I stopped watching How I Met Your Mother several months ago. The show had devolved from a fun, witty and emotionally compelling sitcom to something that managed to be offensive on almost a weekly basis. Worse, it had committed the cardinal sin of long-running TV shows — it had become boring. I stopped watching and never looked back.
Until this week, when the series finale finally aired. I stuck with the show for so long because I wanted to see how it ended (with Barney and Robin together, I hoped), and that impulse hadn’t gone away. Yet I’m glad that I quit when I did. It ever-so-slightly softened the blow (although I still shouted “WHAT?!?!” when I first read about the conclusion).
Because, unsurprisingly, the show’s finale stayed true to what the series had become: nonsensical, stuck-in-the-past and frankly sexist and offensive, despite its “true love” exterior.
The creators had clung to their “shock twist” of Robin not being the mother, but of still being Ted’s true love, since the inception of the show (the final moment with the kids was recorded around season two). I won’t go into how this no longer made any sense for the characters, or how it erased seasons worth of apparent growth and emotional development. Plenty of other people have talked about that elsewhere. I am, however, surprised that the writers opted for an ending that, while unexpected, ruined the entire emotional concept of the show. The very first episode threw in the twist that Ted thought he had met his true love, but that they would not end up together, as she was the kids’ “Aunt Robin.” A sitcom where we know the initial main ship won’t get together from the very beginning? One which defies the on-again off-again history of couples like Ross and Rachel and accepts that sometimes people break up for good reasons and find love and happiness elsewhere? Sign me up! The entire emotional basis of How I Met Your Mother was that happiness WOULD come, that stories have happy endings. It’s a statement of “things may suck now, but one day you’ll be able to look back and have it all make sense. It’s all leading somewhere good.” But turns out, it’s all leading to a twenty-year breakup with Aunt Robin, before those two finally get together again.
But the show’s conclusion also had some really problematic undertones regarding its female characters. Particularly, regarding its female characters and babies.
Lily gets off the lightest. We don’t learn what happens to her career in the art world, but we do learn that she has two more kids with Marshall. Alone, it’s a case of “the show was pushed for time.” But in the context of the other characters, it begins to seem like it was presented that way because how many children she has is the only thing that mattered. Marshall, we learn, hated corporate law but eventually became a judge. But Lily’s career? Not mentioned.
Then there’s the weird mess of Robin, Barney, Ted and the Mother. Or, more specifically, the implications behind that mess.
Robin can’t have kids. She was adamant, for most of the show, that she didn’t WANT kids, and Barney, it seemed, was the same. They could have adopted if they changed their minds, but having children of their own would be impossible.
So. Barney and Robin get married, then get divorced a couple of years later, with Barney realizing that he could simply never love any woman (which… contradictory to years of character development, but OK). They get divorced, in part, because Robin’s career is too successful and all that travel is destroying their relationship. OK. Then a nameless woman becomes pregnant with his child, and when he sees that baby girl’s face, he finally finds a woman he can love forever. Yup, the key to Barney’s heart was babies… babies that Aunt Robin, overly successful career woman that she was, could not have.
Then we turn to the Robin-Ted-The Mother issue. Calling Tracy “the Mother” seems natural, after years of it, and before it seemed OK, because “the Mother” was shorthand for “Ted’s eventual wife, his true love, the person he belongs with that we can’t wait to see.” But in the end, “The Mother” became quite literal — we were meeting the mother of Ted’s kids, but not the love of his life. Ted pines over Robin for nine years on the show. Then he meets the Mother and has great, adorable chemistry with her. They have two kids. And then, six years before the telling of the story, she dies. But her death is skimmed over. It doesn’t really matter, even to Ted’s own kids, who respond to the end of the story by telling their father that he clearly loved Aunt Robin all along. Robin and Ted broke up because Robin didn’t want the life in the suburbs and marriage and kids and all that stuff, and although Robin does get married, it’s not the sort of marriage that Ted wants. So Ted finds the Mother to have kids with, before she conveniently dies without much fanfare, freeing him up to return to his true love without having to sacrifice his desire to have children too.
Yup. In the end, everyone has babies, and your relationship can’t work if you don’t have children… or at least, if someone else hasn’t already been there to add kids into the equation. I seriously doubt that the writers intended those implications, or even that they were aware of their existence in the story, but that doesn’t negate the fact that they’re there, tied up in the main conceit of the narrative and in every side plot in the finale too.
And so I guess How I Met Your Mother is an apt title, all things considered. It might have been more about how Ted met Aunt Robin than how he met the Mother, but, in the end, motherhood was the thing that mattered.