Do you know why so many people were mad about the ending of How I Met Your Mother?
Putting aside the fact that the show lost most of its inherent momentum in the later seasons, it’s because after years of following Ted Mosby’s life, most viewers wanted him to move on from the person he was desperately clinging on to. Why? Because everyone relates to the concept of ‘the one that got away’. Yup, almost everyone has a person that at least resembles the idea of Robin Scherbatsky in their lives – and the entire optimism factor for these people revolved around Ted being able to move on and find the true love of his life, not holding on to the past and to this person he couldn’t seem to get over for the longest time. It was a sense of optimism that can be referenced all the way back to the end of the show’s very first episode, when it was not-so-shockingly revealed that Señora Scherbatsky won’t be ‘the mother’. Whaaaaa – what a ‘shocking, shocking’ twist, right? M. Night Shyamalan, take cue! Naturally, most viewers felt cheated when Mr. Mosby hit the reverse gear in the final moments of the show’s highly anticipated finale and landed back exactly where he was during the pilot – holding a Blue French Horn outside Casa de Scherbatsky, seemingly undoing his entire character arc over nine excruciatingly long seasons.
But was his character arc really undone? Here’s my argument – for most people, Tracy McConnell (or ‘the mother’) represented that optimism, that idea of essentially moving on and finding a happy ending for the hopeless romantic they find within themselves. Let’s face it – in that infatuation or post-relationship phase, some people take months, years even – to be able to completely get over the person they seemingly shared their lives with. Even if it’s just a passing pash, some might spend years obsessing over this person in the hopes that one fine day, someone else will walk into their lives and wipe off everything on that slate. So you desperately need a Tracy to undo a Robin, of course having to go through a series of Victorias, Stellas and Zoeys. And then creators of the show took that idea which was being built patiently over nine long seasons, and tossed it into a garbage can. How can you blame viewers for being mad, right? So Tracy was just an additional plot device to exploit the audiences’ emotional predisposition, only if they wanted to subvert your expectations later (Cough, Rian Johnson!) But that’s the ending you needed! That’s the ending you needed to justify to yourself that you can eventually find a happy ending – that no matter how deeply your life was affected by your ‘Robin’, you could still find light at the end of a long tunnel. And of course, we had them building up Cristin Milioti’s Tracy like a pig for slaughter, giving us moments like La vie en Rose along the way. Cruel? A defence here, would dictate that Ted was able to find his true soulmate in Tracy, and that he loved her right till the very end, and thereafter. But there was always a Robin somewhere near the horizon – a door that was shut years ago, to never be opened again because he had his children to think about even after Tracy was gone. Ask your elders, especially the ones living happy lives with their spouses, if they ever think about ‘the one that got away.’ Whether they do care to admit or otherwise, but unless they ended up with that person, there will always be a small part of their mind fixated on the ‘What if?’ aspect of their ‘Robin’. There could be fond memories, traumatising experiences or moments that continue to inspire them to bring out the best from within themselves, but ‘Robins’ don’t die. And no matter how many viewers would like to deny this – whether it’s a 2% fixation with this person or a 98%, but they anticipated this show’s finale as a means to find a happy ending that alludes the thought of that person, a silver lining that they desperately crave in their real lives, just as Ted craved all this while in the show looking for ‘the one’. And they felt robbed. But why are we forcing our expectations on Ted? We know he’s a hopeless romantic unlike most others, and he did eventually find a way to fly back to his Robin, even if we can’t. Why do we desperately need his feelings for the yellow umbrella owner to prevail over all else, which it does by the way and it remained that way until tragedy struck. He learnt a lot over the years from various relationships, just as we do – and I still respect that character arc, no matter how much it edged towards clinginess and hopeless romanticism – seeing him grow as a person in all those years and eventually finding his Tracy was rewarding enough, even though it was a slightly exhausting affair from a viewer’s standpoint. Not to mention, there were patches of ‘downright boring’ in the last few seasons.
I will admit – I hated Barney’s entire outline in the finale. Now that, by the way, is a character arc painfully undone which left me feeling cheated. Suddenly that magical reveal at the end of season 6 where Barney was a soon-to-be groom made absolutely no sense, and even the forced plot structure of baby Ellie wasn’t going to change my mind about it, especially if he was being placed in circumstances that could easily force him to revert to his old ways. I really wonder if throwing a baby girl into the dynamic would suddenly make an impactful difference in Mr. Stinson’s ways, given his rather excellent track record of showcasing quite a contrasting attitude in the earlier seasons. Anyways, that’s something I’ll leave for the romantics and cynics to argue over.
The show constantly tries to tell you that love isn’t a push-button mechanism. And if Mr. Mosby eventually does end up finding his way back to his Robin, it’s just because he was eventually meant to. The dynamic they share might not be ideal or perfect, but nothing in life is ‘perfect’. The whole idea of perfection hinges on your perception, and that’s all you need to bring about all the changes in your life. She’s Canadian, a cluttered mess, has a weird history, shoots guns, falls for the wrong people, sleeps with his best friend – and he still wants her. Don’t know which of those things spells ‘perfection’ for you from Ted’s perspective, but it doesn’t for me. And yet, here we are. The heart wants what it wants, and it’s alright if you’re seeking all the wrong things, because eventually they may be the best things in your life. Whether you end up with your Robin, or live happily ever after with your Tracy, it’s time you forgive Ted Mosby for being a hopeless romantic and a human with his own set of baggage, and the show creators for making him that way. The show was far from perfect towards the later seasons, but I still don’t hold our protagonist’s character arc ending against it. You’re absolutely free to not agree with my view, but one fine day, you just might see where all of this was coming from. And if you don’t, well – kudos to you!
Prakhar Prabhakar, the first of his name.
(Fellow Hopeless Romantic. :P)