Last night, I watched the much-anticipated series finale to How I Met Your Mother. (For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, I’ll warn you before I start the spoiler filled part of the blog.)
I write a lot about cartoons, comics, and occasionally movies. So me writing about romantic comedy sitcom may seem a little unexpected. I actually got into How I Met Your Mother through webcomics. As some of you know, HIMYM writer/co-producer Gloria Calderon Kellet is the wife of popular webcartoonist Dave Kellet, who creates the comics Sheldon and Drive. Sheldon was the first webcomic I ever followed and Dave’s blog endorsed his wife’s work often enough that I decided to give it a chance.
By the way, Dave Kellet just finished a major project of his own, a documentary on comic strips titled Stripped. (I am still waiting for my DVD to arrive, but once I see the documentary, I promise to review it in excruciating detail and geek out appropriately.) Anyway, with both the husband and wife both completing and promoting major projects at roughly the same time, I do not understand how the Kellet household has not imploded. Everyone in that family has earned my respect for getting through this situation with so much class.
How I Met Your Mother  actually used a lot of the same devices as comic strips. The same types of jokes, running gags, and visual humor made the comic/cartoon influences look pretty clear to me. There are even some rewards for people who follow both Dave’s and Gloria’s work. For example, in HIMYM, did you ever notice that every time a male extra needed a name, he would inevitable be called “Arthur,” (the same name as Sheldon’s pet duck?) This also explains why ducks won the “Ducks vs. Rabbits” debate, when everyone knows that rabbits are better. Sometimes, stories from HIMYM some suspiciously like real-life anecdotes I previously read on cartoonist blogs. For example, the episode where Marshall’s obnoxious co-workers tease him when they find a love note from his wife sounds suspiciously like that real-life story from Scott Kurtz’s blog, where Scott teased Dave for taking a Skype call from his wife and daughter while attending a comic con. Sure, most sitcom writers borrow funny incidents from their real lives, but thanks to the internet, we’re interconnected enough to hear these tales from more than one of the people involved. My sister, Emily once joked, “So, you’re watching one of the most popular sitcoms on television to selectively stalk a small group of people?” I’m not really as creepy as it sounds (maybe 30% that creepy, tops.) I just have a weird memory for certain details and I have one of those brains that locks on patterns. I’ll get back to that in a bit.
SPOILER ALERT: I’m about to get into detail about How I Met Your Mother, the series and the finale, so if you haven’t watched it yet, go away and don’t come back until you do.


You’re still here? You either saw the whole series or you don’t really care about spoilers. Well, listen up, everything about this show tells us that the whole thing builds to the last episode, so if you haven’t seen it yet, you better be CERTAIN that you won’t ever want to watch it before you keep reading beyond this point.
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The How I Met Your Mother series finale has met with some mixed reviews. The biggest disappointment was that the main character, Ted and his long sought wife, Tracy, did NOT get to live happily ever after. Part of the twist ending was that they only had about a decade together before Tracy became terminally ill. Ted explains to his children that his long search to find their mother was necessary, because it made him cherish every moment of their time together. This was unexpectedly bittersweet for such an upbeat sitcom. We wanted to see Ted and Tracy live happily ever after. That was the ending we wanted.
But not the ending we deserved.
At a glance, this ending may seem like something the writers could have come up with at any time, but on examination, this was clearly the ending they were building to right from the start. Come on, every scene with Ted’s kids was filmed back when the series began in 2005 (how else could those kids have stayed teenagers for all these years?).
But there’s another indication that this ending was planned from the beginning, and this is where the writing is at it most brilliant. I mentioned earlier that my brain wants to find patterns in things and there is a strong pattern in way this series was written. The first episode is a map of the entire series, specifically Ted and Robin’s relationship.
Let’s recap the series so we can examine this pattern.
