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hopes and dreams

Please Don’t Let the Mom Die on How I Met Your Mother

There are only four episodes left of How I Met Your Mother, which puts us right into "stick the landing" territory. And last night's episode, "Vesuvius," seemed to fall in line with the theory that the Mother is dead and Ted is recounting all of this as a widower. I buy that theory for a number of reasons, though HIMYM has long enjoyed misdirection — let's give the Dead Mom Theory a strong maybe. And let's also be clear: If the mother dies or turns out to have been dead, I will never forgive this damn show.

The Dead Mom Theory has been floating around for a bit, and it gained traction in season eight's "The Time Travelers," in which we see Ted rush to the (unseen) Mother's apartment and say, "Exactly 45 days from now, you and I are going to meet." He tells her their love story and begs, "I want those extra 45 days with you. I want each one of them." It's the sort of spiel you imagine being part of a eulogy more than a love story, and at the time, the sort of tragic tone of the monologue seemed to indicate that maybe future Ted was grieving his wife. On "Vesuvius" last night, a 2024 version of Ted and the Mother returned to the Farmhapton Inn and reminisced. "What kind of mother would miss her daughter's wedding?" asked the Mother, referring to Robin's mom — but also, accidentally, to something bigger. She and Ted paused, as tears filled their eyes. I literally said, "oh, shit" out loud in my apartment, to no one but my annoyed cat. She's the kind of mother who would miss her daughter's wedding, on account of her looming death. (Or so the Dead Mom Theory goes.)

I have been a HIMYM fan since day one, and I still think the series' first episode is one of the best comedy pilots I've ever seen. I love this show. I have been devoted to this show. I have stuck with this show through these last few garbage-y seasons, even as the series has squandered my affection, out of a combination of loyalty, pathetic optimism, curiosity, and the conviction that, everything else aside, the show was designed to have a happy ending. It's in the title and everything! I have spent nine stupid years of my stupid life waiting for this happy ending, and if it turns out to be a tragic ending about a hearty widower, there is no way for me to get a refund on all this.

My least favorite part of HIMYM is Sad Ted. Well — the racism and transphobia and occasional misogyny are my least favorite parts. But systemically, the repositioning of Ted as an irritating pedant rather than a goofy romantic has been a major part of how sour these recent seasons have felt. I want Ted to be happy, and I want his friends to like him. (I want this for all of us, real and fictional!) That camaraderie was, at one point, the backbone of this show, but we've seen less and less of it, and Ted's lovelorn-ness has metastasized into pathetic-ness, even in the eyes of people who care about him. I want the final few episodes of this show to correct that, and to get back to the goat, to the pineapple, to the slaps, to McClaren's, to the rituals and intimacy that define ensemble comedies. I do not really want to watch a group of people rally around their friend in his time of need. That is a great thing to have in life, and certainly, as I have weathered tragedies, I have relied on my friends' support. But that doesn't make it good material for a sitcom.

Some have suggested that if the Mother does die, Future Ted and Future Robin might be a couple again, and this whole story is a way of Ted convincing his children to embrace their new stepmother. That is also not an appealing option; it's simply a cop-out, and one that would be a lot more tolerable had the show not gone to great lengths to couple Robin with Barney — a pairing that seemed ludicrous in season one but has evolved into a long-standing, meaningful partnership. We've gone through every single bro-code violation and long, torturous explanations of the subsections of said code to get to a point where Ted can be okay (at least mostly) with Robin and Barney marrying. If that's all just a hiccup on the way to a Robin and Ted marriage, that's pretty awful. (We also know Robin is not interested in parenting. Step-parenting is parenting!)

So, four episodes to go. I'm getting impatient for the happy ending.