As I sat down last night to watch the series finale of "How I Met Your Mother," my mind turned to "The Office."
Like HIMYM, "The Office" was a series that was stellar in its earlier years, before going through a bit of a rough patch with a handful of regrettable, sub-par seasons, ultimately limping into its ninth year as a hollow shell of its once-great former self. And yet, I'm still filled with positive feelings about the folks at Dunder Mifflin, thanks in part to last year's perfect series finale that was sappy, yes, and perhaps too neat, but reminded me of why I had loved the show for so long in the first place. I was satisfied.
So how do I feel after HIMYM's final bow? Certainly not satisfied; confused is more like it. A bit angry, a little bitter, and definitely blindsided, though perhaps that was naive, considering all the signs that pointed to last night's conclusion. While texting my best friend during commercial breaks, I told her that I expected the writers were setting us up for exactly the ending we got: Ted meets the mother; the mother dies; Ted gets with Robin. But that doesn't mean I was happy about it.
For fans who have been with the gang from the beginning (full disclosure: I binged on the first two seasons and began watching live in season three), it seemed like series creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas wasted years of viewers' time by forcing us into believing Robin and Barney as a couple, only to backtrack on their entire relationship during the first 20 minutes of the finale. Why on Earth would you set the entirety of season nine during their wedding weekend if their wedding is ultimately meaningless? Why have Robin repeatedly reject Ted, then have Ted reject Robin, only to have them wind up together after all? Why did they make Robin literally float away in the air in the cheesiest metaphor ever?
Bays and Thomas's attempts at misdirection seem understandable when the entire point of the show isn't the "Mother" component so much as the "How," but this type of bait and switch just seemed cheap. Ted deserved his happy ending, but most fans understood that that meant he'd find it with the mother. While her death was upsetting, it wasn't completely unexpected, thanks to some heavy foreshadowing; what was truly shocking was how quickly it seemed Ted -- and his kids -- got over it. Penny's exasperated declaration that he was telling them the story because he was still in love with Robin didn't really ring true. Can you honestly say if you were in her shoes that you'd roll your eyes at your dad's lame stories about your dead mom and immediately push him into dating your aunt? Ted's kids have been used as a stand-in for the viewers at home for a while now, but this was one bit of exposition that didn't work for me at all.
In the end, I think many fans will feel about HIMYM how I do about "The Office": it was a great show with some not-so-great moments that eventually came to a satisfying conclusion. I just don't think I can bring myself to agree. I know that of my Facebook friends, reactions to the finale were pretty evenly split among the "loved it" and "hated it" camps. (One girl in the latter group summed up her frustration thusly: "Kill yourself, How I Met Your Mother. Seriously.") I'm somewhere in the middle. I thought the episode's commentary on the ever-evolving state of adult friendships was spot-on; I thought the callbacks were well-played (I was secretly hoping "Have you met Ted?" would be used on the mother); I thought everything involving the mother was great.
And it's for all those reasons that I just can't sign off on the series finale. I wanted more of those moments sprinkled throughout season nine, instead of crammed into the show's final hour. I wanted the detour-filled journey Bays and Thomas took us on to have some bigger purpose. I just don't think it did, at least not in the length of time it took us to get here, through several seasons' worth of the endless Robin and Ted merry-go-round that always ended in the same place: they just don't work as a couple. How things are expected to be different now that they're older and the alleged love of Ted's life is dead (and conveniently and cruelly relegated to an afterthought) is never explained or explored beyond the big, blue french horn gesture. In many ways, that gesture proves Ted and Robin are still the same people they were in the fall of 2005 -- and they didn't work out then, either.
Much of the critical reaction to the finale has asked if fans were cheated, or if the show was really worth watching at all. After considering those questions all night and into this afternoon, I still don't know my answers, though for the second query, I'm tempted to say no. I was thinking of re-watching the entire series once the finale aired, and now, knowing what I know, I just can't bring myself to do it. Maybe I'll change my mind in the days and weeks to come.
But denying that this series has been a constant, familiar, comforting weekly presence, even in its worst times (cough *Zoey* cough), and that I'll miss it in spite of everything that happened last night, also seems wrong. The very fact that I (and so many others) have had such a strong, visceral reaction to the show's outcome proves that it was indeed worth watching, that it indeed meant something, even if every individual fan has her own definition of that meaning. Perhaps that's why the finale stung so much -- because for some of us, it felt as if our meaning was proven wrong.
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