27th of April: In Absentia

If all goes according to plan, WordPress will have posted this for me, as I am away this weekend. Fingers crossed. There are less links this week, because it’s Thursday when I am. Still, plenty of good stuff ahead – more variety than usual too!

First off – cheating on the song of the week, but I just wanted to share this because I was listening to Watch The Throne last night and it’s great, so here, have some Kanye (also because I don’t have an eyeroll of the week for you so this’ll compensate).

 

Also, before we get into it, I’d like to invite you all to comment under the blog on any of the articles that take your fancy – I try and race through it so don’t do too much discussion and stuff, and tend to only post articles I agree with, so criticism and recommendations of your own and stuff would be brilliant. I’d be delighted if this blog became a conversation piece not just a … can’t make the Mad Men reference work, sorry.

No subheadings this week either! It’s one of those ones on a vague continuum from serious to less so I think.

  • A pretty grim account of recent events in South Sudan to start with – it sounds pretty awful
  • Tony Blair delivered another daft speech this week (and probably got paid a fortune to do so). I don’t have much sympathy for the liberal interventionists, but Hopi Sen is the only one I don’t mind reading, and this is a good piece on how modern-Blair seems to have abandoned his Chicago-speech self.
  • Good interview with James Fearon, civil war expert, on why Ukraine isn’t heading towards civil war (phew) (also, first link from the “future of online news” there – exciting!
  • Drone panic stories are usually kind of dull, but this is a good line-by-line dissection of how the New York Times reported a recent drone campaign in Yemen.
  • A good piece on Telegraph Blogs that isn’t by Tom Chivers! *shock* In all seriousness, this piece on why the housing crisis is bad from a conservative point of view too is interesting
  • This is an interesting piece on non-Muslim foreign fighters in Syria
  • Two good pieces on different kinds of “regeneration”. This one is by Dan Hancox, who wrote the last gentrification piece I linked, about the selling off of a great big chunk of East London to a murkey Chinese company, and this one about the pacification plan in Rio de Janeiro. Image
  • While I’ve generally been quite good at not spamming you with all the dozens of Game of Thrones/Mad Men articles I read from Monday-Tuesday, this one is very good on how Game of Thrones uses and abuses the depiction of sexual violence against female characters in light of Sunday’s episode
  • Two good articles from stavvers – one on the endless tedious “Can you be a feminist and x” pieces, normally on Comment is Free, and one on enjoying politically dubious stuff
  • This is funny on a couple of recent music videos by Avril Lavigne and Lily Allen. Also important because I still can’t get over Allen calling her new album Sheezus. It’s an outrage. Also the idea of her “lolling” (ugh) at Lady Gaga who outclasses her all round is laughable.
  • Nice column from Eva Wiseman
  • This excerpt from Victoria Coren Mitchell’s (still get an “aww” feeling whenever I remember they’re married) autobiography is really sweet – prompted me to take advantage of Amazon’s Daily Deal on the full thing, so it worked.
  • Also, for the Game of Thrones fans, this is fun.
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20th of April: The Easter Reading

Semana Santa here, which has meant much disruption, watching the first season of Rick and Morty (surprisingly good) and House of Cards (surprisingly “meh”), lots of video-games, and luckily for you, not much commuting – so not much reading. Nevertheless, some great Easter reading for you to enjoy in a chocolate-egg induced coma this afternoon.

First off, song of the week. I loved the live version of this off the Shine a Light live album, but this is a really nice cover of the Stones’ “You Got The Silver” by Susan Tedeschi.

 

IR and Security Stuff

  • Couple of interesting pieces on the less-noticed dimensions of Russian power at the moment. One on their very skilled diplomatic corps, and one on Putin’s use of ‘soft power’
  • Meanwhile, in the endless void of US foreign policy talk, a succinct outline by Stephen Walt of why Realists are currently the doves in US politics, and a dismissal from Michael Cohen of the “America in retreat” trope
  • On which note, a provocative proposal at War on the Rocks for a more forward-thinking policy on Korea – aiming towards reunification and not just disarmament

