How I Met Your Mother was a cult television classic for nine years, so how did the final episode anger so many diehard fans?
It’s been five years (and some months) since millions of people around the world watched Ted Mosby finally finish the story about how he met the mother to his two children. It was a series that triumphed comedy and taught young adults about love between friends and soulmates. But the ending left a sour note for a lot of viewers still to this day. So was it a massive failure, or a perfect depiction of reality? Let me sit you down, and tell you the story of the How I Met Your Mother finale.
(Yes, this is something different to the usual Reality TV content you’ll find here! But I might talk about scripted television from time to time, and toss it into the miscellaneous category!)
SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t watched the series finale, or the series in general, there are massive spoilers ahead so beware!
THE SERIES & ENDING
How I Met Your Mother began airing in 2005 and ran for nine years and as many seasons until 2014. It surrounded the character Ted Mosby (played by Josh Radnor), who in 2030 tells his two kids the long journey and story of how he met their mother, beginning in 2005. He is joined on the quest with his best friend and college roomate, Marshall Eriksen (Jason Segel), who dates and eventually marries his college sweetheart, Lily Aldrin (Alyson Hannigan). Crashing in on the trio is Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris), a businessman and womaniser who acts as Ted’s self proclaimed best friend and ‘wing man’.
During the pilot, Ted meets Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders), and instantly believes she might just be the one. The two hit it off and after their first date, a missed opportunity for a first kiss, and a whole blue french horn thing, Ted and Robin finally embrace. But Ted accidentally tells Robin he loves her, leaving a rather awkward exchange between the two about their future together as a couple. All of this leads to him telling his kids that this part of the story is how he actually met their Aunt Robin, and not their mother.
Throughout the series, Ted battles relationship after relationship in search of the one. Marshall and Lily act as the ‘perfect couple’, the relationship Ted dreams of having but just can’t find. Ted and Robin do eventually date, and time after time their spark flickers and fades, with Ted consistently having this lingering romantic connection to her throughout the entire series despite the overstated fact that Robin and Ted as a couple just do not work. Robin does however eventually date Barney, and while they have their own mishaps and triumphs, the final season sees Barney finally ceasing his womanising ways and committing to marriage with Robin.
Ted is left single out of the five, and while the viewers are introduced to the mother at the end of the penultimate season (season eight), Ted and the mother do finally meet near the end of the final episode.
Now this was a fantastic show that I not only adore but teaches incredibly valuable lessons about life, love, laughter, and friendship. The final season itself was critically panned by viewers, but many have come to the conclusion that the finale was terrible, and even for some, destroys the entire series and what had been built for nine years. There were three major problems people had. So let’s break it down.
After Barney and Robin finally wed, viewers watch the early moments right after Ted meets Tracy (Cristin Milioti), the future mother to his children, albeit we don’t see the meeting itself just yet. It quickly follows the years that follow and lead up to Ted telling the story, and halfway through we learn that Barney and Robin divorced after three years of marriage. This was the first problem for many viewers (which leads into the third problem), as many finally saw the incredibly justifiable ending for Barney, who transitions from the player he was in season one to the committed and in love man he becomes in season nine. Robin and Barney also share a unique chemistry that was appreciated by fans, and given that viewers always knew Robin and Ted would not be the final couple (because it’s literally written in the title), Robin and Barney were just the perfect main character/finale pairing. With the show ceasing the marriage, watching Barney return to the womaniser he once was, and Robin left without a relationship and focused on her career, many were fed up with the last few seasons focusing and rooting for their relationship, much less have it thrown in their face in the final season which circled the entire wedding itself.
This was a big hurdle to overcome, but the show went on and Barney eventually gets a woman pregnant and has a daughter, his new lease in life. Sweet…kinda.
Eventually we’re shown the first interaction between Ted and Tracy, and it’s an iconically beautiful moment as we watch them, literally, fall in love at first sight. This was not before we learnt that Tracy died six years prior to Ted telling the story (2024), which angered a lot of fans because the ‘happy ending’ they wanted for Ted and Tracy being the perfect romantic couple failed and it just, kinda, broke hearts. This is pretty minor in retrospect, but comes hand in hand with problem three.
Immediately after finishing his story, Ted’s kids are unsatisfied with the story itself. They tell him that it wasn’t a story about how he met their mother because she was hardly in the story, instead, it’s a story about how he’s in love with their Aunt Robin. They convince him to call Robin so they can reignite their romance, and in a throwback to the pilot, Ted stands outside Robin’s apartment holding the blue french horn, wrapping up the series with the couple we had always been reminded of yet never believed to be endgame.
People. Were. Pissed.
