Why not write a ton about why I hated the How I Met Your Mother finale?

April 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

That’s what this is going to be. Me just spewing forth all of my anger at this show’s finale, and indeed, the entire last season of the show. It was a show I really liked, even though I’m about a decade too old to really identify with the characters. I still remember being that age, and therefore, I’m okay with saying that I felt like that last season was just a series of enormous missteps.

Gonna be spoilers from here on in. Sorry.Okay, my biggest problem is that they spent literally an entire season of the show on Robin and Barney’s wedding – dragged it out and out and out, focused on moments like Barney mediating peace between Robin and his mother, or Barney going as far as getting an entire ice rink set up to be a tribute to Canada to make Robin feel better about not having the wedding there – in short, that the show went out of its way to show just how much Barney cared about Robin and making the marriage work, only to invalidate it in fifteen minutes of the finale. And since we are to take this entire show as a story told by Ted to his children, we know that Ted knew just how much Barney cared about Robin – that he was cognizant that Barney had put aside every single aspect of the person he had been, had worked his ass off to try and be a better person for her and yet Ted still never let Robin go. Ted and Robin having any sort of relationship after that point makes Ted a kind of vulture, unable even after years in a relationship with Tracy, through children, marriage and death, to forget Robin or move on from her.

It cheapens Barney’s arc, it makes Ted a parasite. I’ll go into detail on what it does to Robin.

Do I think that Robin and Barney should have ended up together? Not necessarily. I think the two of them just being unable to make it work despite the best of efforts is a realistic thing to tell a story about – it happens literally every day, although our modern divorce rate is far, far lower than it was in the 90’s, back down to where it was in the early 70’s. But tell the freaking story. The way it was presented, it was shoddy, almost perfunctory. The finale felt less like an episode detailing what happened in their lives between the ‘present’ of the story and the wedding – less any sort of rumination on the lives and aspirations of the characters – and more a checklist of things that had to be ticked off so that Ted and Robin could end up together. Barney and Robin divorced? Check.

Worse than that, though, is the epic level, almost Victorian laziness of killing Tracy off. Yes, people die. It’s a valid story to tell. So tell it. The absolute worst part of this finale is that they had an entire season of television to tell all these stories, and instead, they spent that entire season at the wedding giving us character moments they knew they were going to invalidate. The entire wedding could have been covered in three or four episodes tops and then, the rest of the season could have been given over to exploring what this episode rushes through. There were actually good moments in the finale – buried as they were underneath a host of story conveniences and unwelcome haste – and they could have been highlighted. All the questions we had – what happened with Lily’s art buyer job? Did she start a career in that? Did she just have babies (as the show seems to indicate) while Marshall became a judge? What did Tracy even do when she and Ted got together? What were their lives like? Hell, what did Ted do? These all could have been answered.

The depth of the show’s failure to do right by the Barney character comes from a moment in the finale when Barney says to Lily “I tried to be that guy. If I couldn’t make it work with Robin, it’s never going to happen.” This is a powerful statement. It shows real, honest pain over the failure of his relationship. It deserved more than a few seconds in a frenetic finale episode that had to cram in all its checklist points – Barney gets his consolation prize baby from a one night stand and so it’s okay that he loved Robin so much he was willing to give up his entire life, stop being a skirt chasing Lothario, do all the things we saw him do for her over the course of the endless Wedding season and still lost her. It’s okay, because all he really needed was a baby. If Barney was a woman, this would be called reducing him to a baby cannon. Again, it’s not that Barney and Robin had to work out as a relationship, it’s that the finale didn’t earn the emotions that ending the relationship causes, and doesn’t even show most of them. How does Robin even feel about it? Does she care? Who knows? The show barely touches upon it.

We get to see her show up at a Halloween party and get upset that Barney is chasing after women, then this leads to a brief fight with Lily where neither woman comes off particularly well. This should have been an entire episode of the show by itself, not yet another two minute blurb to hit off another part of the checklist, setting up the ultimate happy ending.

Can’t say much bad about Marshall’s arc because he didn’t have one. He worked in corporate law again, he hated it again, he eventually got to be a judge. Okay. Thanks, I guess.

Ted, for his part, wasn’t particularly mangled by the show, but I find it infuriating that after eight seasons waiting for this character to be introduced, we get barely an episode of Ted and Tracy as a couple, and we never see all the things Ted tells his kids about – the arguments, uncertainties, fights, and other things that go into making a relationship work. I found that they waited to get married perfectly reasonable – a lot of people get engaged and then wait years and years to get married – and I was willing to accept that Tracy got sick and died, but again, the show rushed it. What did she get sick from? How long was she sick? What the hell happened? I know it’s a story Ted’s telling his kids, but we have seven seasons of him telling them all kinds of things they shouldn’t need to know, why get coy now?

