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.