A few weeks ago, I started getting worried that the mother was going to die on How I Met Your Mother, and that her death was going to lead to Robin and Ted winding up together after all. At the time, I said that would be a cop-out, especially given the lengths the show had gone to to put Robin and Barney together. And now the finale has aired.
And frustratingly, the exact thing I wanted not to happen happened. The mother died. (Though thank God we did not see a death scene — Cristin Milioti’s shimmery Precious Moments eyes are already so evocative.) And Ted’s kids declared, without malice, that this wasn’t really the story of how Ted had met their mother: It was the story of how he “totally, totally, totally [has] the hots for Aunt Robin.” That’s probably fair, really; we only spent a ninth of the show with the mother as a speaking character, and we only learned her name on tonight’s episode (Tracy McConnell, so she and Ted share their initials). But HIMYM made a striking, memorable promise in the pilot — that Robin was not the mother — and this feels like a promise kept only by a technicality. Congratulations on exploiting that loophole. A victory for pedantry, just as the most irritating, least lovable side of Ted Mosby would appreciate.
HIMYM just spent an entire season on the weekend of Robin and Barney’s wedding, only to have them get divorced in the blink of an eye. My boss says using vulgar language makes us all look bad, but I can’t help it in this instance: This is complete bullshit. I loved Robin and Ted as a couple early on, but I bought their eventual breakup. Then I got on board with Robin and Barney as a pair, partially because of the fun chemistry between Cobie Smulders and Neil Patrick Harris, and partially because the show absolutely insisted we do so. The show went back and forth on Robin and Barney to a degree that was irritating even to long-term fans like me — it’s okay to break up, and it’s okay to get back together, but only once. Finally, the show was giving us the really hard sell on these two: Two people who swore off marriage somehow decide to marry each other. And then more back and forth, more lollygagging with the shenanigans of the weekend, more cold feet from both sides, until last week’s agonizing episode where they finally, finally finally, got married. We were supposed to be happy for them, right? Wasn’t that the point of the last 20 episodes?
Apparently not. Look, if Robin had married Some Other Guy (even Kal Penn’s Kevin, who was so nice!), and then divorced him, and then realized her love for Ted, I’d probably be able to tolerate it. But you don’t get to violate the No. 1 social rule of modern dating (do not date your friend’s ex or your ex’s friends), convince the audience to allow this exception to the rule, and then take it all back.
Speaking of Barney, however touching the scene was when he met his daughter Ellie, that does not excuse how putrid and galling it is for him and the other characters to refer to her mother as merely “Number 31.” I get it, Barney’s a womanizer. And I have long found his character to be both brutally transphobic and deeply misogynistic. He’s welcome to have as much sex as he wants, and to have casual, even anonymous sex, because whatever happens between consenting adults is their business. But when the person you’re going to raise a child with doesn’t even get a name? That’s grotesque. And the show’s insistence that Barney was somehow reformed by becoming the father of a daughter is off-base, too. Telling women how to dress, when to drink, and what kind self-regard they should have is patronizing, overstepping, and just more of Barney’s typical disrespectful, dehumanizing, dismissive behavior toward women.
Recent seasons of How I Met Your Mother have disappointed me. But it’s one thing when a show makes character choices or pacing decisions I don’t care for — and boy, HIMYM has made a lot of those. It’s another thing, though, when a show makes a choice I don’t respect. Killing the mom is bad enough, but making this a Ted-and-Robin love story is bailing on the central conceit of the show. You might even call it a slap in the face.