Here's the Real Reason Why the How I Met Your Mother Finale Failed

In 2005, Carter Bays and Craig Thomas mixed emotion with humor to create the unconventional comedy How I Met Your Mother. It was a wonderfully innovative series that used flashbacks and flash-forwards to tell a story about one man's search for love. At the time, there was no other series like it, and just like Lost inspired a wave of inferior copycats, few (if any) comedies will be able to successfully replicate How I Met Your Mother's format in the years to come. Unfortunately, it was the show's unique format that eventually led to its greatest mistake, in the Series Finale Heard 'Round the World.

But let's back up for a second, because there's a misconception that reason the finale was poorly received is that fans misunderstood the show's basic concept. During How I Met Your Mother's earlier seasons, many fans DID think the show was about the Mother, and they grew angrier and angrier as time passed and she wasn't introduced. But the story was never about Tracy McConnell, and that very simple fact is right there in the show's title: How. HOW I met her. When you stop and think about it, the "I" is the subject; the "Mother" is only the object. How I Met Your Mother was always Ted's story, and the Mother was always destined to be just a small part of it. That's why the timeline of the series began in 2005 and Ted didn't meet the Mother until 2013, when Barney and Robin's wedding actually took place. There was a lot that had to happen to Ted before he met the Mother, so that we could understand the man Ted was when he met her.

When the theory of the Mother's demise first hit the internet several years ago, and then when the show all but confirmed it in "The Time Travelers" and "Vesuvius," fans were outraged. It's not that they were wrong to be upset; they'd been waiting a long time to meet this woman, whether the show was about her or not. But we do need to look back and understand that she was but one piece in the colorful, messed-up puzzle that was Ted Mosby's life. 

HOWEVER: Just because the Mother wasn't the star of the show doesn't mean we have to happily accept How I Met Your Mother's series finale, in which it was revealed that after the Mother died and Barney and Robin divorced, Ted and Robin ended up together after all. Just because Thomas and Bays once pictured a Ted-and-Robin happily-ever-after doesn't mean that's how the show had to end. And when Ted's children called him out as they suddenly realized the story was actually about the woman they knew as Aunt Robin, the series made a fatal mistake. Ted had moved on from Robin, but by having them reunite, How I Met Your Mother basically revealed that it wasn't a series about Ted or the Mother, but a series about Robin instead.

How I Met Your Mother always presented itself as the story of Ted's point-A-to-point-B journey from falling for Robin in the pilot (and doing his best to make her feel the same way) to accepting that life isn't perfect and doesn't always turn out the way we think it will, or the way we think it should. Ted fell for Robin instantly and really believed they were meant to be, but then the series spent nine years showing us why their relationship would never work, and why they were only a perfect match in his mind. In theory, it's sweet that Ted and Robin eventually found their way back to one another. But in reality, it isn't nearly that easy.

After sleeping on it for a couple nights and spending what probably adds up to too many hours thinking about how the series ended, I stand by my assertion that Ted and Robin shouldn't have ended up together—not because I believe Ted didn't deserve to move on after the Mother died (as many fans have suggested)—but because the series didn't put in the effort to deserve that happy ending. How I Met Your Mother made a very big show of Ted letting go of Robin, and the whole point of that was to ensure he was finally able to open his heart to the Mother when he met her. If the series had spent an entire season building up to the moment with Robin and the blue french horn, instead of to a marriage that would ultimately fail after only three years, I don't think I'd have felt so betrayed when it finally happened. If the series had allowed us some time to grieve the Mother, a character the writers spent 24 episodes making us adore, maybe her death wouldn't have felt so abrupt.

By jumping around in time during its final hour, How I Met Your Mother used the very thing that initially set it apart from other TV comedies—its flexible narrative structure—as the easy way out. The writers didn't need to come up with a reason for how or why Ted and Robin eventually found their way back to one another, because they could kill off the Mother and jump forward six years and then just tell fans that's where they were headed all along. And because the show made its name by flashing back and forth between past, present, and future events, viewers were just supposed to accept that. Bays and Thomas didn't bother telling us the rest of the story, and they obviously didn't consider how the Mother's death would affect the show's longtime fans, probably because they knew it was simply too hard to explain after all the work they'd done to keep Robin and Ted apart. Doctor Who fans will recognize this storytelling device as "The Moffat," which is basically when an ending works because time travel.

Maybe Thomas and Bays thought they were being clever by upholding How I Met Your Mother's tradition of intentionally misleading viewers, but the way I see it, they were trying to dig themselves out of the narrative hole they created when they said Robin wasn't the mother of Ted's children at the end of the pilot. Robin never wanted kids, and she couldn't have kids. She wanted to travel and have a career. So I feel like the writers simply cheated their way into letting Robin have what she wanted, letting Ted have what he wanted, and then letting them meet up at a later date after they'd each lived those individual lives. 

