Warning: spoilers ahead.
There are a lot of people on the Internet who are mad about How I Met Your Mother's finale.
I don’t really think they need to be mad.
Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor), after finally finishing telling his teenage kids how he met their mother – six years after she died of an unknown illness – decides to give Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders), his first love on the show, another shot.
This comes after a series of enormous dampers on all the pomp and circumstance that the show’s ninth season (and the eight before it) built up to: Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin get divorced three years (or half an episode) after their wedding, Marshall Eriksen (Jason Segel) spends years slogging through another terrible job as a corporate lawyer, the gang finally gives up their old apartment, and, most importantly, that the mother we’ve spent the series waiting for Ted to meet dies 11 years after he meets her.
The finale’s detractors say the ending is a cop-out – that it goes against how much we’ve seen Ted grow and how much he learned Robin wasn’t the person he was meant to love.
But it isn’t really a cop-out, because meeting the mother was not the intent of the show. It was about how Ted met the mother: what he went through and how he grew as a person, in order to be the functional adult capable of sustaining the relationship he’d have with her.
That took eight years, over nine seasons of facing the realities that life threw Ted. The women he met until the mother (Cristin Milioti, whose character’s name was revealed as Tracy at the end of the finale) were never The One. The jobs he had were never his last. His dream apartments would go away. He would lose friends – namely Robin, who also lost her marriage – to careerism. His friends in perfect relationships would break up, get back together and, as we learned even with Barney, become parents to children who change their entire lifestyles.
The show wasn’t about how meeting the mother would solve all of Ted’s life’s problems. The mother, like Ted and all of his friends, was human, and some of our favourite humans will die earlier than we expect. That’s life. Tracy’s existence wasn’t simply a pawn to get Ted back with Robin in the show’s final scene. Her relationship with him was another step in helping Ted grow to be the father of the children he’s spent years ranting to.
Ted’s final meeting with Robin isn’t some kind of redemption for the audience to forget that tragedy and cheer on their hopes from Season 1. Ted looked for love for eight years on this show before he met the mother and spent a decade-plus with her before her death. It was tragic; for Ted and his kids, it was a tremendous loss.
That Ted might dredge up feelings for Robin six years after his wife’s death shouldn’t come as a surprise: At this point he is an adult who’s known her for 25 years, and, hey, both of them are single. He doesn’t have her ex-husband Barney to compete for her feelings with, either.
The show spent nine years telling its audience that people grow and change, that nothing is static, even if that’s how you assume adulthood is when you’re in your early 20s. That Ted gave Robin another shot in the end isn’t a cop-out: It’s something someone, after spending a very long evening with his kids rehashing memories of a close friend and ex-flame, might reasonably consider. We just saw the whole mess condensed into an hour of television.
I might have been more disappointed in the ending had I seen it coming; I’d heard the mother’s death rumours, but not extrapolated that it’d mean Ted would wind up with Robin. Unlike, say, True Detective, I didn’t spend hours on the Internet reading speculation about the finale. That show’s Yellow King was a fake-out; the girl under the HIMYM ‘s Yellow Umbrella wasn’t. Her meeting with Ted, and it turning into a relationship, was the result of years of trial-and-error adulthood, where you couldn’t predict anything. In real life, you couldn’t predict her death, either.
You can’t predict the person you marry will live as long as you will. That was Ted’s final life lesson in the show: All he could do was love the person he married as much he possibly could, for as long as he could. That was what How I Met Your Mother wanted to send as its message: Treasure what you have when you have it. That a six-year widower gave an old flame a shot, 25 years later, is just throwing the audience a bone. And why not? The ending wasn’t perfect, but neither is life. Sorry, haters.