It’s been a couple days since the finale of How I Met Your Mother, and the finale hasn’t grown on me. And yes, let’s go ahead and stipulate that no show finale is ever universally popular, and that in many cases you can love the show and not love the finale and be fine. But I keep trying to figure out why I don’t think that could be the case for me with this show — why the finale is going to leave reruns tasting bitter. And a week later, it’s still bothering me.
So I could write this rant including words like patriarchy and misogyny and mentioning that we don’t live in a vacuum. I could anticipate responses and comments and head off a conversation about being humorless. But I don’t want to do those things. I’m too drained to do those things today. And I don’t think I need to do them.
It occurred to me this morning that some of the most troubling issues about the finale (and now the show in general) can be summed up simply by comparing where each of the six major characters was in terms of a personal story arc at the end of the penultimate episode and where they were at the end of the finale. A ridiculous amount changed between those two points in time, but that was the writers’ choice, so it’s fair game to compare the two.
Ted: Perhaps a little sadder, but moving off to be a grownup without his Lily- and Marshall-crutches; generally optimistic about the future.
Robin: Facing her issues with family and self in a relationship with a man who didn’t expect her to overcome them and who embraced (and mirrored!) her eccentricities.
Barney: Realizing that growing up isn’t the end of everything and that there can be sweetness in maturity, honesty, and openness.
Lily: Having a career opportunity as well as a second child, supported in her process of self-actualization by someone she loves.
Marshall: Making a sacrifice for the woman he loves, who is pregnant with his second child — but a sacrifice with a theoretical endpoint that won’t ruin his life, and he gets the wife and kids he wants to boot.
The Mother: Desired, waited for, and welcomed by every member of this ready-made family (including the audience!).
So there’s sadness here, and the difficulties of growing up, but real character development. And hope and opportunity for each and every one of the six.
Now take a look at the finale.
Ted: Victorious as a man, landing the woman of his dreams without betraying bro code or being disloyal to The Mother. Cake had and eaten.
Robin: Yes, she has a career, but more importantly she’s realized that she really did want that traditional relationship after all, so thank goodness she gets it and is finally complete.
Barney: Dude got his balls back, amirite? Thank goodness. And then he got even BIGGER balls when he realized he was now responsible for the training and protection (read: shaming and indoctrination) of a little girl. Maturity AND he still gets to be a horndog! Cake had and eaten.
Lily: Pregnant. Do we know anything else about where she is? She appears fulfilled by being Marshall’s wife, the mother of his children, and… whatever else it is she’s doing that isn’t important enough to mention.
Marshall: Okay, he had to go through some years of emasculation, but now his wife is pregnant with his third manifestation of virility and his professional peers recognize his prowess. Cake had and eaten.
The Mother: Dead.
I’m just saying. Here we have three men and three women. In the first ending, all six have bittersweet but hopeful futures. In the second, there’s a pattern. And the worst part is, I seriously doubt the writers thought about any of this explicitly. The penultimate episode felt unfinished, to us and to them, because it’s not how we’re used to stories being finished — and that’s what would have made it great. The final episode wrapped it up nicely in the way sitcoms “should” wrap up — including the latent misogyny with which we’re so thoroughly comfortable — and that’s why I won’t be able to watch episodes in syndication.
It could have been legendary. Unfortunately, in its final minutes, HIMYM proved that it was completely forgettable.