America changed on March 31, 2014. From that day forward, society split into two factions that would wage an endless culture war: one that liked the HIMYM finale and one that hated it. There would be no winners — only blood. And somewhere in our collective imaginations, Ted Mosby laughed from the top floor of a skyscraper he built.
Ok, so the series finale of How I Met Your Mother wasn't that dramatic, but watching a nine year investment amount to such a disappointment is pretty crushing. Spoilers from here on out.
The failure is not so much the fact that the mother, Tracy, dies just to fulfill some hollow promise (though it is that, too) as it is how the ending was handled. Tracy's death was a colossal misstep and bad story telling decision, but it would have been received better had there been clues scattered throughout the rest of the season.
In writing, there's this thing called a justification, which is essential to the audience's acceptance of the story choice. If there are no justifications for what's going on in the story, people are going to be confused and upset. It's especially bad to lack justifications when the audience has an emotional attachment to the characters being forced into questionable situations, but it's unconscionable to drop the ball when the rest of the story was perfectly justified.
What's sad is the mother's death had an easy fix that would have justified the choice. All the writers needed to do was litter the season with a few lines to set things up.
When Barney meets the mother at the drug store, the mother could have been picking up some medication, and she could have taken the pills on the train with Lily. Perhaps the reason she left the wedding early is because she had a doctor's appointment early the next day, and that's why Ted had a chance to talk to her. She could have had a cough during the flash-forwards, or any number of other symptoms to hint that something might be wrong.
All of this wouldn't make up for the poor decision to kill Tracy off, but it would have allowed fans to get used to the idea instead of letting the Internet spoil it weeks before. It would have justified the choice, because viewers could look back and say, "The clues were there all along." That might have resulted in people figuring her death out, but a story doesn't have to be surprising to be good. It does, however, have to be justified. And besides, people love making theories.
Still, even better planning couldn't have made the ending good. To be frank, the concept of the mother's death and Ted ending up with Robin is flawed from the beginning. Some will claim the opposite, though—that the entire series is about how Ted and Robin would end up together. But that's the creators trying to be edgy and refusing to learn from the story they created. The argument can be made that a story's writer knows the story best, but nonsensical writing is bad any way you slice it. Being edgy for the sake of edginess is lazy and sloppy.
But why are Robin and Ted an impossible couple to justify? Did you watch the series? The whole first season was about how it wouldn't work between them. And then the end of season two showed why their relationship wouldn't work through their breakup. The rest of the series continues on this way, always hinting that some feelings remain between them but constantly pointing out that Ted and Robin don't work. By the time Barney and Robin got engaged, Ted's lingering feelings had even started to be pathetic and annoying. She wasn't for him, and sometimes that happens. That's life.
Despite the show being a series of jokes separating evidence that Ted and Robin don't work (Ok, it was more than that), the writers decided to explore another aspect of the phrase, "that's life." Because people do die unexpectedly in real life. It's not unheard of or even uncommon. The writers just took it too far.
Something the writers should have remembered is that while a story needs to be justified, it doesn't have to be just like real life. People don't watch How I Met Your Mother because it's exactly like real life — they watch it because they wanted to see a love story. And at the end, many people only watched to meet the fucking mother.
We should have known the season would end in disaster, though, and many probably did see it coming. When the writers boxed themselves into the day of Barney and Robin's wedding, they placed disproportionate emphasis on something that ultimately wouldn't last. So not only does the rug feel pulled out from under us with the mother's death, but it's as if there was a hole in the floor beneath the rug for us to fall into all along.
I could write an entire essay detailing how the show could have saved itself from this ultimate stumble that will mar the series forever, but you get the gist. And if you wanted Ted and Robin to end up together, well good for you. I bet you're quite happy, and there's no reason you shouldn't be.
No reason except for the ending caused the rest of the otherwise great series to become a circle jerk — a series of episodes asking the cliché "will they or won't they?" It's a question audiences have seen a million times before in every sitcom, and after nine years of what seemed like something more, it was sad to see the series not capitalize on its potential.
If Ted was going to end up with Robin all along, what's the point of even meeting the mother? Why is that the show's title? Some half-assed catharsis about how "it was always Robin" does nothing but shatter nine years of dramatic tension.
A nine year circle jerk chafes plain and simple, and it hurts all the more when you didn't realize you were being jerked around from the start. The saddest thing, though, is that before last night, How I Met Your Mother was a great show with a slightly disappointing final season. Now it's a painful reminder of the love story that should have been.