Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Why Endings We Deserve are Better than Endings We Need


Ok. Long story short: I really loved the HIMYM finale.

But I'll expound a little. So Twitter and Facebook and my wife have been blowing up about how sad the finale was, how much everyone didn't like it, etc. And you know what? It was sad, I'll give you that, and in more ways than one. There were some twisty things happening.

But it was the ending that needed to happen.

Now, let me back up a bit. My favorite endings aren't the ones that always end happy. They aren't the ones that always end sad, either. My favorite endings are the ones that the stories deserve. (I'm stealing from The Dark Knight there, and in the title, in case you're wondering.)

Let me explain.

For me, writing is an organic process. Characters become pretty real to me when I'm writing a story. They have wants, desires, goals, needs, emotions, etc. I could go into more detail but then you'd think I'm schizophrenic and that's a whole other thing so we won't go there. Anyway, by proxy, the story I'm writing develops these same needs, too. The world I'm creating, the rules of the 'verse I'm toying with, as it were, evolve as I go along. And the further along I go, the more important it is I stick to the rules of said 'verse.

It's important to note here that I'm talking about rules in a pretty abstract sense. I'm talking generalities, here. I'm talking about staying true to the tone of the work at hand.

What are some (sort of) recent examples of having a great, surprising ending that still sticks to the tone of the work, you ask? Sure: The video game The Last of Us, for one (have I mentioned how amazing this game is? It is AMAZING.) TLOU was bleak and horrifying, and the ending was bleak and horrifying, and it still managed to surprise me. And it was awesome. Joe Abercrombie's The Last Argument of Kings, the third book in his First Law Trilogy, does a wonderful job of this, too. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Dark Knight--they all stay true to their respective tones, while still managing to surprise me in the process.

Some stories don't do this. It isn't necessarily a deal breaker for me, but it always hurts my impression of the story. The TV shows Lost and the reimagining of Battlestar Galactica both suffered because of their endings. The endings were emotionally satisfying, which I appreciated, but as far as I'm concerned strayed from what the stories were about the whole time. They felt more like wish fulfillment, or emotional pandering, than appropriate endings.

Maybe I'm being too relativistic about this. Different people interpret different stories different ways. That's fine. But, as a writer, I'm particularly sensitive to this kind of thing, and at least for me, good endings stick to the tone of the story. The best endings manage to surprise me while they're at it.

HIMYM's series finale did that.

Don't get me wrong. I was devastated by a few things that happened. Barney and Robin getting divorced, for one. And, of course, the reveal that Future-Ted is telling this story to his kinds after the Mother has already passed away. Those were awful revelations. But (1) they were well-handled in the story, and (2) they allowed the finale to surprise me.

And hey, things could have been worse. Since the episode "Time Travelers" (8:?) aired I've been terrified that the finale would end with Ted telling his kids this whole story because their mom just died (seriously go watch the last five minutes of "Time Travelers" and you'll see what I mean*). That would have been an awful ending. "Wait, that was the ending," some of you are saying. No, it wasn't. That ending would have put Ted, who seriously has been through the romantic ringer on this show, on the lowest note possible at the end of the series, and that would have been awful. Instead, yeah, the Mother dies, and that is terrible. I get knots in my chest just thinking about it. But...there's a silver lining. Ted doesn't have to end up alone. And despite the title of the show, despite the frame story, HIMYM has never been about the Mother. It's been about Ted's journey to become the person he is when he meets the Mother. Because that's what the story has always been about, we can accept the Mother's death, that Ted handled it with grace, and that now he has a chance at happiness once more. He doesn't have to watch his kids grow up alone. He has Robin.

And that whole idea that this story isn't about the Mother is the point I'm making. Ted's kids are right: How I Met Your Mother really wasn't about how Ted met the kids' mother. The last season counts as that, I think, and a few other random bits (Umbrella, Cindy, etc.). But here's the thing. In the pilot episode, Ted meets Robin. The following 8 seasons are about how Ted and Robin (and kind of Barney) deal with the ups and downs of their relationship. Ted found happiness with other people--most significantly Tracy, the Mother. Robin found happiness with other people--most significantly Barney. But the kids are right. And Robin and Ted end up together.

HIMYM has been criticized for beating the Ted-Robin relationship to death, especially in later seasons. Hinting at the continued potential relationship between the two of them brought some significant flak to the show. Even during this last season there were moments where the Ted and Robin relationship still seemed possible. The episode "sunrise" was a great red herring along those lines, by the way. But this finale makes all of that stuff between Ted and Robin worth it. This finale shows why the writers could never quite leave that relationship alone.

So while this ending was a shocker, and while this ending was sad, it was exactly the ending HIMYM deserved.

So, that's it. The kids are right.

Oh, and Marshall wins the bet. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Lil.

BONUS! My favorite moments of the How I Met Your Mother Series Finale:

  • ET Goodbye
  • High Infinity
  • Alison Hannigan. Just...Alison Hannigan.
  • Cockamouse!
  • Lily as the White Whale
  • Judge Fudge
  • "I can see that."
  • Barney Meets Ellie
  • The Second Proposal (seriously, I could not imagine a better Mother than Cristin Miliotti)
  • "All kinds of stuff."
  • T.M.
  • Smurf Penis.

* Full disclosure: "The Mother is Dead" theory has apparently been around for at least a year, although I didn't know that until after the Finale when I was scouring the internetz like a crazy person.


  1. I really appreciate this commentary! It's exactly what i thought about it (only more eloquently started). The show had its flaws, but it was true to itself in the end.

    And the part where i laughed the loudest was at Marshall's abominable snowman joke: "Not yeti."

    1. Thanks Beckie! That's exactly what I'm getting at. Was the show perfect? Definitely not. Was the finale perfect? No. But it FIT, and for me that is more important. Perfect finales usually end up disappointing me, anyway. But HIMYM's was great, and I really loved it.

      Also, yes. The Yeti joke. I'm going to miss Marshall's jokes...and his casual obsession with the "Enigmas of the Mystical."