Also, fuck you for not having Bob Saget in this somehow. I’m not saying older Ted should have been played by Bob Saget, but he was the voice of the dad telling the story for eight years. You find a way to put him in this finale. Hell, establish that in the future we have Siri like personal assistants that use Bob Saget’s voice and that this entire time, the kids have been sitting on the couch while robo-Saget has read them this story because Ted can’t bring himself to relive his wife’s death. Bam. That’s probably a terrible idea, but it’s something. You had years to come up with a way to get Bob Saget in this episode.

So we have Tracy’s death as yet another bullet point on the checklist – Barney and Robin divorced, Barney gets consolation prize baby, Ted’s wife dies – and so we have the ultimate payoff. Ted and Robin get back together. It’s not necessarily a bad idea, but it is one that required a whole lot of convolution to get there, and you simply can’t earn that level of convolution in a single episode.

If you spend all of season eight focused on Barney and Robin’s wedding – from the struggle of Marshall to even get there to the stress on Lily knowing that they’re going to have to choose between her career dream and his (and again, how can you make that such a big part of the season, them going to Rome for her career, and then never touch on what happened with her career?) to Barney’s efforts to make Robin happy – you have set up an expectation that the wedding was a huge and important event, not just because it’s how Ted met Tracy finally after years of almost meeting her, but because it was a pivotal event in everyone’s lives. But it wasn’t. If not for Ted meeting Tracy, it wouldn’t even be memorable – it’s swept away in a few minutes and barely referenced again. When Robin sees Barney again at Ted’s wedding day, their interaction is devoid of all believable human feeling. Neither blames the other, neither is hurt, angry, resentful, or even displays a sense of longing for what might have been. It’s as if they were never married, never even in a relationship. She makes a joke about his new baby, he jokes back. It’s all very clean and safe and necessary for the checklist. Barney and Robin okay with each other so Ted’s not a bastard – check.

Had we had an episode where Barney and Robin dealt with it in some way – more than him saying quietly “I love you, Robin, and I swore I’d be honest with you” and it’s over, one with all the mess and mire of the human heart in conflict with itself – I could accept that. But without any sort of believable interaction, it just comes off as cheap and lazy.

Finally, let’s talk about Robin herself. Can I accept that her career was more important to her than her marriage? Absolutely I can. Robin only married Barney because Barney seemed unattainable, which made her want him – his prime mistake was using Patrice to do this, as it heightened Robin’s attention via the disdain she felt for the woman. That’s not a particularly likeable character trait, but it is a realistic one. Often we want something more when we feel we can’t have it. I could have accepted that Barney simply wasn’t as much a priority to her (even with the lengths she went to with the Billy Zabka prank) if the show had bothered to give us that story. Have her talk to Lily about it, say “I don’t want what you and Marshall have” perhaps, show them growing apart. The ridiculous amount of time spent on the wedding made it seem disproportionately important and thus, made their divorce feel empty and strange. But furthermore, then having Robin show up and say that Ted was the guy she probably should have ended up with was just insulting. It was insulting to all Ted went through with her, it was insulting to her because it made it seem like that for all her protestations it was unrequited feelings for Ted and not her ambitions that broke up her marriage and that she never really committed to Barney in the first place.

Robin’s always been a fascinating character – at turns selfish, insecure, arrogant, brilliant, strong, weak, assertive, wanting to be seen for what she actually is and not what her father or anyone else wanted her to be. Not that you’d know that from this finale. She’s barely in it, and when she is, she’s often being treated as some kind of heartless monster for not wanting to socially pal around with the man she dumped and the man she divorced. Considering that we never get to see any of the inevitable emotional fallout of any of that, can you blame her for not wanting to be around? Going to Ted’s wedding was a heroic act, frankly, and it showed a lot of maturity on both her and Tracy’s part, and we should have had an entire episode dealing with it.

The Barney/Robin relationship was a far more fully realized one than anything Ted ever had with Robin. We saw each of them change and grow. We saw them become more fully who they were. When Robin found out she couldn’t have children, Ted tried to fix it, but Barney accepted it. And furthermore, Robin’s choice to focus on her career could and should have been enough – let her end up alone. It’s a real decision a lot of people make. We don’t all have our boyfriend from 20 years ago just fortuitously have his wife die so we can hook up with him when we get old.

In the end, the finale ended up feeling formulaic, abandoning character development in a mad rush to end up with a relationship no one, not even the people in it, had thought was a good idea. Had we seen a couple of episodes dealing with Tracy’s illness and Robin perhaps deliberately stepping in to provide emotional support, seen her with the kids, seen anything to justify it, maybe I could accept it. But as it stands, it seems like a huge rejection of Robin and who she was and had become. Just let her be his friend with a fulfilling career who helps him deal with his tragedy. If you’re not willing to show us why they should get together, then they shouldn’t.

In the end, my biggest problem with this finale isn’t that it told me things I don’t want to hear about life and relationships. It’s that it didn’t bother to tell me enough.

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