Assorted Serious Stuff

  • This is a recent, interesting piece on Primeiro Comando da Capital, the scarily powerful gang from Sao Paulo. This Vanity Fair one is older – long – but very worth reading; the history of the P.C.C is like something out of The Wire.
  • Following the piece on abortion in Brazil last week, this is an interesting investigation into the economic and cultural factors that explain 82 percent of babies being born by Caesarean there
  • Simon Jenkins is a bit of a broken record, but he’s pretty interesting on issues of architectural heritage, so his criticism of what he calls “UNESCO’s ruin fetishism” and how it might affect Syria is intriguing
  • Coincidentally the first of two pieces by The Independent’s Archie Bland, this one on a period of panic a few years back about London’s “knife crime epidemic”
  • By now you’ll have seen this powerful piece on violence against women at the Guardian – so in order to contribute something, here is the ever-thoughtful Musa Okwonga’s reaction to it
  • An interesting post by Jay Ulfedler on the difficulties of predicting future outbreaks of mass atrocities, specifically in Rwanda, even twenty years later.
  • Ending a bit of a dour run of pieces this week with this mildly uplifting account of a less-acknowledged benefit war has brought to society (beyond the jet engine)*
  • Interesting, tongue-in-cheek post by Charlie Satow assessing Random Control Trials in development and their drawbacks. Also he’s fundraising for charity work he’s doing this summer if you’re still inclined to support him after reading this post

Assorted Culture Stuff

  • Second Archie Bland piece here – fun on Angus Steakhouses**
  • New topic! Never linked to a comic-based thing, but this is very good, and despite being about the portrayal of sexuality in comics, has a lot to say about it in other mediums
  • Interesting long piece on Eminem, who I no longer have much time for, and how far/whether he fits into the history of “black” music being appropriated by a white industrymorrowind
  • Another long one, this a very nicely-written essay on game inventories and their mechanics, intercut with a story of a teenage hike
  • Moving piece on motherhood sparked by the game Creatures, which I had entirely forgotten
  • The return of Game of Thrones and its weddings inevitably means another cycle of tedious spoiler debates and thinkpieces***. Don’t fully agree with this one, but it’s funny.
  • Finally, a mildly amusing Radio 1 parody song featuring none other than Sophie Turner, Sansa Stark. Well, the host is a knob, but she sings very well and dances amusingly, so.

 

It’s what you’ve all been waiting for, isn’t it? Who gets the Kanye West eye-roll this week?

I almost considered giving this one a pass because I’m pretty sure I’ve snarked about General (Armchair Regiment, First Class) Sunny Hundal being daft before but the notion of NATO forces “getting involved” in Ukraine is just too hilarious (and terrifying). It’s bad, and he should feel the full force of this Kanye West eye roll.

ImageThat’s all folks! Happy Easter, and have a good week!

*admittedly it’s basically Tilly’s “war made the state and the state made war” thing, but…

**also sounds wildly inferior to Buffalo Grill, one of Ferney’s few restaurants, so the host of many a meal, if only because no free salad.

***my take, for the record; I appreciate that if you’re on Facebook or Twitter or anywhere on the Internet the morning after an episode of Game of Thrones, you’ll get spoiled, and that’s kind of on you. But I don’t buy the “spoilers are fine because of this study that showed you enjoy it more” thing and people need to stop quoting that dull study

13th of April: Race, Russia, and Reproductive Rights

And a bunch of other stuff, but I couldn’t resist the alliteration.

OK, first off, I was planning to make the “song of the week” thing a regular feature and then forgot about it, so good job there. Basic idea from here onwards will be a pick of my most played of the week, thus keeping it in the “week in review” theme. This week’s song is by Aloe Blacc, who when he came up in a Spotify mix, I thought was really cool and was confused by never having heard of him, which made me feel like a bit of a cutting edge chap. Turns out he’s well known so that just makes me a knob. Anyway it’s a nice song.

