If you’ve come this far with How I Met Your Mother, I bet you consider these characters your friends. I certainly do. I’ve felt for them and with them, laughed at their foibles, been in pain when they’re hurt. But the one that is closest to my heart is Ted Mosby.
Ted Mosby gets no respect. Conventional wisdom pegs him as a blank void in the middle of his own story, eclipsed by the more colorful characters around him, doomed to run on a romantic treadmill until the writers allow him to fulfill his destiny. But I don’t think people with that opinion have been watching the last few seasons with an open mind. Ted has become someone whose romantic nature curdled and almost died, someone who doubted himself, someone who submerged his own dreams in order to avoid upstaging his friends. And in all that, sometimes it was hard to see if they really loved him like friends were supposed to, or if they were too caught up in their own stories to notice that his was not going onward and upward. Everytime they made fun of Ted for some bit of nerdhood or douchery, I laughed, but with a pang. When would it be Ted’s turn?
So we all had our ideas about what would best close out this show and say goodbye to the characters, finish their journeys. But really, for me, there’s only one thing that needs to happen to fulfill the show’s promise. Ted needs to be happy.
The hour finale was a strange ride, marvelous in some ways, confounding in others. Endings are difficult, and I don’t think any objective assessment would say they nailed this one. But there’s a reason for even the most upsetting details, and they all contribute to a moment where fate deposits Ted back at a moment where he makes a choice and becomes, yet again, the protagonist of his own story. It might be too neat by half, but it errs on the side of being generous to this character. It gives him, as Barney says in 2018 about something far different (and in a state of far more self-delusion), a chance to “just be me.”
Barney and Robin can’t make it work, and both of them go back off the rails, unable to handle the failure. Marshall and Lily compromise and put their dreams on hold. Everybody that was once ahead of Ted in the moving-on department, in the maturity race, slips backward into the regrets and nostalgia of adulthood. For once, Ted has it all, short-lived as it may be. His romantic idealism that was so ill-suited to the dating world turns out to be perfectly suited for making the most of a few years, loving as intensely and completely as possible.
If there’s a message here—and there doesn’t have to be, it’s a sitcom for crying out loud—it’s that chance only takes you so far. Choice is finally the story of a life. The options we get to choose from have are dictated to us by the universe, but we decide how to respond. Have I wanted Ted to meet the mother for the last nine years? Yes, of course. But not because that’s what the story was supposed to give him. Really, and most of all for the last half of the series, since Stella, I’ve wanted Ted to be happy. I really have. And what was most beautiful about this finale wasn’t the details of what happened to Ted, but that he seemed so happy. We don’t even see him grieve over Tracy; that’s not the point. Happiness breeds confidence. Confidence means being who you are. And that blue French horn isn’t just the ultimate call-back, a salute to symmetry. It’s Ted, all in and unafraid.
That’s what I’ll take with me. Thanks for all the memories, How I Met Your Mother. You put us through hell, you were messy and made us feel things, you withheld and backtracked and had terrible CGI right to the end. But you were always you, heart on your sleeve, and I can’t complain. It’s all I ever wanted you to be.
The end of HIMYM coincides (not coincidentally, either) with the end of my time doing episodic television reviews for The A.V. Club. I grew up thinking I’d become a writer, but in college, having faced the fact that I had no talent or appetite for fiction, switched my major from English to religion. It’s still unbelievable to me, given my choice of obscure academic field, that I ended up writing for an audience bigger than any I could have hoped for as a novelist. HIMYM was among the first batch of shows covered when the “TV blog” that the A.V. Club started in 2007; I believe only It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (which I covered for the first two years) and the Fox Sunday-night animation block are still around from that original lineup. And looking back at the staff emails from that time, I see that I stole HIMYM from Noel Murray, who had originally volunteered for it. From such blatant internecine crimes are careers born. I’ve known for a couple of years that I wanted to bring my weekly TV reviewing to a close, but couldn’t bear the thought of bailing early when one of my original beats was so close to being complete. Anything that has gone on this long, and has involved this many installments, is bound to be highly variable in quality, but at my best I think I did work to be proud of: NewsRadio, Sports Night, Firefly, Breaking Bad. Thank you to everyone who, by being a reader here, has made my dream of being a writer come true.
My favorite moments tonight: Ted catches sight of the Mother playing bass in the middle of saying “onwards and upwards.” Barney is robbed of the chance to say “haaaave you met Ted?” despite seeing the perfect opportunity. The Jim Nacho (“Thank you, allow me to introduce myself, my name is Jim, Jim Nacho, inventor of the nacho”). Barney professing eternal love to Ellie in the same words he mocked back in the bar. The Mother interrupting the repeat proposal (“Yes. Sorry. Yes.”).
Moments that were very difficult to take: Barney regressing. (Yes, they all rightly called him on it, but ick and also ewwww.) Lily getting older and having increasingly horrible wigs. Robin feeling like she blew it.
“Shots before lunch on Thursday? It’s like you’re trying to make bad decisions!”
Here’s why I love Ted, in a nutshell. Not the blue french horn. Nope, it’s this: “Just be cool, lady, daaaamn!”
“You’ll be calling me … Fudge Supreme.”
- “I kept this story short and to the point!”