Editor’s Note: TV moves on, but we haven’t. In our new feature series It Still Stings, we relive emotional TV moments that we just can’t get over. You know the ones where months, years, or even decades later, it still provokes a reaction? We’re here for you. We rant because we love. Or, once loved. And obviously, when discussing finales in particular, there will be spoilers:
Kids, let me tell you about the time I was filled with a blinding, hot rage over the series finale of How I Met Your Mother.
The day was Monday, March 31, 2014. I had spent nine years and 208 episodes waiting for freaking Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) to tell us how he met the mother of his children. I watched the one-hour series finale and I’m pretty sure I hate-tweeted the entire thing. My fury burned with the passion of 1,000 suns.
But in true How I Met Your Mother fashion, let me rewind. Everyone suit up because we are going back in time. Kids, back in 2005 television was very different. Netflix was still the company that sent you DVDs in the mail. Amazon delivered books and toilet paper to your house. And you had to wait a whole week for a new episode to premiere. The TV schedule still ran on a September to May cycle, and as a nascent TV critic, I would spend my summer months consuming all the pilots broadcast TV had to offer. So for a show to stand out amid a plethora of new shows meant something. How I Met Your Mother stood out immediately. It flipped the cliché of the woman being the one who always wanting to get married and gave us Ted, a man who wanted nothing more than to settle down with the love of his life—he just hadn’t met her yet. Ted and friends Marshall (Jason Segel), Lily (Alyson Hannigan), Robin (Cobie Smulders) and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) became my new Friends, which had just ended the year before.
The comedy also did something usually only seen in dramas, and set up a mystery that bounced back and forth through time. The pilot showed viewers how Ted met Robin across a crowded bar, they had a great first date, he stole a blue French horn for her (long story) and we all thought okay this is how he met “the Mother” until the pilot ended with the zinger of “that kids is how I met your Aunt Robin.” It was an excellent twist and one that would play out, often frustratingly so, over nine seasons. There were hints of the mother all the time—a yellow umbrella was a recurring motif that weaved in and out of the seasons.
I loved the show. To this day I use some of the show’s most memorable quotes. I often find ways to work “Nobody asked you Patrice!” and “Where’s the poop Robin?” into my conversations. I can’t help but salute every time I use the word “major.” In my work I even got to visit the show’s set and interview the cast. Series creators and showrunners Carter Bays and Craig Thomas were always so generous with their time, and over the show’s run I spent many hours talking to them and breaking down the delightful minutiae of the show.
I think that’s why the series finale stung so much. It’s because I adored the show that I felt so betrayed. I mean you won’t find me in an outrage of the ending of King of Queens. If you recall, Cristin Miloti was introduced as “The Mother” in the Season 8 finale. The show then spent the entire final season on the wedding day of reformed-bad-boy-bachelor Barney and Robin. The two characters had gotten together in the Season 4 finale, and now were finally tying the knot. The entire ninth season took place at the Farhampton Inn as the gang prepared for the big wedding day. That’s five full seasons following the ups and downs of Robin and Barney’s romance and 22 episodes devoted to their wedding day.
And what did the hour-long series finale entitled “Last Forever: Part One and Part Two” do? It had them get divorced less than 13 minutes into the finale. The couple decided to call it quits after three years because Robin was traveling so much for work and their relationship just wasn’t working. WHAT? You spent all this time convincing us that Barney was a changed man because of his love for Robin. That they were truly happy together and you throw it out the window? It was a slap(sgiving) to the face of the audience.
But, kids, that was just the beginning of my outrage. They killed the mother off. And she wasn’t even given a diagnosis, and instead seemed to die of beautiful corpse disease. This is something fans had feared since the Season 8 episode “The Time Travelers,” when Ted imagines an alternate reality where a future version of himself rushes to meet the Mother 45 days earlier. “I want those extra 45 days with you. I want each one of them,” he says wistfully. It’s hinted at again in the ninth season episode “Vesuvius” when in the future Ted and the Mother go out to dinner and she wonders “what kind of mother is going to miss her daughter’s wedding?” and Ted’s eyes fill with tears. But this is aaalllll confirmed in the series finale and her quick death, dialogue-free death from beautiful corpse disease.
It just felt like such a cheat. We spent all this time wondering how Ted met the mother of his children not even knowing her name (it was Tracy by the way) only to kill her off. Bays and Thomas said they always knew how the show was going to end, which means from the jump they knew they would kill Tracy off.
You would think that was the worst part, right? But no the absolute worst part is legen—wait for it—dary. The final moments of the series finale find Ted’s children telling him that they know the point of Ted’s extremely long story is to get their blessing to ask out Robin. So the finale ends with Ted recreating the scene from the pilot and arriving at Robin’s stoop with a blue French horn in his hands as she smiles out the window. I felt betrayed. Hoodwinked. Played for a fool. I had spent all this time invested in the show. Thinking I was on this journey to meet the love of Ted’s life, when the love of his life was Robin and the mom was one more obstacle for them to overcome in their grand romance.
Oh but it gets worse. And I’m sorry I really do have to yell here: THERE WAS AN ALTERNATE ENDING! An ending where the Mother didn’t die and Barney and Robin stayed married. The ending was released in September of 2014 on the boxed DVD set and can be seen here. The ending honored the romance between Ted and the Mother as they lived happily ever after.
Thomas and Bays bet and they bet wrong. Unlike, say, the controversial ending of Lost or The Sopranos where you can actually find viewers who were happy with the ending (I’m #TeamILikedtheEndingofLost), no one was even remotely happy with this ending. No one. Most, like me, were filled with a blinding rage.
But I have to tell you, a funny thing happened when I re-watched the series finale in preparation for this column. I wasn’t as angry. Time has softened the blow. The hour-long finale watched in isolation and separate from the rest of the seasons has some very poignant moments. I had totally forgotten that Barney became a dad. And how many lovely moments between the Mother and Ted the finale squeezed in.
And while the series finale still stings in a major way (hand salute: Major Way), my fondness for the show remains. To quote Ted, “sometimes even if you know how something’s gonna end, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the ride.”
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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