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"Last Forever Parts One and Two" —Ted finally finishes telling his kids the story of how he met their mother, on the special one-hour series finale of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, Monday, March 31 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.   Pictured: Josh Radnor as Ted, Cristin Milioti as Tracy. Photo: Ron P. Jaffe/Fox © 2014 Fox Television. All rights reserved

review roundup

Review Roundup: Surprisingly, There Were Some How I Met Your Mother Defenders

We've already expressed our disappointment with last night's How I Met Your Mother finale. But as the postmortems rolled in last night and this morning, it became clear that we aren't the only ones who felt conned by the show’s ending. While a handful of critics were content to see Robin Sparkles and Teddy Westside finally get their storybook ending, many more were outraged, questioning not just whether the episode itself was a flop, but whether it had ruined the show as a whole. Is it possible, they wondered, for a disastrous conclusion to negate everything that came before it? Here's what the critics are saying today, defenders first:

The Defenders:

"This isn’t a perfect ending; the ground covered in the finale could have filled an entire season instead of being crammed into a single hour. (We haven’t even gotten into Barney becoming a dad, Marshall and Lily having three kids and leaving their treasured apartment, and the many perfectly placed callbacks to nine seasons of inside jokes.) But a straightforward, fairytale ending for Ted and Tracy wouldn’t have served viewers, and it would have been beyond boring. The story Ted tells the kids, and the series itself, is about the gang — Robin included. I would gladly sit down and watch a full spin-off about just Ted and Tracy. But in this series? In the deviously titled How I Met Your Mother? It has always been Robin." —Entertainment Weekly

"You can’t predict the person you marry will live as long as you will. That was Ted’s final life lesson in the show: All he could do was love the person he married as much he possibly could, for as long as he could. That was what How I Met Your Mother wanted to send as its message: Treasure what you have when you have it. That a six-year widower gave an old flame a shot, 25 years later, is just throwing the audience a bone. And why not? The ending wasn’t perfect, but neither is life. Sorry, haters." —Globe and Mail

“It wasn't the happy ending we thought we were promised when Carter Bays and Craig Thomas set out to tell the story of how Ted Mosby met his children's mother. To viewers, it was supposed to be a story about finding your one true love in a messy, mysterious city, filled with best burgers and stripper versions of yourself. But instead, it was a story they wanted to tell, one we never see on TV. The whole nine seasons became one long tale about moving on from loss, accepting growth in pain, the reality of friends drifting apart and the negation of 'one true loves.' Ted didn't have one true love. He had two, maybe more. May we all be so lucky.” —Huffington Post

“And that was a denouement very in much in keeping with the show’s patented balance of sentiment and sly self-awareness. The sweetness of friendships and love affairs on 'How I Met Your Mother' was constantly undercut with ambitious comic experiments and riffs on the sitcom genre itself. The finale was too clever by half and still wholly satisfying.” —New York Times

“ ... Contrary to what some disappointed critics are writing tonight, if Ted hadn’t ended up with Robin, that would have been an enormous disappointment. The way Ted ended up with Robin — the ending set up, clearly, years ago — was far more interesting and romantic than anything the show could have told us about the mother in 45 minutes or less. This ending was a tribute to the fans who’d been watching for years, and for whom the bond between Ted and Robin would always mean more than the bond (no matter how nicely portrayed) between Ted and a character whose name we just learned tonight.” —Slate 

“Despite the façade it gave off with a laugh track and its repertoire of long-running gags, How I Met Your Mother has never been a traditional sitcom. It didn’t shy away from the tough stuff. HIMYM would kick its characters on their asses, dragging them to the lowest possible lows. It wasn’t always easy to watch these characters we’ve fallen in love with hit rock bottom, but that’s life, you know? Enduring the most difficult moments in life makes the moment when you pick yourself back up that much more rewarding.” —Splitsider

“The Mother’s death maybe cruel for viewers who learned to love her over the previous season, and one last middle finger to people still hung up on the 'How I met your Aunt Robin' reveal at the end of the pilot. But it’s the story that, for better or for worse, they were telling all this time. Say what you will about How I Met Your Mother and its many meandering detours on the way toward this finale, but when it came to the big final moment, they stuck to their plan. We were asking the right questions all along, just with no idea they would actually answer it.” —Vanity Fair

"For many, the emotion of the hour will overcome such nitpicking, and there was certainly a lot of heart in it — the best moment in that regard coming from Neil Patrick Harris, when the skirt-chasing Barney finally comes face to face with the woman who will actually change him, his baby daughter. That said, this is one of those episodes where it probably helps to be either hugely invested in the series or to have drifted far enough away that some of the leaps won’t feel quite so jarring.” —Variety

The Haters:

“ ... the show’s series finale is a strange beast, one that tries to serve all masters, both suggesting that life is not fair and has no happy endings and yet grafts a happy ending onto the end of that message, as if the series abruptly remembered it was a sitcom. Though the finale can’t invalidate the pleasures of the show’s run — particularly its first four years and substantial portions of seasons five through seven — it does create the impression that the series’ creators were telling a vastly different story from the one they seemed to be, and it provides the ending for a story that much of the audience wasn’t aware it was even supposed to be watching. Does it ruin the show? No. But it’ll make it play more strangely in syndicated reruns.” —A.V. Club

“We’d spent nine years hearing Ted talk about his wife, only to find out they were married for just 10 years before she was taken from him. And to top it all off, her death was covered in mere seconds on screen. It felt like we had been cheated. We had already been cheated of most of her life, in both background stories and future time, and then her death flipped by as a picture in a montage that preceded the show’s final moments. The closest thing to a memorial for Tracy, the Mother for whom the show was named, was an extra second that lingered on a portrait of her smiling. After nine years of building up this woman, she deserved more than that. And so did we.” —Buzzfeed