Fans were extremely unhappy because the whole series felt like a misdirection. Regardless whether you believed Ted and Robin were a good couple, and I’ll even admit the pairing is justified in a romantic sense, we always knew it
was shouldn’t have ended this way. Because the show focused on how he met their mother, and that Robin and Ted were the couple that was never meant to be. It just wasn’t the happy ending people wanted. Everyone loved Robin and Barney, and everyone had grown a love for Tracy ever since she was introduced, noting how perfect she was for Ted, and even though we KNEW they would end up together, we were still rooting for them to be together because of how perfect their relationship was. All the clues, the yellow umbrella, everything, it all seemed out of place when the ending just happened to turn around and say no it’s all about Ted and Robin.
After the overwhelming negative reception to the finale, creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas defended the ending and reaction. Thomas tweeted, “we wrote a comedy with dramatic elements till the very end,” then adding that the finale was about life’s twists and turns. Josh Radnor said in an interview that Bays had told him How I Met Your Mother was a show that never shied away from reality.
It wasn’t about happy endings, many tragic moments happened in the show like Robin learning she couldn’t conceive children and the passing of Marshall’s dad. And although Ted and Tracy were perfect together, and to a degree Barney and Robin, life doesn’t always work where perfect stays forever. Thus, Ted and Robin, while it may not be right in the show and relationship’s sense, it’s a depiction of what could happen, where old flames finally rekindle no matter what happened the many years before. Ted and Robin, in the real world may just end up together after the ends of their first marriages. It could happen.
Yes. I get it. I agree. Ted and Robin ARE a (possible) accurate depiction of life and reality. Sometimes the couple that was never meant to be might finally be. I see why Bays and Thomas chose to go that way from the beginning of the show. That’s a very valid defence. And at least for me it does sweeten the finale a little. But I think we’re forgetting one very fundamental thing about this show.
IT. IS. A. SHOW.
Hate to break the news, but while Ted and Robin might be fine in reality, they are just characters in a television comedy. The show had millions and millions of fans that were invested into Ted finally meeting the woman of his dreams, watching Barney grow out of his former lifestyle, and seeing Robin end up in a relationship with someone who’s probably just as perfect as Barney could get.
Ted and Robin’s ultimate love story would be fine for someone like me, because I am in the real world; I don’t have millions of fans watching me for the moment I meet the love of my life. No one’s rooting for me to do that except myself and my parents (probably). How I Met Your Mother established a popular and thriving relationship for nine years and because the ending turned left on the show’s title and put him with Robin in the final chapter, it just angered a lot of people.
Yes, we can’t all have happy endings. That’s real life. But at the end of the day, Ted, Robin, Barney, Marshall, and Lily weren’t real. I feel like the way the show was structured with the flashback format from 2005 to 2030, it deserved a happy ending for the viewers. And that was just simply Ted falling in love with Tracy and spending the rest of his life with her, and secondarily Barney and Robin finally learning how to love and living out their lives together too. It may be sappy and romantic and unrealistic, but who cares? It was a television show. Fans deserved that.
Marriages ending in divorce? Wife dying to illness? Yes. Fine. It happens in life. Nothing wrong with televising that. But when you’re emotionally invested into what happens to these characters, it hurts a whole lot more people when they happen.
Television at its core is an escape from reality. It is cool watching five friends in New York with similar lives to us hanging out and juggling relationships and careers. But it’s not us. If I didn’t want a happy ending, I’d just turn off the TV and live my life. Because it’s a known fact that there are gonna be days that suck and there’s also gonna be days that are amazing. I don’t want my television show kicking me in the face saying, “haha, Ted’s love of his life dies!”. People want to keep it pure and sacred, because we just know our lives aren’t gonna do that.
Five years on, many people are still angry with the outcome of How I Met Your Mother. I’ve even read tweets where people are still so angry they haven’t gone back to watch the show since.
For me personally, I still love the show. It has meant so much to my life and the characters are just amazing. Yeah, the ending isn’t what I wanted, but it doesn’t ruin the show for me. It’s kind of like being told there’s this massive race that has this great big prize at the end that everyone’s gonna love and everyone watches you as you run the race cheering you on so loud and so hard, but then you win and you find out it’s just a block of chocolate. Like, it’s fine, I see why, I understand it, I don’t mind it, and I’m okay with it. It is chocolate after all. But it’s not the big finish I thought we were all getting.
I will still re-watch How I Met Your Mother, and I hope eventually fans that gave up on it do too. Nine seasons of incredible acting and storytelling shouldn’t be clouded by the finish. And if you haven’t watched the show but read the massive spoilers in this post, the debatable ending, and are now interested in watching it, I really encourage that you do. Yeah, you might think, “is it worth it if the ending sucks?”, but it doesn’t really, it’s just not the big picture everyone wanted. And if you know what happens maybe it’ll go down easier. There’s also a select few that love the ending, so maybe you’ll fall into that category. Who knows?
That’s all for this first edition of scripted reviews. We’ll see how it holds up before I’ll think about doing another.
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