Rewatching “How I Met Your Mother” has made me an emotional trainwreck

I honestly wonder about all the hate the finale receives. 

(Needless to say, this post is full of spoilers, if that still matters three years later. Also, this might be a bit of a confusing, stream-of-consciousness post. Consider yourself warned!)

I first started watching HIMYM after, I think, the third or fourth season, when my brother recommended it to me. I tried it, I dug it, I picked up the available seasons on DVD and binged to catch up. I’m not much for watching TV as it airs week-to-week so I binged each season thereafter as it was released. So I was aware of the  backlash to the finale before I watched a single episode of the final season.

Once I watched it, I was gobsmacked. And confused. Not confused by the finale, mind you. The ending was… right. I was confused by the hatred I’d seen.

Even at the time, having watched it gradually, year by year, I’d thought the ending had been relatively obvious, or at least unsurprising. There was plenty of foreshadowing peppered throughout the series, both for the death of the mother, and for Ted and Robin ending up together. Hell, in the eighth season there was even an episode where Ted straight up says he wished he could have gone over to Tracy’s apartment to meet her earlier, just to have had a few extra weeks with her.

Anyway, I rewatched the series again over the past couple of months. It’s the first time I’ve watched it since, well, that first time that I watched the final season when it had been released on DVD. This time around, knowing for sure how it would turn out, the hints and foreshadowing became obvious almost to the point where it seemed like they were hitting the audience over the head with it.

Which brings me back to my confusion over the reaction. Judging by what I’ve seen online, approximately 99% of the audience completely misinterpreted the entire point of the show for 9 straight years and somehow felt that the ending was some sort of ‘betrayal’. I realize there are some folks out there who can only see things in the absolute most literal, face-value terms, and who would be shocked – just shocked – that there was more to something called How I Met Your Mother than just meeting the mother, but I assume that group doesn’t make up the majority of the viewership?

And really, how else could the show have ended? By that point, if they had ended with Tracy living and still together with Ted, the series would have basically been saying that their marriage was in dire trouble. Think about it. Ted sits his kids down to tell them an extremely long-winded story about ‘how I met your mother’ and then proceeds to spend the vast, vast, vast majority of the time talking about his undying love for ‘Aunt’ Robin.

That is not something you would do in a healthy marriage.

And ‘marital troubles’ would be the best case scenario at that point. The other likely alternative would be that Ted was even more of an emotionally disturbed sociopath than Barney, to spend so much time talking about Robin during that story.

But thankfully that’s not how it played out.

One of the things I tremendously admire about the show is how deftly it intermingled standard sitcom comedy and random, over the top insanity (hello, cockamouse!) with realistic storylines and fantastic emotional honesty. And that – the realism – is, I think, the key to the series, and what so many people seemed to have missed in the hopes of an utterly generic, utterly unrealistic fairy-tale ending.

Love is messy. Life is a beautiful disaster. There is no destined, magically ordained “The One”. You can have a love of your life, and another love of your life. That’s how the real world works. Tracy lost the love of her life years before she even met Ted. Ted met the love of his life in Robin, but things didn’t work out; after growing as a person he found another love of his life in Tracy. And after he lost Tracy, after more years of individual growth, Ted and Robin had become the loves of each others’ lives.

It showed life as a painful, messy, confusing, wonderful mess full of unexpected changes. And so, despite all the comedy, ridiculous situations, and random insanity, it was, ultimately, one of the most realistic shows I’ve seen. I’ve heard it said that art and fiction use lies to tell the truth, and by that measure, HIMYM is absolutely a work of art.

Now, having said that, I should point this out: While I believe the ending was absolutely the right ending, it was certainly not the ideal ending. On an emotional level I can see why viewers were upset, which brings me back to the show leaving me an emotional trainwreck. I mean, we spend years watching Ted, the loveable idealistic jackass, as he grows and matures into a decent adult man. Then we meet Tracy and, well, I’m not ashamed to admit that I absolutely fell in love with the character, or as much as I can fall in love with a fictional person.

I mentioned in my last post about depression that my emotions aren’t exactly fully functional in a normal capacity. Another aspect of that emotional dysfunction: I don’t really cry. At least, not in real life. And it isn’t because of some bullshit toxic masculinity thing about how ‘men don’t cry’ or whatever. It’s just that life in general, and depression and its leftover vestiges, have pretty much numbed me to the point where I just don’t cry.

And yet.

Movies and TV shows can certainly make my eyes water in ways that real life no longer can. I can’t explain it, and sometimes the things that make me tear up a bit are fairly random. But there were many times during the final season of HIMYM that I teared up. And then there was the “How Your Mother Met Me” episode, which made me actually full-on cry not once but twice – when Tracy looked to the sky and spoke to her deceased love, and again when she pulled out her ukulele and sang La Vie En Rose. They were both beautiful, heart-wrenching moments, and I can honestly say I hold Cristin Milioti’s performance in that one 22-minute episode to be one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.

How Your Mother Met Me

(Side note: coincidentally enough, I, having forgotten the specifics of this episode, recently picked up a li’l soprano ukulele of my own and have been learning to play, adding just a smidge more resonance for me. It’s a surprisingly great instrument!)

And it wasn’t just the first time I watched it, either. It happened again, yesterday, on my rewatch, just bawling away. I was on the verge of full-on tears at several points during the final episode, too, particularly when Barney met his daughter and during the “when your mother got sick” part.

Like I said, it was sad – heartwrenching – messy and beautiful. Like life.

There’s one other reason the ending leaves me an emotional trainwreck, and I know this part will probably come across as particularly pathetic, but I feel like sharing it anyway.

As I touched on in the depression post, I don’t have much in the way of face-to-face friends. I have to very close friends who I love dearly but who have both moved away, and so I rarely see them anymore. I’m both shy and an introvert, so it’s extremely difficult for me to meet new people, let alone befriend them. And when I do make friends – generally through jobs – they inevitably couple up, marry, start families, drift away from their single friends like me. I have friends and keep in touch online, but rarely get to hang out and go on adventures with anyone.

So, for much of my life I’ve lived vicariously through TV characters and friendships. I think this sense of friendly camaraderie is one of the things that attracted me to my favorite show, Mystery Science Theater 3000. Hell, on the Star Trek episode of Futurama, Fry mentions this exact phenomenon as one of his reasons for loving Star Trek.

friends

And so it was for me with HIMYM. In a lot of ways, the main characters were bad people, but again, that’s realism. Nobody is all good or all bad. Even the best of people have said or done bad things. Hell, I try to be a good person and I’ve done plenty of terrible, terrible things. So, despite the massive, massive flaws and occasional outright terribleness of the characters, I would love to hang out with them. I loved watching their trials and tribulations and zany adventures.

And of course, after 9 years’ worth of that, to see the two-part finale, and watch these characters go through years and years of growth and change and growing apart and moving on, all at once, is a bit of a gut punch. And yet that also makes the ending beautiful – no absolute resolution, just seeing Ted and Robin as people who have finally grown into the people who are right for each other, re-enacting their original date only now with a great chance of success after all they’ve been through, both together and separately…

Messy. Gut-wrenching. Beautiful.

Like life.

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