Tuesday, April 01, 2014

How I Met Your Mother

I admit, there was part of me that held out hope for the final episode of How I Met Your Mother. I've spent a long time with these characters, and even as this final season got more and more teeth-grindingly stupid, there was a small part of me that hoped we could get away with a decent finale. I just wanted something to salvage so that watching the last couple of seasons hadn't been a total waste of time.

Well... didn't happen.

Spoilers for the episode, obviously.

I had three giant problems with the episode--and, by extension, the series as a whole--and if you watched it, you can already guess what they were.

First problem: as the show goes into the future, Barney and Robin are only married for a couple of years before they get divorced.

So... we had to endure their relationship, which was okay, and then their break-up, which was excruciating, and then their second attempt at a relationship, which was alternatingly dull and insulting, and then their wedding getting teased for years, and then a season-long wedding weekend... all of which played a major role in derailing the show in the first place... all for a marriage that ends in divorce in the first 15 minutes of the finale?

The great thing about this show is that in its first four years--what I will probably be referring to as the "good years" from now on--is that it all seemed pretty planned out. At some point in season five, you could feel the entropy settle in and from there the whole thing just meandered on and on. If there's a sitcom that makes the case that you probably shouldn't go over five seasons, this one was it. One of the unique things about the show was the way it doubled back on itself, set things up sometimes seasons in advance, and had a great sense of an overall plan and continuity that felt like it knew where it was going. But at some point, the show just started adding stuff for the sake of making more money and more episodes, and they lost the plot. They lost the plot big time. They undid a lot of character development and rehashed fights that had been settled long before. They kept repeating plot points and having characters act completely out of character for episodes to work. And they kept trying to convince us that Robin, the most independent character on the show, would be rendered whiny, dependent, and desperate because she fell in love with an immature, womanizing quasi-rapist. Great job, show. Great job.

The finale had so many unearned emotional moments. Barney being awestruck by the birth of his daughter was just so shoehorned in. What could have been a nice (if obvious) moment in a more measured season felt cliched and manipulative because it came out of nowhere.

Second problem: the Mother. As I've been complaining all season, she was barely a character. I hate the way she was introduced. I always felt like the original plan was for Victoria to come back into Ted's life and turn out to be the Mother. That really would've been the way to go for the final season, especially had season 5 been the final season. And this is nothing against Cristin Milioti, who was fine with what she had to work with. In fact, if they'd introduced her more organically and made her a real character, I probably would have liked her a great deal. But she was never a character, ever. She was a plot device.

We never got to know her. She swoops in and fixes all of Lilly's problems. Then all of Barney's. Then all of Marshall's. Then all of Robin's. She's this magical glue that patched up everyone's lives, so everyone has their big life-changing moment with her before Ted even meets her. And then she's just pretty much a mirror of Ted as we montage through their lives together and then find out that she's been dead the whole time Ted has been telling the story. Dead for six years. So rushed it has no emotional weight.

This was just a bad call, because it was another unearned emotional moment. I didn't feel anything, and most of us saw the twist coming a few weeks ago. If it had been Victoria and she'd come back, so that we already knew her from the first season and got to see them be a couple and fall deeper in love and have these meaningful moments that were just stacked hastily one on top of the other in the final episode, that might have been an emotional climax. Instead, Victoria did come back and turned out to be a slob or whatever the problem was, and that was all chucked aside in favor of a plot device that turns out to be all set-up for the real twist, which is my...

Third problem: Ted ends up with Robin, anyway.

I knew they were going to end up pulling a Ross and Rachel on this, because TV shows refuse to imagine that characters who are immediately attracted to each other or harboring secret lifelong crushes might not always end up together, even if it takes decades.

They did this thing in the worst way, too. Because in the first goddamn episode, we were told that Ted and Robin didn't end up together. We were told repeatedly that they didn't. As the show dragged on and the creators decided Barney was the great love of Robin's life, they went out of their way on several occasions to show us how wrong Ted and Robin were for each other.

The thing about this show is that it used to be so well-written and well-executed that I didn't care who the Mother was and didn't care about the Robin thing. It didn't bother me at all that Ted and Robin were a couple for the entire second season, even though you knew she wasn't the Mother, because it was just so fun to watch and they brought it to a point where it seemed realistic enough that they could remain friends even though it didn't work out. But they kept going to that well in a way that seemed really pointless and frustrating because we knew, for nine years, that they weren't going to end up together.

And then they did.

Not only that, but they've had this ending in mind all along, because they filmed the kids pushing Ted to go get Robin years ago, when the show started.

