Tuesday, April 1, 2014
How I Met A Woman I Spent Some Time With While Waiting To Be With My True Love 9x23: Last Forever
Quick Note: this review is a bit more blue than my usual fare - anger brings out the cussing in me. So apologies if you're easily offended by such things.
I honestly considered just titling this post, then typing "Fuck you, HIMYM. Fuck you" in the body and leaving it at that. But I figured I might owe everyone a bit more than that, and that writing about this colossal failure of a finale, and a series, might help me process the complex emotions (well, mostly rage, deep, abiding rage) that I'm feeling in its wake.
To be clear, there were things about this episode I liked, in a vacuum. The idea of moving forward in time, of showing us what happens to the characters after the "present day" storyline, is appreciated. It's the sort of thing I wish more shows did (yes, I know, it's more artistically sound to not reveal too much and let the audience pick our own endings for characters, but I hate that crap. I don't care what *I* think happened after the curtain went down, I care what *actually* happened, according to the people responsible for crafting the story). We've joked around here in previous weeks about the idea of Barney and Robin getting divorced in the future, and it certainly makes sense, given what a complete trainwreck their relationship is. The idea that it takes having a daughter to get Barney to settle down and grow up isn't a bad one (and holy crap, NPH sold the hell out of that scene. I almost teared up and I don't even have a kid, and that's on top of the idea being terribly cliche).
And that scene between Ted and Tracy on the train platform, the titular meeting to which we've been building, was fantastic. It was all I could have hoped for: charming, funny, sincere, wonderful chemistry between the two, the characters acknowledged the unknowing intersections their lives had made without hanging too bright a lantern on the whole destiny thing. If the show had ended there, with one last line from SagetTed saying "and that, kids, is how I met your mother" I'd have been (mostly) happy.
But that's not how it ended, and those things I liked didn't occur in a vacuum.
Instead of cramming all this future stuff into one episode, why not dole it over the course of this season? Instead of spending more time with Ted and Tracy, showing us that this is the love of Ted's life instead of just telling us, we got egg cookoffs and crazy Anna Camp. Revealing that Robin and Barney eventually got divorced makes logical sense, but only because they never should have been together in the first place. It's also a gigantic "fuck you" to anyone who happened to be invested in their relationship, and to everyone who watched final season, an entire season built around a wedding that was rendered moot within fifteen minutes of the final episode. Bays and Thomas spent literally years trying to get us to root for Robin and Barney as a couple, then they blew it up in the space of a few commercial breaks. Why bother in the first place?
Barney finally growing up when he meets his daughter is a great moment, except for the fact that it completely wipes out entire SEASONS worth of character development that showed us he was, in fact, supposed to be growing up already, and renders the final season even more pointless. Thought you'd been watching the gradual progression of Barney from man child to responsible adult, capped off by his marriage to the love of his life? Haha, fooled you sucker!
And that final, wonderful scene between Ted and Tracy is completely undermined seconds later, when we learn that Tracy has been dead for six years and Ted has been telling this story to his kids in order to ease them into the idea of him getting together with their "Aunt Robin", because it turns out, yeah, this whole story has been about Robin, after all. Despite the title, despite all the talk of fate and destiny and having to suffer through the journey, it turns out Ted met his true love in that pilot episode after all.
I get that the idea is supposed to be that Ted met Tracy, fell in love, had some kids, got married, and lived a good but too short life with her before she died. Now, six years later, he's moving on. And, again, in a vacuum, that's fine. Not every story ends happily, not even this one. Marriages end all the time, either by death or divorce, and the end of that marriage doesn't mean there wasn't ever genuine love there. And there's nothing that says that when you lose one love, you can't find another.
But that's not the narrative we're presented with here. We're told that Tracy is the love of Ted's life, the woman to whom his meeting was the culmination of everything he went through in the eight years leading up to it, but, a few all-too-brief snippets aside, we're never shown that. We're told that Tracy has been dead six years before Ted starts creeping around Robin again, but for us, she'd been dead six fucking seconds when the kids started yucking it up about their dad wanting to bang their aunt. And then within minutes, there's Ted, standing outside Robin's apartment, holding up that goddamned blue french horn that he apparently stashed away in his basement whilst raising his children with his "true love", and we're supposed to be all, "oh, isn't that cute".
It's not cute, Bays and Thomas. It's wrong. It's bad writing, plain and simple, an ending to a different story than the one you were telling. It's a complete and utter betrayal of your show. This is a story, we were told, implicitly and explicitly, that was about the trials and tribulations Ted experienced, the journey he had to go on, in order to find his true love. I will allow that the story didn't need to have a happy ending (that too would have felt like a betrayal, but more a tonal betrayal than a complete one), but it needed to end with the completion of that journey, with a rain-splattered meeting on a Farhampton train station, with the assertion that the woman he met there was, indeed, his true love.
