WARNING: The following contains spoilers regarding "Last Forever", the double-length series finale to the CBS comedy How I Met Your Mother. If you have yet to see the episode, please turn back now.
Tonight was the series finale of How I Met Your Mother, which I have been watching since my first year of college, the show's second season. For the first time, I've watched a show for years advance of my older siblings, and it feels like an accomplishment. It was like Friends with a touch more substance, mostly from the extra effort of an ongoing, series-length story arc.
Friends can now say it benefited from that extra simplicity. With great characterization comes great responsibility. (Am I right, Spongebob Squarepants and The Fairly OddParents?)
Protagonist Ted, narrating the show decades in the future to his teenage children, develops a thing for a girl named Robin. It's made clear however, that Robin is not the "Mother" in the title. Over time, plenty of obstacles developed between the two, including burgeoning chemistry between Robin and Ted's immature womanizing friend, Barney. The final season built up to Barney's wedding to Robin whilst also establishing a rich characterization for Ted's own wife, naturally only given a name in the fleeting moments of the show -- Tracy. We learn that Tracy is long dead by the time we reach Ted narrating, and their children encourage him to go out and get "Aunt Robin" decades after her and Barney's divorce. Somehow after all this time, Ted still has a thing for Robin.
This resolution would've been cute, but there was more than enough tension between Ted and Robin. In fact, there was too much.
It wasn't just that Robin and Barney were in love, it was that they had near-perfect chemistry. It was like a gender-reversed The Taming of the Shrew, Robin being the first girl this womanizer was willing to settle down with, let alone marry. This lent itself to lot of genuine character development with Ted trying to get over Robin, building up to him doing do right before her wedding. And Tracy herself was quite a catch, built up as such even long before her reveal in the final seconds of season eight.
Tracy dying was not the problem, that would've worked as tragedy. The problem was that Robin and Barney divorced, and that gave way to Barney relapsing into his chauvinistic ways. The only wakeup call he gets is a child conceived with a random hookup...even though Ted is just as guilty with the kids he had with Tracy. (Yeah, they don't properly marry until over five years after he proposed. That does not make Ted look like the better man, you know.)
This ending would've worked better if it happened a few years earlier, before you severed all ties between Ted and Robin. Looking back in hindsight, just ending with season eight as I admit I hoped it would beforehand would've suited the ending shot in advance with Lyndsy Fonseca and David Hendrie better. Instead, creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas made their crib and now had to sleep in it. Consequently, the finale sees Barney's story closing on such a weak note, one of many factors undermining whatever emotional impact was intended.
But I guess in the end, it wasn't so much the destination as it was the journey. And what a journey it was. How I Met Your Mother reflected the evolution of television going on everywhere else, and in the process gave us a great set of characters with a beautiful sense of group chemistry, and yet still managed to bring the funny. I will still miss it tremendously.