 

Serious Stuff

  • Few good articles on race in America here (I’m sure this is the most-used phrase on this blog). One from Jamelle Bouie commenting on the Jonathan Chait/Ta-Nehisi Coates debate currently ongoing (great entry from Coates here). One , very sad, at Buzzfeed about Jordan Davis, the teenager who got murdered for listening to his music too loud last year. Finally, this is really worth reading on a project to rehabilitate people released from prison (mostly for drug-related offences) in West Baltimore (there is, of course, a reference to The Wire).
  • In case there’s any boring “cowardly liberals capitulating to Islam” pieces (*cough*Cohen*cough*) circulating after the Brandeis/Ali thing, this is good on the big problems with the narrative people like Ali push.
  • If you can overlook the classic John Schindler condescension this is an interesting, if dispiriting, take on the trajectory of Russian foreign policy since the fall of the USSR
  • An interesting excerpt on the history of mercenaries in Africa and beyond – cites a book I cited in an essay last year which is mildly exciting.
  • Good review of the Operation Unified Protector (Libya 2011*)  – very balanced while still agreeing with me
  • Grim account of one woman’s experience with Brazil’s terrible abortion restrictions. Upsetting stuff, but worth reading.
  • Dispiriting tract on the decline of London here.
  • Interesting blog on how people interact with Twitter “celebrities” – it was uncomfortable reading for me because I’m sure I’ve done at least half of the things the author criticises.
  • There was a big fuss about the “France bans email” story – here’s a dismantling of it**

Culture Stuff

  • Couple of good cinema-ish pieces – one on the prevalence of racist stereotypes in kid’s animations (the bit about the casting in Rio is particularly baffling), and one on the horror that is going to the cinema for some films as an adult, which I recognise fully. At least the author has a girlfriend to go with.
  • Very good defence of Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones – she seems to be a particular victim of the definitely sexist negative response people have to female characters
  • This is a good takedown of Macklemore’s “Same Love”. There was a lot of hilarious backlash to him around the time of the Grammys***, so it was nice to revisit the reasons behind it.
  • It’s Batman’s 75th anniversary and one of the creaters of Batman: The Animated Series released a lovely little short cartoon to mark the occasion. Some wonderful images.
  • Two great Mad Men pieces. One from Sean Collins on the self-destruction that he predicts from Season 7, and one Buzzfeed recap of some of the gorgeous shots the show has given us over the years ****. Also this wonderful blaxploitation version of Mad Men is great.

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. What has Kanye bestowed an eye-roll on this week?

Unfortunately, it’s a Clive Martin piece. I recommended him a couple of weeks ago, but this week he wrote a pretty awful piece on Why He Won’t Be Watching Game of Thrones. For the most part, between the mocking pictures of cosplayers, and the constant sneering at fantasy fans and works (including digs at both LOTR and Muse, which just…), it just reads as a nasty bullying piece written from a position of complete ignorance. For all these crimes and also for being middlingly amusing, I bestow upon it a full Kanye eye-roll.

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As an addendum to the Kanye eye-roll feature, I think I’m going to regularly share examples of better versions of the criticised pieces. Part of me wants to accompany them with a second, approving-Kanye gif, but that does just lead down a dark path of this blog being expressed solely in pictures of Kanye West, so I’ll refrain.

A great example of why sensitive discussions of problematic aspects of popular genre works are generally better when they come from the inside – A Song of Ice and Fire: Misogynist or Feminist?”. It’s based on the books, but looks at the show and is pretty spoiler-free to my eyes. It’s just more interesting than the Vice piece.

With that, I leave you for another week. Have a good one, all.

PS: As of this evening, Game of Thrones and Mad Men will be airing regularly so expect an increase in the amount of links to stuff relating to those two. Sorry not sorry. I promise not to link to too many episode recaps though.

PPS: Also, a postscript to the bittersweet success that was the Last Forever review. This afternoon, while too hungover to move, I finished my rewatch of the ninth season of How I Met Your Mother (seriously, I watched about twelve episodes almost back-to-back – I felt myself recover as the wedding weekend progressed). The season as a whole held up and wasn’t ruined. The finale itself was also much better on a second viewing, partly because I knew what to expect, I think, so took it on its own terms. I definitely cried more than I had the first time round – still less than expected. I’m going to miss that fucking program.