Sure, you can argue that Thomas and Bays just wanted to show us that Ted and Robin's failure to make it work in Season 2 didn't mean their love story was over. I take no issue with that sentiment; life is messy, and couples break up and get back together all the time. It even happened to Marshall and Lily, the most stable couple on the series. There's nothing inherently wrong with the idea that two people can find their way back to each other after spending lots of time apart. But that doesn't change the fact the execution of Ted and Robin's story was full of holes.

I can accept that the Mother died in "Last Forever," because death is a natural part of life. I'm not angry that the finale wasn't laugh-out-loud funny, because How I Met Your Mother was very much a dramedy by the time it ended. But I do take issue with the fact the show essentially used her as plot contrivance. Ultimately, she was a stepping stone in Ted's journey to reuniting with Robin. All of a sudden, the series went from How I Met Your Mother to How I Met Your Mother and Later Realized She Wasn't the Love of My Life. And in theory, there's also nothing wrong with the latter. The foundation of the argument presented in the finale is that people can love more than one person, and that life doesn't stop based on whether or not someone is currently part of our lives, and I agree with that. But the rushed delivery, and the way it really just became a big "twist" in the story, hindered that argument. And given how little we saw of Robin in the years that followed her divorce from Barney, it feels like a bit of a misstep that Ted's children knew Aunt Robin so well. 

Robin traveled all over the world for work for several years, which resulted in the end of her marriage to Barney, and her general absence in the gang's lives outside of a few big events—even Lily called a Scherbatsky sighting a rare thing—but we were led to believe she was very involved in Ted's life, to the point that his children knew her and were not only accepting of Ted moving on to be with her, but all for it. And that's why the format of How I Met Your Mother's final season really hurt the storytelling in the series finale. Instead of spending an entire weekend at the wedding only to have it dissolve in the next episode, How I Met Your Mother would've been better off if it'd spent the last season—or at least part of it—chronicling the years between when Ted met the Mother in 2013 and when he reunited with Robin in 2030. If the writers had put in the time, I think we'd all be experiencing a different emotion regarding the finale. 

For comparison's sake, let's jump back in time ourselves to another series that attempted the soulmates-versus-love-of-our-lives debate. Eleven years ago, Dawson's Creek signed off with its own version of a time-jumping finale, with Dawson realizing his dreams in California and having his life turned into a TV show, and Joey finally choosing Pacey once and for all. The Dawson's finale jumped ahead several years, revealing how the characters had changed over time and gotten their lives together, and it worked. But the REASON it worked was that the writers put in the effort over the course of six seasons to show fans that although Dawson was Joey's soulmate, Pacey was the real love of her life. 

Obviously, the Dawson's Creek finale was the opposite of How I Met Your Mother's, which aimed to show that Robin—who came first—was the real love of Ted's life, but that the Mother was his soulmate. But it's still important to note that the writers of Dawson's Creek were brave enough to make the decision to have Joey choose Pacey—the second suitor they presented—and accept that it was the correct ending because it fit who the characters were at the time. From what I've heard, although this isn't confirmed by any means, the original ending actually did call for Joey to choose Dawson, but the writers realized Joey had to choose Pacey based on what had transpired over the course of the series. Sometimes the right ending isn't what you originally planned, or what you even want, but it's what you need.

As a mega-fan of How I Met Your Mother (even during the show's low points), I'm obviously incredibly sad to know that this was the end of the road. It's hard to say goodbye to Ted, Robin, Barney, Lily, Marshall, and even the Mother; How I Met Your Mother premiered during my freshman year of college, and its characters more or less became a sort of extended family over the years. But the most difficult part of all this is that, as I watched "Last Forever," I knew I wasn't experiencing the real loss that should accompany the end of a beloved TV series. Instead of feeling sadness, I was angry to see it go out on what was ultimately a sour note. The series deserved a happy ending, and I really wanted it to have one. For some fans, it did. But for many others—including me—it didn't. And that's not because we're mad we didn't get the ending we would've written, but because How I Met Your Mother's ending was simply far too lopsided and even a bit out-of-left-field in the context of the "all of Season 9 is about Barney and Robin's wedding" concept. 

Carter Bays and Craig Thomas wanted to write a love story, a story with a real romantic at its center. Ted's optimism and his love of being in love was what made fans care about his journey. Bays and Thomas had a vision nine years ago about how that journey ended—and it was probably a good idea at the time—but along the way, they forgot that endings need to be supported by the rest of the story, and frankly, "Last Forever" didn't have the necessary support. Ted and the Mother's story could've easily been the one at the center of How I Met Your Mother; certainly, no one would have faulted Bays and Thomas if it were. Even Ted loving Robin all along could've been acceptable if the series hadn't done so much to dismantle that arc. Regardless, How I Met Your Mother's conclusion would've been just as emotional and just as fulfilling if the series had ended with the Mother's death, or if the show had spent more time exploring what happened between 2013 and 2030. How I Met Your Mother was always about Ted's journey, and if the creators had wrapped the series with his realization that it's important to live in the moment and appreciate the time we have with our loved ones, it would have been the type of bittersweet emotional story the series has always executed so successfully in the past. The idea that life is messy and doesn't always work out the way we thought it might is the real message; it's just a shame the creators felt that wasn't enough.