I know I'm almost a week late on this, but I have to admit it has taken me this long to process the end of How I Met Your Mother, and not just for my own thoughts on the conclusion. There have been a variety of reactions, a lot of them negative. Some of the opposing comments have merit, but what we are seeing here is a rejection of old Hollywood stereotypes while the audience very much wanted to hold to those stereotypes.
The adventures of Ted Mosby and his friends were always entertaining, very funny, and poignant. It was hard for me not to identify with Ted, who had the worse luck when it came to ladies, and only wanted to settle down and make something of his life. As his friends settled and moved on, he was left in the cold, and, boy, I've been there. A lot of us have been there. That's what made the show so good. We could see ourselves in those characters.
The object of the show appeared to be Ted's romantic quest. The writers spent nine years showing us, through Ted's narration, how he met his children's mother, and we all expected "the meeting" to mark the end of the show. It did, and it didn't. In the end we find that the mother has passed away, and the point of the story is, basically, Ted asking his kids if it's OK for him to start dating again.
This is not the ending we expected.
But it's the ending the show deserved.
All throughout the show we've had hints that Ted would end up with Robin, whom he actively chased through the years, but ultimately (wait for it!) lost to his friend Barney, when Robin and Barney finally married. There have also been clues that the mother was dead and Ted was, for some reason, relating the story to his kids long after the fact. The internet was full of conspiracy theories describing that scenario. Not everybody believed them.
But then Robin and Barney divorced. That's not the ending we were expecting. But it's the ending their story deserved.
So, as time went on, Ted was alone and raising his kids, and Robin was alone and working her fancy TV job, and, eventually, they reconnected and, we assume, lived happily ever after.
Ultimately it's a sad story. Ted spends a long time looking for his wife, only to lose her. That's not a Hollywood fairytale ending. I think most of the audience was expecting the fairytale. Hollywood has trained us to expect that.
But Bays and Thomas, the show's creators, put a twist on that fairytale and upended decades of Hollywood trite.
The mother wasn't supposed to die, and Ted wasn't supposed to end up with Robin. That's how many think the show should have ended.
Reality throws a monkey wrench into that, however. In real life, people change; couples divorce; spouses die; and people carry on. Widows and widowers debate over whether or not it's OK to date again, and sometimes they're encouraged to "get back out there" by their children.
That's not the ending we wanted, but it's the ending the show deserved. If there has been a reason I've needed a week to process that ending, it was because it really made me think, as all great art should make one think. Life doesn't turn out the way we want or plan; nobody has a fairytale life. Generally we all have a "good enough" life, because we're always chasing a carrot. We think that when we get that carrot, we'll be happy; what ends up happening is that we find another carrot to chase, because nothing really makes us happy.
We can talk all day about how Bays and Thomas cheated the audience (many have written about that), but they'd planned the ending a long time ago, and planted clues along the way. This should not be a surprise to anybody who has paid attention.
It's the upending of the Hollywood fairytale that most people object to, I think, and it's about time we got away from that. I'm not saying break away from it entirely, because without hope people give up, and maybe fairytales provide a sense of hope not found elsewhere. Such ideas, though, create expectations that reality cannot live up to. A more balanced view is required.
While I hate to see the show end, and I would have rather it ended a different way, it was the right ending and the right message. There is no "one love of your life." There may be many. There may be none. But life goes on and you never stop looking. That, essentially, is the message of How I Met Your Mother.