*what a dick. Sorry

**I like her columns, but I think it’s got to be a bad sign when people cite a Lucy Mangan column as the basis for an economics story

***also I listened to The Heist again this week – he’s fucking cringeworthy at times. ‘Neon Cathedral’ is great though,

****though I could have done without “lusty shot of Joan’s bum” being one of them.

6th of April: Pandering

So this week saw the publication of my first original piece of writing in ages, which happened to be my most successful week in terms of views and visitors and stuff*. So, in the name of artistic integrity, logical decisions and wisdom, I’m shamelessly flipping the usual order to emphasise the TV-related links this week, and there are more of them than usual to emphasise the pandering.

TV and other Culture stuff

  • First off, I wrote a thing. In two halves. I hope I’ll come round on the How I Met Your Mother finale eventually, but I mostly still stand by what I wrote the day after.
  • Tying up a few loose ends – I provided a bunch of links in the end of the second post, an am not sure really whether to edit these in or just leave them here. Still, Sepinwall revisited his review and clarified stuff here, and, most importantly, FILM CRIT HULK wrote a defence of the finale, with which I disagree, but it is absolutely worth reading because it’s HULK.
  • This is good on The Walking Dead TV show – it captures that ambiguity of it normally being a bit shit and disappointing but still making you want to watch it. Fortunately, it is gone for the summer, and Mad Men and Game of Thrones are almost here, so all is well.
  • On that note, this is a funny “Tom Phillips photoshops a bunch of websites” Buzzfeed on Game of Thrones and this is a funny, but obviously spoiler-filled supercut of all the deaths in the series so far.
  • This is cool on the new Captain America film which I’m resigned to missing in the cinemas, and the media reaction to Black Widow’s role in it. Says a lot about responses to female characters.
  • A compilation of gifs of Kanye overlaid with inspiring quotes from his songs. Worth it just because it links to the New Workout Plan video, which is utterly, beautifully, baffling.
  • This is a very thoughtful Nathan Jurgenson piece on the nature of privacy today. Much better than most of the reactionary dross we get on this issue.

Serious stuff again

  • After the municipal elections in France, Hollande reshuffled his cabinet. Here are two articles on this from my department’s Philippe Marliere** , one in French, one in English. He isn’t keen. This is also good on the subject.
  • This week in “Gabriel plugs his friends”, a nice travel-related piece on why everything is disappointing (but still probably worth doing anyway), and a piece about Canada’s relationship to peacekeeping (what I helped edit) here.
  • This is cool on driverless cars and the different visions of future they imply
  • This is depressing on stop-and-frisk laws in the US. Also a different perspective – it’s by the white father of a black son
  • Novara had David Harvey on the show this week (!) – here, one of the hosts elaborates on some of his thoughts on Marxism and concrete political projects. The actual episode is linked in the blog.
  • Last week*** was the anniversary of the coup d’etat of 1964 in Brazil. So here’s a timeline (Portuguese) from BBC Brasil, and here is a good piece from Mauricio Savarese emphasising how far we’ve come.

Finally, as promised, the Kanye-eye-roll-worthy piece of the week is….

This shit. Sensationalised, inaccurate, over-dramatic nonsense that obscures the real issues with its awfulness – and Buzzfeed had the cheek to tag it as in-depth for a while. I bestow upon it the Kanye-eye-roll gif of bad articles.

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Luckily, there’s a good piece in the Folha de Sao Paulo (English) here that actually explains the issues with the UPP and favela occupations.

*making it a two-parter was a bit of an evil genius move

**I considered “my old professor”, “my friend” “my main man” here and settled on this description as acceptably smug while still being accurate

***as I shamefully had to be reminded by my Mum

Last Forever: Review

In hindsight, I’m still not sure whether I would have been impossible to please with this episode or not. It’s the last of 216 episodes of a show I really care about, and while I came to it late, it’s still a three-year investment. On the other hand, as I said in the previous post, the ninth season had already ticked all the boxes for me. It left the characters in satisfying places. The Mother was wonderful. It seemed almost impossible for them to actually fuck it up.

Almost impossible, obviously. Because they really did. I should know better than to become a screaming fanboy as I bear down on my 21st birthday but Jesus fuck did they blow it.

