook". This is the logical destiny of the younger man we met in season one. But the writers and producers expended considerably large quantities of nails sealing shut that particular coffin with his romance and engagement to Robin. Then Robin and Barney get divorced and out comes a new playbook. Barney's pursuit of new levels of legen...wait for it!...dary awesomeness, funny in the beginning of the series was now desperate and sad in the finale, made more so by having watched Barney prove that he could be a better person for the past few seasons. Of course, the writers might argue that's the whole idea. Great, I'm on board with that. But Barney's behavior in the finale is not the culmination of a journey but a regression only to whiplash back to the journey when Barney holds his baby daughter for the first time. Damn, if I had functioning tear ducts, that would've moved me to tears. 

In the end if I had to give an either/or "thumbs up" or "thumbs down", I will default to a "thumbs up". A series finale is a tricky thing to pull off without the added weight of the twisted time structure How I Met Your Mother was built on. Expectations for the last episode of a series are insanely high. If nothing else, for good or ill, the series finale of HIMYM made us examine WHY we feel the way we do. 

It made us think. 


Last week, another ending at CBS became a subject of conversation: the announcement by David Letterman that he's stepping down as host of the Late Show in 2015. In this space next week, I post some thoughts about Letterman and his place in my pop culture history. 

Until next time, be good to one another.

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