Episode One begins in the year 2030 and fifty-two year-old Ted sits down with his two teenage children and asks, “Did I ever tell you the story about how I met your mother?” Ted proceeds to tell the story, starting in 2005, on the day his two best friends got engaged. The engagement prompts Ted to think seriously about love and marriage for the first time in his life. Later, Ted meets a woman named Robin. He thinks she could be the love of his life. They go on a sweet-but-awkward first date. Ted later decides that the date ended too abruptly, so he goes back to her apartment to make a big romantic gesture, which Robin considers sweet but overwhelming. After all, they haven’t known each other long enough for Ted to declare his love for her. The episode ends with fifty-two year-old Ted telling his children, “And that was how I met your Aunt Robin … Hang on, kids, it’s a long story.” This was the first plot twist. The story leads us to believe Robin and Ted will end up together, then reveals that Ted will actually marry someone else.
The next eight years of the series show how Robin joins Ted’s group of best friends and we watch them navigate life. Marshall and Lily deal with marriage and family. Barney stay a confirmed bachelor and philanderer, but gradually considers settling down. Ted and Robin mostly remain friends, but sort of have some on-again, off-again relationships. But Ted and Robin want different things out of life: Ted wants a family and Robin wants a career in journalism. Can they make a relationship work despite their differences, or is their imperfect love for each other holding them back from finding their real love and happiness? Because of the first episode, the audience knows the answer, or at least, it thinks it does. In the final season, Robin does not choose Ted, but marries Barney instead. Then, Ted meets his wife-to-be, Tracy, at Barney and Robin’s wedding, leading the viewers to believe that the purpose of Ted and Robin’s relationship was to guide Ted to the real love of his life.
The final episode compresses the next seventeen years into a relatively short one-hour show. Ted and Tracy enjoy a perfect relationship. Robin and Barney are happily married for a while, but end up separating after three years. Robin leaves the circle of friends, partly because work keeps her busy, partly because she doesn’t want to hang around her ex-husband, and partly because being around Ted makes Robin wonder if she should have chosen him when she had the chance. Ted’s wife passes away in 2024 and Ted concludes telling the tale to his son and daughter. 
BUT THEN, Ted’s children don’t believe that the story was only about their mother. Instead, they suspect that their father has been telling this story to explain why he’s in love with Robin. His children urge him to find Robin and be happy. The series ends with Ted outside Robin’s apartment recreating a moment from their first date, back in Episode One.
Do you see the pattern that the pilot episode sets up for us? The first episode leads us to believe that Ted and Robin will end up together, then the last minute tells us, no – Ted will end up with someone else. Then the entire rest of the series recreates that trick for the next nine years, as we are kept believing that Ted and Robin will never be together, until the last five minutes of the entire series flips our expectations. Again.
Heck, Ted and Robin’s first date is a road map to their whole relationship. They go out, and have a good time with some ups and downs. This part of the evening represents the bulk of the series – their eight years together. Then Ted goes home too soon, representing the years Robin spent distancing herself from her old friends. Finally, Ted comes back to declare his love and win Robin’s heart, which obviously represents the same event Ted recreates in the series finale. When Ted made that gesture in 2005, everyone told him it was “too soon.” While everyone meat “it’s too soon in the relationship to get so personal,” it’s actually “too soon” in Ted and Robin’s lives. They have to wait twenty-five years until they’ve accomplished all their conflicting dreams before they can be together.
“But what about Tracy? I liked Tracy. Why should she be sacrificed so we could have this ending?” I haven’t read too many responses to the series finale, but these seem to be the most common complaints. Of course we liked Tracy. We had to like Tracy. If Tracy wasn’t Ted’s true love, then all the time he spent waiting for Robin would just seem like a waste. Ted had two great loves in his life. And, just to keep it fair, Ted was already the second great love of Tracy’s life. She once had a perfect boyfriend named Max, who would probably have been her husband if he hadn’t died in an accident eight years earlier.
Sure, a “they all lived happily ever after” ending probably would have made me happier, but it would never have been as good. It’s impossible to look back without seeing that this is the way the story was meant to end. And the fact that they implied the whole thing right from the start is crazy genius. I think a lot of people didn’t get it simply because they just weren’t expecting this kind of cleverness from a TV sitcom.
Farewell to another good TV show. A series that well planned is certainly a rare thing indeed.
-Marj