The dominant theory I’ve read is that for whatever reason, the writers felt hemmed in by their original vision for the show, where Ted ended up with Robin despite the “That’s how I met your Aunt Robin” line at the end of the pilot. Alan Sepinwall has a plausible, if infuriating, account in his delightfully angry review:

They had a plan. They were going to stick to that plan. They would take the title literally, introduce the Mother at the very end, then kill her off to clear the way for the Ted/Robin coupling everyone really wanted.

I’m going to stick with the “how” of their fucking it up completely for a second, and then circle back round to the “why” and the “what if”.

Remember how I said everything was resolved and satisfied for all the characters except Ted, although we knew him and the Mother were wonderful together, so all I needed was a double episode of him and the Mother being cute and happy?

Fine, you can’t always get what you want. If they had wanted to commit to killing the Mother off, then fine, that’s a bittersweet ending, and I’ll allow it for having produced The Time Travellers episode.

However, do you remember how I also said that Barney’s development was the most satisfying character work the show has ever done, and how nice it was to have him get a fully earned resolution and happy ending in “End of the Aisle”?

Replacing all the cute happy fuzzy stuff I wanted with a 35-minute rollback of all said development and a five-minute condensed retread? No. Obviously, Barney and his daughter was absolutely beautiful and NPH killed it. Obviously, any rewrite I make up to soothe the pain has to include that moment because it was fucking wonderful. Daddy’s home indeed.

Even if it wasn’t such a travesty of a decision on its own merits, the fact that they had to go over so much ground with Barney to get him basically back to where he was at the start of the episode left them with about twenty  minutes for all the rest. You know, the How I Met Your fucking Mother bit. I’m not one of those people who spent the whole series complaining that “lol has he still not met the mother wtf” because brain cells and stuff*. This, again, could have been OK. Over the years, Barney had seemed almost a co-lead character with Ted, so if they felt like dedicating more of the finale to him, then fine. That left enough time for Ted to meet the mother and have plenty of cute little moments going forward.

What it didn’t leave time for, unfortunately, was a bleak little vignette on how friends grow apart, how loved ones die, and how later in life, if pursuing your career has made you a lonely tragedy of a woman** you can always just end up with someone you had repeatedly decided wasn’t right for you.

I’ve seen lots of people point out that this isn’t an unrealistic or outrageous conclusion, and I think they’re sort of right. Just because the Mother was “the one”, doesn’t mean there would be no other “one”. Just because the Barney-Robin marriage seemed perfect, doesn’t mean it was perfect for ever. People do die, and it is sad. This is all very true. Unfortunately, this episode didn’t do enough to make this work.

Tonally, it was strange. So fucking bleak. It might have been the time of day, or my general mood, but the last two episodes felt bleak and depressing in a way that doesn’t really gel with what HIMYM usually is. Obviously, it’s dipped into moving, borderline maudlin territory before – including with Robin’s infertility discovery and acceptance of no kids in “Symphony of Illumination”. But this felt like something else entirely.

Structurally, it was a fucking disaster, which is particularly bad for a series which has always been so masterful with its structure. We didn’t see the mother’s funeral, her gravestone, nothing. The kids tell us six years have passed in between her death and the story being told, so there’s obviously been an appropriate process of grieving or whatever, but for the audience, the whiplash of:

“she got sick and died” 😦

“yo dad we know why you’re telling us all this, go ask out Aunt Robin” 😀

“sure?”

“yeah lol why not” 😀

Was baffling. We’ve seen two scenes of Ted being sad about the Mother dying – one was in Season Eight, and one was three episodes ago. Honestly, I wasn’t keen on them killing the mother, but I’m sure they could have pulled off a moving look at what it would mean for Ted to lose the One and made it satisfying. If they had fucking tried. My sister pointed out that we didn’t even see the group reacting to her death, when they had been friends for eleven years. She was dismissed so cheaply.

To be honest, I’m not sure if the committed auteur vision Sepinwall proposes is more or less irritating – the idea that they decided to write themselves out of the corner as a challenge (read his review for the actual argument). OULIPO, 22’2s – these are valid instances of constraints producing improved art. This? Todd VanDerWerff suggests that fundamentally, they weren’t good enough to rise to the challenge:

The ultimate takeaway from the final season is that series creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas were at once too good and not good enough to tell the story they ultimately wanted to tell.

