I should have known something was amiss when the only moment I teared up was when Barney was holding his newborn daughter.
Maybe I was spoiled on last year’s double-header 30 Rock and The Office finales. Both shows came off of rocky late seasons (The Office much more so than 30 Rock) and delivered final seasons that built to beautiful climaxes, respecting everything about not just the shows, but the people inhabiting them. Years of change and growth were capped perfectly, and the miles and miles of life that stretched between pilot and finale actually felt worthwhile. Those finales justified their shows, cemented that they truly meant something.
As a finale, “Last Forever” fails pretty spectacularly. Sure, there were moments I liked. Marshall and Lily are well-served, and for the first half of the finale, so is the Mother (Tracy, as we learn). Robin’s goodbye to Lily in the empty apartment was genuine, even if it effectively confirmed Robin as the secret villain of the series. There weren’t many jokes, but the few that got through were pleasant enough.
But really, it all comes down to the last act. The hints were always too obvious, and I couldn’t help but think How I Met Your Mother respected the intellect of its audience enough to not be so blatant. The show has always excelled at an obvious set-up followed by a complete reversal of expectations, why should the finale be any different? But no, it seems the ultimate destiny of the entire show comes down to ‘shipping. How I Met Your Mother, it turns out, was never actually a complete thought. Instead, it was part of a larger whole: How I Met Your Mother, the Woman Who Was Not Only Perfect For Me In Seemingly Every Way, But Also Reciprocated My Love Unconditionally, Only For Her to Actually Just Be a Roadblock Between Me and Your “Aunt,” the Woman I’ve Actually Wanted to Bone This Whole Time. The Ted Mosby of “Last Forever” is the Ted Mosby of the pilot, not the one who grappled with his feelings for Robin, then finally made his peace and let her go only to find his literal dream woman. Not only is this regression egregious, its an unforgivable sin. Serialized television is, by its very nature, entirely dependent on growth and change. And in one fell swoop, How I Met Your Mother, possibly the most heavily-serialized sitcom in television history, destroyed it all. The episode doesn’t need words to communicate this betrayal, it’s all right there when a graying Ted holds up that goddamn blue french horn. That french horn, once a symbol of Ted’s impulsiveness, will now live on as shorthand for a series just completely fucking it up. (I’m also calling this Play 208: The Bays-Thomas.)
And what of Robin? Her series-long arc, like Ted’s, is completely dashed by the finale. The entire season is rendered null early on when Robin and Barney get a secret divorce, and her inability to cope with her own decisions and completely illogical feelings paint her as the absent antagonist. The second half of the finale is full of side-mouthed jabs at how bad of a friend Robin is, and sadly, they’re not wrong. After years of building Robin into a moderately unique female character, “Last Forever” reduces her to a love-sick teenager just waiting to be saved by the love of her life. It’s the destruction of one of modern television’s great female characters and performances, all for the sake of Ted Mosby. It’s the worst kind of fan fiction. It’s a complete farce. And it’s still only the third biggest betrayal of the finale.
“Last Forever” isn’t just a betrayal of the fans or the characters, it’s a betrayal of the very premise of How I Met Your Mother, of the beautifully-woven mythology and time-shifted storytelling genuinely unlike anything else on television. “Last Forever” takes all the worst tendencies the show could have ever indulged in, puts them in a blender, then sprays the stinking goop all over the people, within and outside of the show, who gave their years, literal or otherwise, to it. It’s the DMV closing when you’re the next in line. It’s waking up, not to a horse’s head in your bed, but in an entire bed made of horse’s heads. It’s the Dexter finale of sitcom finales. It seems the show that helped defined the modern era of television comedy really only had one lesson to teach: don’t bother sticking around, because it’s all just a big fucking disappointment in the end.