Last year, at the end of How I Met Your Mother‘s eighth season, we – the viewers – finally met the titular matriarch (Cristin Milioti). Now, 24 episodes and an entire year later, the show’s main character, Ted (Josh Radnor), has met her as well. Even I am not sensitive enough to consider that a spoiler – it is in the title after all – but creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas did have a couple surprises in store for fans (or obsessive haters, depending on your perspective).
I received two texts after the series finale aired. The message from my sister read, “How I met your mother = damn good finale,” while a buddy from college sent me one that said, “Fuck himym.” These conflicting reports gave me a lot to think about as I finally got a chance to sit down and watch the episode. This season has been a mostly net positive situation, at least in my estimation; while there have been lows, the highs have been much higher (particularly the 21st episode, “Gary Blauman,” which may be on my list of top episodes – if I were ever to waste even more time making a list like that). I cannot put “Last Forever” on that high end, but I won’t write it off, either.
The episode opens back in 2005, with the official induction of Robin (Cobie Smulders) into the gang, before skipping ahead to the reception at her wedding to Barney (Neil Patrick Harris). It is not long before Ted ends up at the Farhampton train station, confronted with his marital destiny. This scene, and the inevitable meeting therein, serves as the framing device for the entire double-length episode, which jumps through time in typical Mother fashion to show us what happens to all of the main characters over the course of approximately 15 years.
This is my favorite type of finale: the kind that shows you what happens to its characters, tying up loose ends and giving closure. In execution, however, Bays and Thomas do not quite do their characters justice. Lily (Alyson Hannigan) reaches Ted-levels of romanticism and emotional distress, while Barney loses most of the development established by the last two years. The only character who comes out relatively clean is Marshall (Jason Segel), but the trade-off seems to be a dramatic reduction in screentime (a recurring theme for the actor, who has become increasingly disinterested in the show).
Regardless, the finale manages to be an entertaining slice of television. There is a reliance on old bits from the show, but there are some very funny jokes. And there is an acceptance of the fact that not everything in life works out exactly as you expect it to, which is nice to see on a show that tends to wrap everything up in a bow.
But then we get the ultimate bow (like the one you put on a gift, not the one you earn at the end of a performance) in the form of HIMYM‘s home stretch. The last five or so minutes are… not good. The show takes a turn that is not unexpected, and then immediately takes another one that is pretty disappointing given the show’s history. The way everything wraps up is manipulative and contrived, seemingly beholden to a scene with Ted’s children that was filmed seven years ago. The kids point out an inherent flaw in the show itself, and while it all makes sense, it does not feel satisfying. The show has been moving forward for the last seven years, but Bays and Thomas had to jump backward to make their original ending fit.
It would have been smarter to let the show end in a manner more true to the show’s natural progress, but even a sequence like the one that ends thi series cannot ruin everything that has come before. How I Met Your Mother was a good show, for the most part. Maybe “for the most part” is not the best qualifier imaginable, but it could be worse. Even this finale, despite its flaws, manages to have its moments. It is those flashes of brilliance that will ultimately define the series – a series that started great and then ended. And there is nothing wrong with that.