As annoying an explanation as it is, I don’t really see another. The notion that they would rather fuck everything up than sacrifice 60 seconds of footage of Lyndsey Fonseca and the other kid looking the right age*** is almost too implausible.

The only other explanation would be some sort of network pressure, or maybe demonic possession? Because the last episodes of the season and the season leading up to it seem fundamentally at odds. You could probably argue convincingly for either of them representing the true spirit of the series as a whole, but a 22-episode dissection of why Ted and Robin aren’t meant to be, why the Mother and Ted are perfect for each other and have totally earned this happiness and a 40-minute look at how life carries on after the “end” and that’s OK and happiness and love are still worthwhile even if short-lived are both valid things, but they’re different things.

The ending we got was not what the season had set up. I would rather they fixed the ending, but I’d be intrigued by an alternative season nine that actually took the time to make all of the developments they placed in the finale work and feel earned. It’d be a bit of a dark turn, but I’m convinced they could make it bittersweet and nice even if the mother had died halfway through the season. Hell, they could even have sold me on Robin/Ted again if they hadn’t just spent 22 episodes shooing that possibility away.

As it stands, though, I’m currently watching season nine again and all I can think when I see the Mother being great, I see Ted trying to let Robin go, Barney and Robin trying to make it work, is that it’s all in vain, because it’ll be undone in the space of forty minutes.

When I remember the real Scrubs finale****, all I really remember is the two beautiful scenes that tie up JD’s character arcs beautifully. When I remember the Frasier finale, all I really remember is the beautiful transition from Frasier saying his goodbyes to his family and friends to him saying goodbye, in essence, to the show.

Now, when I remember the HIMYM finale, all I’ll remember is those few minutes of horror as they crowbarred their preferred resolution into being. And that’s a damn shame.

 

Reading List, because old habits die hard

At the AVClub, Donna Bowman has been doing the weekly recaps for HIMYM since the start. Her review of the finale is more positive. She also wrote a nice retrospective the day before it dropped. Meanwhile, Editor Todd VanDerWerff has a couple of good pieces that acknowledge the horror while trying to understand what led to them.

Alan Sepinwall provides the afore-mentioned account of what led the writers to fuck it up, but still gives a no-holds barred beatdown to the episode and it’s delightful to read.

Other good reviews: Jezebel, NPR, Time.
*it also helps that I came to it during the sixth season and caught up. I concede that if I had been watching since 2005 I may have grown more impatient.

**great politics there, HIMYM

***which Sepinwall skewers perfectly:

Which led to the most awkward interaction of past and present footage since Tony Soprano’s final conversation with his mother.

****ie: disregarding the season with James Franco’s annoying brother. Also, this is a rhetorical device more than anything. I have watched that episode so many times that I’m not far off being able to list the main narrative beats it hits. Still, the point stands, if less elegantly – I have no desire to watch “Last Forever” again.

PS: Wanted to preserve the neat ending, but I feel like some of the successes of the finale have to be acknowledged, just not in the main body because that would add nuance to my rant. So; Father Barney was great, every single scene with Ted and the Mother together was great, Ted’s goodbyes were lovely, I really liked that they got a group shot of them in the booth to echo the finale, Lily’s white whale costume was ridiculous and great, “be cool lady, damn” was the best line, and that little photo-montage before the credits was really sweet, if horrifying. Though I’m not sure if I can really credit the show with that so much as the crushing passage of time and mortality.

Last Forever: Prologue to a Review

I expect the true extent of how disappointed I was by the last episode of How I Met Your Mother will only reveal itself completely as I make my way through watching the final season again. For most of the past three years, I’ve watched repeats of HIMYM on E4, on the laptop while drunk, tired, hungover, bored, or just short of something to watch with lunch. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the first seven seasons at least twice over – for quite a few episodes it’s probably closer to three or four times.

See, my plan had been to hold off on watching the final seasons again so that I could go back through them all after the finale and appreciate it in one bittersweet weekend. I mostly stuck to that plan – though I’ve watched How Your Mother Met Me twice, and that song at the end repeatedly because all the logic in the world can’t get in the way of just how good Cristin Miloti was.

