This wasn’t the post I intended to write.
Even as I started writing, with no real thesis other than “I need to talk about How I Met Your Mother,” I didn’t intend to write the post this eventually became. I found myself talking myself into things as the words appeared on my screen, and eventually those words found their way to what this has become: a sort of, kind of, defense of the thing that maybe was hinted at in this week’s episode of HIMYM.
There are too many uncertainties to write a proper analysis or review right now. There are still four episodes left and a lot to process in those four episodes. Come back in April after they’ve aired, and I may have changed my mind. Hell, I might change my mind tomorrow. But from where I stand tonight, at this specific point in time, well… I think I’m ok with it.
SO MANY SPOILERS AHEAD. CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED.
In case you don’t watch, or you need to be reminded of something that happened 24 hours ago, “it” is this: Ted and the Mother are shown in the year 2024, and Ted is telling yet another of his stories, this time about how Robin’s mother eventually showed up to her wedding weekend. “What kind of mother would miss her daughter’s wedding?” the Mother asks… at which Ted falls silent, fighting back tears, clearly affected by… well, we don’t really know what, but it was something. Maybe his mother missed his wedding? Maybe the Mother’s did? Or, more ominously, maybe the Mother is sick, and they know she’ll miss her own daughter’s wedding, years down the road.
The Dead Mom theory has been around for years. (Want to waste a few hours? Hang out on Reddit.) If you believe the producers, they filmed scenes for the series finale with the actors who play the kids sometime in season two, before they aged too much. So that means, if the Mother has indeed died by the time Ted is telling his long-winded story, they’ve actually had this ending planned for years. (In which case, congratulations, HIMYM writers. You did what the writers of Lost or The X-Files or even “yeah right, it was Dan all along” Gossip Girl could not.) Consider also that the producers’ plan was originally to introduce the Mother in the final episode of the series, not earlier as they ended up doing when the show was renewed for season nine, in which case we never would have gotten to know her – hence the show’s title “How I Met Your Mother,” not “How I Met, Wooed, Dated, Proposed to, and Finally Married Your Mother.” Would we have mourned someone we’d barely met? We’ll never know. (For the record, though I abandoned my HIMTMMAR system very early on, the Mother found her way to a solid 10. She’s fantastic. Ted loves her. I love her.)
That scene last night seemed to confirm the Dead Mom theory, sending many of us fans into a tailspin of grief and anger. My first reaction was shock – “did that just happen?” – before very quickly moving to anger, that Ted wouldn’t have the happy ending I’ve been expecting for years. My friends and I spent all day reading articles and writing emails and dissecting everything from the language of the scene to the episode title – analysis the likes of which I haven’t done since Lost went off the air. I found myself going through all of the stages of grief today, all over a few lines in a television show, until I found myself finally arriving where I am now: acceptance.
(Full disclosure, I’m not even entirely sure I’m convinced the Mother dies. There is a sizable part of me that thinks this is just a red herring – something this show has never shied away from doing in the past. But this is also a show that hasn’t shied away from big, real world emotions, either. And again, we still have four episodes left. I retain the ability to change my mind.)
The saying goes, “it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” I’m not sure I subscribe to that philosophy, but you damn well know Ted Mosby does. This is a character who has been borderline obsessed with finding his soul mate for nearly ten years. Hell, this is a character who, despite spending ten years in New York City, actually still believes in soul mates. I gave up on that idea years ago, and I’ve basically accepted celibacy and solitude as a norm after barely four years here.
But Ted… Ted is an optimist, above all else. Even in his darkest days, he is full of hope. Borderline obsession is just another way of saying he doesn’t give up, despite all of the terrible women he’s dated, all of the cruel tricks fate plays on him. And while it would be cruel of HIMYM’s producers to do this to us – to introduce a character, allow us to get to know her, to catch glimpses of her growing older with Ted, and then to rip her from us (and him) just as quickly – it wouldn’t be completely out of character.