Instead, it ended by going full circle, back to where it started. Someone, I'm sure, thinks that's cute and clever, but it's not. Because that's not how the story they were supposed to be telling, the story we were told they were telling, needs to end.
They may as well have just dropped the "Aunt Robin" line from the first episode and ended it there, saving us all a lot of fucking time.
If you had told me a few weeks ago that in the finale, the Mother dies but that wouldn't be the thing that made me the most angry about it, I'd have called you a liar.
Even moreso than the complete betrayal of the series, I think the thing that angers me the most about this episode was the complete marginalization of Tracy, a character who, in her brief time, was utterly delightful and had wonderful chemistry with the entire cast. As I watched it, I quibbled with the idea that her and Ted's wedding, as impromptu as it may have been, didn't involve any of her own friends and family. In hindsight, I realize that's because she was never an actual character, she was little more than an elaborate bit of well-cast and well-acted misdirection, no better or different than Victoria, Stella, Zoey or the countless other women who weren't Robin that Ted met between the start of the series and the Farhampton train station. She didn't even get a death scene. She deserved better.
To be clear, this ending isn't a surprise. I'm not mad because I'm surprised, and the only shocking thing about it is that two professional writers thought it was a good idea. The notion that this was all a story intended to ease the kids into the idea of Ted being with Aunt Robin had been bandied about for years prior to this episode. I'm just shocked and angry they actually went through with it, because it's a dumb idea on multiple levels. It's basically the equivalent of if Lost ended by saying "yeah, they were dead all along, since the plane crash in episode 1, just like everyone thought back in the day."
It's been known for some time that the final scene involving the kids was filmed years ago, around the end of the show's first season. Of course, that doesn't mean they had to use the ending, and it certainly doesn't mean they needed to cut in a laugh track over it, like it's a big fucking joke that their mother is dead and their dad wants to bang another woman. Again, I get it that to them, Mom has been dead for years, but to us, she's been dead six goddamned seconds.
Basically, Bays and Thomas came up with an ending for the series at the end of season one (when Ted and Robin had only ridden their merry-go-round a few times), and then were faced with two choices: either make sure their story moving forward would continue to fit with the ending they'd devised, or let the narrative go where it may, and then adjust the ending accordingly when it came time to reveal it. They chose to do neither. Which, again, is just bad writing.
I really can't fathom how a series that was so good in terms of attention to detail in crafting a long running narrative could go out like this. I mean, in this episode there was a moment at the bar on the day of Ted and Tracy's wedding that went completely unremarked upon: Marshall sliding cash over to Lily, payment for losing the long ago bet that Ted would end up with Robin (the idea being that with Ted and Tracy about to get married, Marshall was willing to finally concede his loss). How the hell can a show that keeps track of that kind of stuff so well and makes a point to pay it off (the Lost guys never, ever, would have bothered with something like that) be so wrongheaded when it comes to the ending of their story?
So what was the goddamn point of the "letting go of Robin" episode this season and that terribly cheesy effect of her floating away, since Ted ended up with her anyway? After all, he didn't let her go, he just, I dunno, shoved her in a closet for awhile until he got the kids he wanted and his schedule cleared up.
This episode also continues the show's somewhat problematic outlook on the importance of having kids. After all, it takes having a child for Barney to finally settle down. Maybe if Robin wanted/could have had kids, she and Barney never would have split up. Also, if she had wanted kids, she and Ted never would have split up at the end of season two, which just further marginalizes Tracy as a character. They should have called this show How I Met My Brood Mare.
This whole "haha you want to bang Aunt Robin" thing is supposed to explain why Ted spent so much time on a story ostensibly about meeting the Mother on Robin, yet at the same time, it doesn't really explain why, if Tracy has been dead for six years, he's using the story of their meeting as the method to broach the subject of getting back together with Robin. I mean, in all that time, even while she was dying, the kids never asked/they never told them how they met?
I've often compared this show to Lost (and I'm certainly not alone in that regard), as it is setup a bit like a sitcom version of that show. To be clear, I liked the Lost finale way, way more than this. My ongoing problem with Lost is the way it left several narratives dangling, unresolved, in clear violation of the implicit promise of any mystery and the explicit insistence from Cuse and Lindelof that there was a plan in place to resolve them, but it was clear that was going to be the case well before the finale (which was a perfectly fine episode in and of itself) aired. In other words, it was clear Lost wasn't going to end well before the finale aired, as opposed to HIMYM, where a decent finale could have salvaged an uneven final season but instead it completely betrayed the entire series.
After fridging the Mother, the thing that bothers me the most about this episode: it's completely obliterated any desire I have to ever watch an episode of this show again (because all the character development it contains is wiped out by the finale). And I'm sure as hell not watching these hacks' spinoff series.