So the Mother's death is ultimately meaningless, and her existence is ultimately meaningless, because she's just a plot point: a way to make Ted more mature so that he can move on to the real love of his life. So, in the end, the Mother magically fixes all of Ted's problems, too. At this point, I was just amazed that they didn't have the Mother on her deathbed telling Robin to take care of him.

And even their getting together was unearned, too, because the show's just been jerking us around for nine seasons.

Really, with all of the flash-forwards, it kind of felt like the creators just went ahead and undermined every significant decision the characters had made in the course of the series. Which is a shame, because what I loved so much about this series was that it felt like watching my generation mature. For a series that was always so proudly romantic and optimistic, this ending was a real downer and surprisingly unromantic. I feel like even the callback with the blue french horn just diminished all of the growth Ted had had over the run of the show. One episode ago he's telling Robin "I'm not that guy anymore, you don't know who I am now," and the next episode he's pulling a big, crazy romantic gesture so he can be 25 again. It took us right back to all the times that they tried to make it work as a couple and found out that they didn't. They never worked as a couple, and really they never loved each other so much as when one of them was romantically unavailable. It just didn't land for me, because now we're going right back to that place where they never worked out. We've been beat over the head with this constantly: they do not make each other happy.

I at least hope he doesn't force her to get rid of her dogs in a blaze of insecurity this time.

And all this time, the whole series, was spent building up the Mother into everything that Ted ever wanted, only to have her wind up as a footnote to the epic love story of Ted and Robin. A symbolic, vaguely Mary Sue-ish plot device in the long run of getting Ted to Robin. At least that's how it felt to me. I see a lot of viewers who feel differently about it. But it wasn't enough time, as a viewer, to go right from the Mother dying to Ted's kids excitedly mocking him for not realizing he's been in love with Robin the whole time and to go and be with her. It was tonal dissonance. (In fact, was it just me, or did they all spend the next several years basically in a living hell because of all the decisions that they made in the final season? Also, notice how the whole thing is really about getting Ted everything in the end? He got the kids he wanted, but he also got to get Robin, because the Mother conveniently died. How sweet of her!)

And all of this happened in a single episode, instead of more interestingly over a whole season. A whole season which took place over one weekend featuring a wedding that ended up being completely unrelated to the show's ending. So many missed opportunities to tell interesting stories. Instead we get slap fighting, a road trip into infinity, Lilly basically doing nothing but drinking and crying, William Zabka, and the Mother's magical fix patches. Everything they did in the finale could have been a couple of good seasons of TV... honestly, Barney and Robin could've gotten married back in season 4 and the rest of the show could've integrated all of the stuff we saw in the finale and actually developed the characters. But instead the show just sort of... existed for five seasons and rushed through a finale and took this person who was built up by the entire series (starting right there in the freaking title) and used her 100% as a placeholder to make Ted mature enough to go after Robin again.

Yeah, that's great work, you guys.

Not only does the ending emotionally negate most of the final season, it almost makes earlier episodes of the show actively worse.

Time is a flat circle, and we all run around making the same mistakes over and over again. Keep stealing that french horn, I'm sure this is the time it'll work!

And that, kids, is the story of how I never got over your Aunt Robin. Even when I was married to your gestational carrier.

UPDATE: Joel Murphy really nails the moral of the ending.

UPDATE 2: Todd VanDerWerff has some thoughtful points about the series as a whole.


Kal said...

I never watched a single episode of this show and I don't feel like I missed a thing. I did love the clip collection of Robin and Patrice moments...that cracked me up.

Roger Owen Green said...

"They... rehashed fights that had been settled long before." Sounds like my first marriage.

Yasmin said...

I didn't get as mad as a lot people did. Which probably has everything to do with my depression.
I like the idea of having more than one great love, but that wasn't what the finale, or the show in general, was about. Like you said, if they had just had given us and the characters more time to actually get to the end point. If they just had started his whole process earlier. If we could've spent more time with the mother to make her into somebody more than the woman who gave Ted what he wanted. If we could have watched how Ted changed over time, through their relationship and after her death, and watch Robin change, too, just so it could make some kind of sense why in the end we should believe their relationship could work. Other than the fact that he has the kids he wanted and Robin didn't, of course.

SamuraiFrog said...

It just really wasn't enough time. A few people have told me that it makes sense that, mom having been gone for 6 years, Ted's kids would want him to go be happy. But that's time within the show; in actual viewer time, all of that whipped by too fast to emotionally process, and it made it all seem cheap.