Hear me out – I know a lot of you are angry, and I was too. I so desperately want Ted to be happy, and I want that to be my lasting image of this show. But Ted is the kind of guy who, after getting through the pain of losing his wife – and you know he’d get through it, because as obnoxious as you may think he is, that man is also a hell of a fighter – he’d reflect on his life and find joy in the time he spent with the Mother, however brief. He’d see her in his son and daughter, and he’d be so happy he had them to take care of – and to help take care of him.
In the past 24 hours, in considering this development in the end of Ted’s story, I’ve made it past that anger and indignation to a calmer acceptance. Yes, I still want a happy ending for Ted. I’ve spent nine long years of my life cheering for him, and I want all of that energy to be validated in a satisfying ending. I want to be reassured that you can go through years of heartache and find someone waiting on the other side for you. I want to believe in soul mates again. I want the story to be tied up neatly into a pretty bow at the end, the way we’ve become accustomed to stories in pop culture ending.
Rachel gets off the plane. Dwight and Angela get married, and Jim and Pam are ok. Liz Lemon’s show gets canceled, but she gets a crazy family of her own to fill the void left by her crazy work family. Coach remains the near perfect husband, and Tami Taylor (rightfully) gets her way. Blair and Chuck produce an adorable mini Chuck. The ending to Lost was far from perfect, but it didn’t shatter any previous conceptions you’d had about the show – it’s not like Jack woke up and realized it had all been a dream, and Shannon and Sayid got to make out one last time. (Something only I and two other people in the world ever cared about.) Even Breaking Bad, as messy and chaotic a show as has ever existed, managed to tie up storylines at the end in as satisfying a way as I could have possibly hoped.
But on the other hand, happy, tidy endings are not realistic. Life is messy. Life is, a lot of the times, really shitty. Living a full and satisfying life means getting through all of that shit to the other side, and none of us will get through without being hurt in some way. Some people hurt more than others, and no matter how much we wish a staff of sitcom writers could write a happy ending for all of us, that’s not how the world works. In a weird way, seeing a future version of Ted who has experienced heartache and rejection, who has loved and lost, who finally found the person who fulfilled him in a way that no one ever did and made him happier than anyone else ever could, even for just a short period of time, is maybe just as reassuring to me.
I know I’ll be in the minority on this one. I know there’s a lot of anger out there. Maybe it’s just my coping mechanism, to try to convince myself that whatever ending they write will satisfy me. But maybe HIMYM is leaving us with a lesson here – maybe this show wasn’t about the Mother all along, but rather about the friendship between five people leaving youth behind and entering adulthood, figuring it out as they go – enjoying the small moments, the short amount of time you have with loved ones before you have to give it all back to whatever higher power is watching over us.
In that same scene, the Mother told Future Ted, “I just worry about you. I don’t want you to be the guy who lives in his stories. Life only moves forward.” I’m certainly guilty of sometimes romanticizing the past and living in my stories – I write them down here, for god’s sake. We’ve all done it – some (me, Ted) more than most. Maybe what the show has really been about all along has been closure – the ability to tell those stories, but to move forward and live the life you currently have. Maybe that’s why Ted is telling his children this particular story. They knew the stories from when the Mother was alive, because they were either there or they’d already heard them, and this is the last one he’s holding onto. Maybe that’s why it’s taken nine years to tell. (Or maybe it’s good ratings, whatever, same difference.)
This might all be a load of crap. I may hate whatever happens in the next few weeks. This might all be irrelevant if they’re just messing with us. But if the clues are accurate and the theories are right, this might not be a terrible ending after all. For all his trials, for all his heartaches, for all of the Ted Mosby whining we’ve been listening to for years, he did eventually find that person he was looking for. The show didn’t lie to us – it’s giving us exactly what we signed up for: how he met the mother. Life and fate and decisions and karma took him there. Life and fate and decisions and karma took them somewhere else after that moment. And life and fate and decisions and karma will take Future Ted somewhere else after he finishes this story. Sometimes we get the happy ending, and sometimes we don’t.
Life only moves forward, whether we like it or not.
P.S. If you actually made it through this, thank you and congratulations. I was actually terribly nervous to hit publish on this one (I told you, I am entirely too emotionally invested in this show, even before this week).