“'Last Forever; reframes the rest of the series, from the pilot on, as 'How I Got Back Together With Robin After Your Mother Died,' which in addition to putting the lie to the title of the show, makes Ted an unbelievable dick. Worse still, the choice retroactively poisons the work the show had done to make Barney and Robin’s relationship worth investing in by having them divorce almost immediately, and it forces the Ted-Robin pairing to be the driving force behind the finale. That coupling might've been important to the show at the beginning, but to return to it at the end (with scenes filmed during season two) ignores everything else that happened on the way. Letting Robin go was presented as Ted’s biggest obstacle before he could meet Tracy, a step toward emotional maturity that How I Met Your Mother decided to ignore. The show used its conceit to point to all of these elements as leading to a happy ending, and while it was certainly clever of the writers to have Future Ted be a series-long unreliable narrator, it was also quite cruel, to both us as viewers and to the characters (especially Barney, who deserved much better).” —Complex

“The finale of this series had to live up to certain expectations. For one thing, we had to see Ted meet the mother of his children — a plot element the showrunners have been building toward for nine years. But we also needed to feel emotionally satisfied with where the characters ultimately ended up. There had to be a reason we watched these people do these things for almost a decade. If you watch two characters spend an entire season getting married, shouldn't you, as a viewer, be emotionally rewarded by their happily ever after? Not so much, apparently.” —Esquire

“'Last Forever' comes so close to managing something genuinely moving and maybe even profound that it makes its ultimate inability to stick the landing all the more disappointing. It’s as if the series caught a whiff of its own embrace of failure and decided to find a way to abruptly veer away from what might have been an all-time classic finale at the last possible second. See, Ted’s story to his kids that framed the whole series hasn’t been a way to help them get to know his younger self, or even to understand how he became the person worthy of loving their deceased mother; it’s been a long story about how he’s secretly in love with Robin, something he may realize on some self-justifying level and something his kids definitely do. (The scene — filmed early in Season 2, revealing this was always the plan — in which his kids tell him to go after Robin immediately after he gets done recounting the story of his wife’s death is one of the most tonally inappropriate things ever seen in a sitcom of this caliber. It’s like a clown hitting a corpse in the face with a pie.) Never mind that the show got us incredibly invested in Tracy, or that it spent two entire seasons trying to convince viewers that Barney and Robin were a viable couple. The initial plan must never change.” —Grantland

“ ... Stories change. Characters change. Shows change. And plans have to change to accommodate that. This plan didn't. So instead of a bumpy final few years being redeemed by a finale that at least resulted in our hero winding up with a woman we all liked, and who seemed a perfect match for him, we have a finale that turns the title and narrative framework of the show into a case of Bays and Thomas following the letter of the law rather than the spirit, without the slightest bit of recognition that Ted and Robin had become toxic for each other by this season. They and Future Ted promised us that we'd be getting the story of how Ted met the kids' mother, but all along she was just meant to be a distraction from the real story — like the kind of misdirection Barney uses in his magic trick.” —HitFix

“But what's disheartening is how interesting and optimistic How I Met Your Mother once felt, and how dull and uncreative its approach to Ted's love life ultimately proved to be. There seems to be a prevailing theory in television that the only thing that has value is gut-punches, and the only thing that brings gut-punches is ... death! There's no reason this show needed a gut-punch finale. It didn't need a reversal. It didn't need to flip the script at the last minute. You don't have to fool an audience, or trick them, or wind up your show with, 'How about THAT!?' ... All the show needed was the lovely, lovely little scene that Ted and Tracy – the mother, who got her name right before she was bumped off — played under the yellow umbrella. It was enough. She didn't have to die. He didn't have to go back to Aunt Robin. It was a beautiful ending, until it wasn't. It wound up feeling like an abandonment of that subversive, thoughtful idea about how everything matters, and that's why it felt so ... sad.” —NPR 

“In this last hour, though, a marriage fell apart, multiple children were born, nonspecific illness claimed a youngish woman’s life, somebody went grey, somebody got famous, and some other, startlingly well-adjusted children granted their father permission to date someone they still considered to be their aunt. Sadly, none of it felt particularly compelling or resonant. (That it wasn’t funny was par for the course by now.) In fact, the events of the finale felt like a series of contrivances created to bring the main characters to an inevitable conclusion that probably should have been avoided.” —Salon 

“I do not want to dwell on how this finale — from all reports planned long ago — was essentially a failure in the confidence of HIMYM’s storytelling. Creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas clearly regarded the pilot’s ending twist, in which we learn Ted’s romantic interest is 'Aunt Robin,' was a problem to be solved, or fixed. This ending screamed lack of confidence that the show could change, that the audience could come to accept anyone but Ted and Robin together in the end ... I do not want to dwell on how, therefore, this ending was a powerful argument that — criticisms of finales like Lost’s notwithstanding — it is not necessarily the ideal thing to 'have it all planned out from the beginning.' Not if that plan is so rigid and locked-in — say, with lines of ending dialogue recorded years in advance — that they can’t allow for organic growth and surprise. Stories change over nine years, characters do, people do. And people did over the course of HIMYM — only to be wrenched back over the course of an hour, because that was the Plan. That show you followed since 2005, it turns out, was the longest retcon in the history of retcons.” —Time 

“The finale of 'How I Met Your Mother' had the same problem that the show has always had. It privileged gimmicks over its emotional core, and Ted’s cheap, childish obsession with Robin over the more adult vision of romance and marriage that it did so much to build. And the worst part of that lapse is that 'How I Met Your Mother' squandered what, over the course of nine seasons, had proven to be a remarkable capacity for real feeling and clear-eyed thinking about the compromises and unexpected victories of adult life.” —Washington Post

Photo: Ron P. Jaffe/CBS