How I Met Your Mother’s Corpse

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the finale of How I Met Your Mother.

Warning: This post also contains me taking a mediocre TV show far, far too seriously, and writing way more about it than is sensible or healthy.

I thought I was done being affected by sitcoms. I still enjoy them, but I’ve not really felt moved by one since I binged on season 2 and 3 of The Office USA, years ago. Nevertheless, the final episode of How I Met Your Mother managed to move me, albeit not  in the way I expected, or it seemed to intend. The reaction elsewhere on the web has been… mixed, to say the least, and while I’d love to offer a contrarian opinion and say it was a triumph, I can’t. Frankly, I hated it.

Now, there are already people saying that the very fact that it was controversial proves it was a success. It’s better to inspire love and hate than indifference, right? Well, maybe, but to end nine years of television with a show that most of your fans loathe seems a pyrrhic victory at best. I watched the finale with an unpleasant mixture of cringing discomfort and accumulating mortification, and unfortunately that’s likely to be my lasting memory of the show, not the often decent laughs it provided on the journey there.

Despite its hour long running time, the finale felt rushed and incoherent. Having spent an entire season dragging-out Barney and Robin’s wedding, the show dispensed with their marriage in a matter of minutes, before charging through the next few years with indecent haste. By the time the divorced Robin was getting weepy over Ted at a Halloween party, it was painfully obvious where the story was going, and it was just a matter of watching it play out through gritted teeth.

Instead of a sweet send-off, high drama, or a bittersweet farewell, the episode had the feeling of a death march. Of a show lurching step by step towards an ending creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays decided long ago, and refused to budge from no matter what. And as it lurched, it stepped over the corpse of its own fans goodwill. Over the corpse of several seasons’ worth of character development for Barney, Robin and Ted. And finally, most offensively of all, over the corpse of the Mother herself, who had to die so Ted could realise his enduring desire for his best friend’s ex-wife. Ick.

The decision to make the Mother a semi-regular character for the final season was a brave one, and well rewarded by the casting of Cristin Milioti who did a wonderful job of making solid a character who for years had only been a plot device. But Tracey McConnell was not well served by what should have been her story as much as Ted’s. In the end she was just another road bump in Ted’s journey to reenact the ending of Definitely Maybe. Six years deceased, and her widowed husband can’t even tell their children the story of how they met without making it all about his ex-girlfriend. Not they seem to mourn her any more than he does, choosing only to encourage him to get out there and start hitting on his ex again.

And that was where How I Met Your Mother Ended, with Ted back at Robin’s window, just as in the pilot, clutching a blue french horn. Circularity can be a powerful theme in fiction, but here it felt like arrested development. Like hack writers trying to wrap things up with meaning, only to end up squandering what meaning they had managed to accrue over the years. The show seemed to want to be about the highs and lows of lives well-lived, but instead it ended like a ghoulish, nihilist nightmare: People fall in love and get married, but then they settle into miserable middle age in jobs they hate, or get divorced and impregnate nameless women. People have careers and become famous and leave behind their husbands and friends, but are never happy. People get sick and die, and nobody cares, not their children, and not their husband, who is more interested in jumping back into bed with his ex.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. I didn’t like this episode of television. Not in a love-to-hate way. Not in a let-debate-its-merits-forever way. But in the way that it was gross, offensive nonsense, horribly misjudged in every respect. The only silver lining is that I’m not alone in this opinion, and so the creators are likely to spend the next few years having to try and defend and justify it to all and sundry. If that’s the kind of controversial finale they were going for, then mission accomplished, I suppose.

Anyway, Game of Thrones is back next week. I suspect a disappointing end to an average sitcom will be long forgotten by the time first bars of that theme music blare out. Hell yeah.