Unfortunately, that’ll probably backfire on me. I don’t disagree with what Todd Van Der Weff says here

Can a bad finale ruin a whole series? The popular (and proper) answer to this is no. Any TV show worth its salt understands that the age of endless Internet chatter about TV series overvalues endings in the grand scheme of things. The pleasure—particularly in a sitcom—is all in the journey. And that should be more than true for How I Met Your Mother, a series that was all about how the journey turns you into the person who is ultimately worthy of love when the right person finally lands in your life.

And indeed, to try and put it all out of my mind, I watched a couple of Season 6 episodes before bed this morning and they held up. I’m sure that generally, HIMYM is safe on my “shows that you can almost recite but you still keep watching” shelf for years to come. The final season though? Maybe not so much.

In the lead-up to the ninth season, when the “24 episodes set over one weekend” structure was announced, I was rare among my friends in being generally excited for it. Like Donna Bowman , I had faith in the program being able to pull it off:

We’re likely to see some of both this season, but it’s thrilling that the show is taking this kind of chance with structure. Based on its track record, I’m betting that the net payoff will be entirely satisfactory.

Until last week, I felt vindicated in this. There were mediocre episodes, and some of it felt like stalling, but no more so than in any of the recent seasons – the “boldness” of the structure just made them more vulnerable to criticism. Still, it was obvious that this wasn’t going to become a season of 24 HIMYM’s distinguishing feature is how much it fucks about with time, structure, and story-telling in a way that would be dickishly meta if it weren’t also so funny and well-done.

As I say, until last week, this was brilliantly handled. Having Ted “meet” the Mother in the second episode, a year after the finale, was inspired, and almost all of the jumps forward to them as a couple were delightful highlights. It undercut the tragedy of Ted’s interactions with the promise that he would find happiness within a couple of nights. Donna Bowman again:

This character has been waiting for “the one” since the pilot, and as his friends all found their futures, he has grown more convinced that his chance for love has slipped away. He’s become a supporting character in his own tale, simmering with despair that can, at any moment, slide into desperation.[…] The depth and emotional heft of those remaining possibilities arises from that oldest of all narrative devices: dramatic irony. We know what the character does not, so we watch in hope and fear as he plays out his role in a state of ignorance placing him in the path of dangers invisible to him, but obvious to us.

Over the course of the season, it tied everything up. The final slaps were handed out. They tied up running gags I didn’t even realise I wanted tied up – I cheered when Barney’s job was explained. The guest stars were given their moment in the spotlight. Marshall and Lily made it work, and while having Marshall spend half the season getting back together with the main cast (I’m not clear on whether this was an unforced error – I understand he was shooting a film recently so maybe they just couldn’t get him on set) was a bit of a misstep, they’re the only lead characters I have no overall issues with.* They even tied up the love triangle aspect of the series, that occasionally veered towards the frustrating, rather well. I never really bought Barney and Robin as a couple, but the writers certainly spent the 22 episodes of the season doing their best to make it work, and by the time Robin walked up the aisle, I was happy with the pairing.

They resolved the Ted-Robin relationship well too (that god-awful CGI/Atomic Kitten scene aside). He let her go again, except this time, put his money where its mouth is, and it was nice.

And Barney promised to be honest and I bought it. They started adding depth and development to the one-note gag that was Barney Stinson around season three or four as far as I recall, and in the hands of the consistently wonderful Neil Patrick Harris, it’s been some of the best stuff the show has ever done – the Barney’s father arc would be excellent even if it didn’t feature Dick Solomon as the father. When he gets his happy ending with Robin in “End of the Aisle”, it feels completely earned. I left that episode utterly satisfied with how the writers had resolved every arc except the titular “How I Met Your Mother”, and was looking forward to an indulgent, sweet 45 minutes of Josh Radnor and Cristin Milioti being cute together. I was pretty resigned to them killing the mother off at some point, but still had a slim hope that they’d pull a lame miracle cure bait-and-switch.

Good lord was I a fool.

Part Two up here.

*Lily was consistently brilliant this season, from “Thank You Linus” to that whale costume.