‘How I Met Your Mother’: 10 Years Later, Does the Series Finale Still Not Work?

In the series finale of “How I Met Your Mother,” Josh Radnor’s Ted Mosby approaches a stranger (the effortlessly charming Cristin Milioti) at a train station in the fictional town of Farhampton. They argue playfully over the yellow umbrella she’s holding that bears the initials “T.M.” for her name: Tracy McConnell. When they realize their paths have crossed for years, they lock eyes. And that’s it; that’s the perfect moment when Ted, after nine seasons, finally meets the titular mother.

Then, the episode keeps going.

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It’s not an understatement to say that the finale of “How I Met Your Mother” pissed people off when it closed the series on March 31, 2014 on CBS. The two-part episode — “Last Forever,” directed by series veteran Pamela Fryman — wraps up the story of Ted’s search for love and his painfully lengthy explanation of that process to his two captive children (Penny and Luke, played by Lynsey Fonseca and David Henrie). Showrunners Carter Bays and Craig Thomas famously filmed a scene with Fonseca and Henrie back in the show’s second season — so that they’d be the right age when the scene aired. That scene, where Ted’s kids tell him that he should go after their “Aunt Robin” (Scherbatsky, played by Cobie Smulders) in the wake of their mother’s death, is the show’s most infuriating twist.

So, after 10 years of sitting on the “How I Met Your Mother” finale, let’s re-evaluate. Does it still suck? Or was it unfairly maligned? Spoiler alert: It’s still a tough watch,  fast-forwarding through decades of the central gang’s life, refusing to sit with a single feeling, and skipping ahead to that banked Penny and Luke scene.

The entire ninth season of “How I Met Your Mother” centers around Robin’s wedding to the now-domesticated playboy Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris). Yes, that’s right: In case you’ve forgotten, 24 whole episodes take place throughout one weekend, yet both parts of “Last Forever” zip through years without taking a breath. This was a bold choice for Bays and Thomas to make — and sadly, it just didn’t pay off. Though Season 9 has some standout moments like “How Your Mother Met Me” (an incredible solo outing for Milioti as “The Mother”), it feels like a slog of exposition dumps and time jumps throughout its 40-odd minutes.

Most egregiously, the full-season focus on Robin and Barney’s wedding feels especially useless when they announce, early into “Last Forever,” that they’re divorced. Ted calls off his planned move to Chicago, reversing the sentimental goodbyes he said to his friends at the wedding reception. Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel) get everything they want without much fuss — Lily gets her year working as an art buyer in Rome while Marshall secures his spot as a judge in New York. In the wake of her divorce, Robin marries her career and achieves her dream of becoming an internationally famous news anchor; the show immediately punishes her for her professional wins by making her pine for Ted again. (The less said about Barney’s kid subplot, the better.)

Still, the episode manages a few heartfelt moments — proving that the ideas here aren’t necessarily bad, nor the general trajectory (aside from that ending) — but none of the plot points have a moment to land. Lily is devastated over her best friend abandoning their relationship? Move along! Barney and Robin realize they’re wrong for each other and grapple with that loss? It’s fine! They got one of those famously super-fast, beautifully brief divorces! Those happen all the time. Ted’s wife dies and his kids encourage him to get back together with Robin? That’s how all great love stories go — when your soulmate dies, you figure out which of your exes is available.

Why should we relitigate “Last Forever” 10 years down the line? Well, it’s an ideal example of the problem that presents itself when showrunners know their ending and cling to it like a life raft instead of letting an organic writing process play out. This exact same problem is evident in “Game of Thrones,” where David Benioff and D.B. Weiss “kind of forgot” about their overall narrative arc and promptly raced to the finish line, assassinating several character arcs in the process. Did Benioff and Weiss watch “Last Forever” and think, “Yeah, seems perfect” or something?

“How I Met Your Mother” filmed that scene with Ted’s kids and then wrote a way better show in the seasons that followed; there’s just no reason that they had to kill off Tracy and pivot back to Robin, just as “Game of Thrones” could have concocted a smarter way to deal with its predetermined ending. Now, both shows are completely marked by their finales — you can’t bring up either one in conversation without remembering how much their endings sucked.

After fans expressed outrage over the finale, an alternate version of the finale ended up on the series’ DVD box set where the episode concludes as Ted and Tracy meet. In hindsight, it’s baffling that nobody in charge thought to simply swap it into “Last Forever.” As it stands, the series’ finale is probably best left behind — a decision that should last forever.

“How I Met Your Mother” is currently available to stream on Hulu.

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