What first got me interested in How I Met Your Mother was the basic premise: a five-some of twentysomethings living in New York City — exactly what I was looking for to fill the hole Friends, a show I watched religiously, left after it came to its end the season prior. What kept me hooked, however, was how the relationships between those five characters developed.
In many ways, I saw my own relationships mirrored on the television screen in Lily, Marshall, Ted, Robin, and Barney. I was drawn deeper into the show because it felt like an extension of my reality. I knew versions of these people in my real life, but I spent every single Monday night with the fictional versions of them. When Marshall found out his father had died and cried in Lily’s arms, I cried too. Because who doesn’t, unfortunately, have at least one friend or loved one who has lost a parent too soon?
I’m not going to argue that Ted never got annoying, or that Barney never acted appallingly, or that Robin didn’t seem a tad mean when she yelled at Patrice for the umpteenth time. But in a sea of over-the-top melodramas and unrealistic reality shows, How I Met Your Mother felt relatable.
As the seasons went on, however, and Ted dated more and more women who weren’t the woman, it began to get frustrating — I can’t even imagine how Penny and Luke felt on that couch. But I’d put in all this time and energy and genuinely cared about all of the characters. What was one, two, or three more seasons of listening to stories from MacLaren’s?
I was willing to wait for that happy ending.
And then Season 9 began. I tried to enjoy Season 9. I thought the 200th episode was actually quite fantastic in that it changed things up and let the Mother (Tracy) narrate and talk about her friends and life experiences. But by that point, the show had drifted too far from its roots. Instead of focusing on a group of friends who were dealing with highs and lows and issues of simple, everyday life, the setting was now one extraordinary weekend — 56 hours to be exact — with flashforwards and a few flashbacks crammed in between.
And on Monday night, How I Met Your Mother had to wrap all that up into a one-hour series finale. I thought the series finale started off strong. I appreciated that the writers had put the gang back where it all began: at the booth in MacLaren’s. It took Ted one whole train ride to decide to derail his plans and stay in New York City to date Tracy, which is actually quite characteristic of the classic Mr. Mosby fans first met.
Jump forward two years later, and what had been portrayed as a fun drunken night abroad earlier in the season, was actually Barney and Robin avoiding a serious discussion. Ted and Tracy were living with their daughter in the suburbs, Marshall and Lily were expecting their third child, and Barney and Robin dropped the bomb that they’d already gotten a divorce. An entire season devoted to their wedding and 20 minutes into the last episode of the whole series, that relationship had totally crumbled. And it crumbled so badly that Robin couldn’t bear to be around Barney, instead burying herself in her work, distancing herself from all of her friends, and straining the original group.
In the final 40 minutes, Robin returned to their lives, Ted and Tracy got married and had their first conversation at the train station in Farhampton, Tracy got sick and died, and Ted’s teenage daughter convinced him to go after her “Aunt Robin.”
We’d spent nine years hearing Ted talk about his wife, only to find out they were married for just 10 years before she was taken from him. And to top it all off, her death was covered in mere seconds on screen. It felt like we had been cheated. We had already been cheated of most of her life, in both background stories and future time, and then her death flipped by as a picture in a montage that preceded the show’s final moments. The closest thing to a memorial for Tracy, the Mother for whom the show was named, was an extra second that lingered on a portrait of her smiling. After nine years of building up this woman, she deserved more than that. And so did we.
But if they had been set on this ending since the show began, if they were determined to have Ted and Robin come full circle and end up together in the finale, why didn’t they spend all of Season 9 playing that story out? If Tracy had to die, share that story toward the beginning of the season, when there is still time left for viewers to grieve and come to terms with her death.
Though we spent little time with her, Tracy was someone the writers wanted us to love. She instantly connected with each of Ted’s friends. She had almost all of Ted’s quirks and truly appreciated the ones she didn’t share. She was the perfect girl, the girl who’s actually worth waiting for.
And then she was gone and we were expected to be thrilled that Robin and Ted found their way back to each other again. Maybe even last season, I would have felt differently. But after Robin tried to get Ted to run away with her an hour before her wedding, as a viewer, it was hard not to feel tired of this merry-go-round. Robin only ever wanted to get serious with Ted when she couldn’t have him. But he deserved someone that wanted him just as much as he wanted her. And that person was Tracy. You can’t throw a wrench and a blue french horn into the mix and expect the viewers to find comfort in it.
That isn’t the happy ending we waited for. Or the one we deserved.