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'How I Met Your Mother' 'Last Forever' Recap: A Divisive Finale and What It Means for 'HIMYM'

I stared at the blinking cursor on my computer screen for a long time before I started writing this recap. After watching How I Met Your Mother for nine seasons and writing about it for two years, what were my parting words on the show going to be?

Immediately after “Last Forever” ended, I wrote that the HIMYM series finale had left me numb. I’ve moved beyond numb now, but like many HIMYM fans, I’m going to be mulling over the show’s ending for a long time.

Despite spending nine seasons telling us why Robin wasn’t the right woman for Ted and then spending this entire past past season telling us why The Mother (whose name we now know is Tracy McConnell) is the perfect woman for Ted, HIMYM gave us the ending that we guessed was coming but had hoped wouldn’t. Tracy had passed away and Ted was now telling his kids this story because he was preparing to move on with Robin.

In one of the show’s most ambitious series of flashforwards, HIMYM rapidly moved out from Barney and Robin’s wedding day in 2013, jumping ahead to show Ted asking Tracy out, Tracy getting pregnant, Barney and Robin getting divorced, Marshall returning to corporate law, Lily getting pregnant again, Marshall becoming a judge, Robin moving away from the gang, Barney having a daughter and finally Ted and Tracy getting married.

“Last Forever” was a masterful display of storytelling, condensing 17 years into just under an hour of television. I’m not ashamed to say that I was incredibly moved by several parts of the episode, most notably Barney’s first interaction with his newborn daughter. (There may or may not have been tears shed there. Shut up. You’re stupid.)

As Josh Radnor assumed the responsibility of narrating the story to Penny and Luke, Ted reflected on his wedding to Tracy, talking about how his long road to finding her was worth going through hell since it meant he could appreciate having her.

“Right from the moment I met your mom,” Ted told his kids, “I knew I had to love this woman as much as I could for as I long as I can and I can never stop loving her for even a second.”

At this point, I caught Ted referring to something about The Mother in the past tense and realized, oh no, she’s going to die. All of our theories and fears fed by “Time Travelers” and “Vesuvius” were right. Tucked into this montage was a shot of Ted at Tracy’s bedside in a hospital, and with a simple “she got sick,” The Mother was gone.

With his story of how he met their mother finally completed, Ted’s kids called him out on why he was telling the story. It wasn’t really about their mother. Ted had spent so much time focused on Robin — this story was about her.

“This is a story about how you’re totally in love with Aunt Robin and you’re thinking about asking her out and you wanna know if we’re OK with it,” Penny said to her father.

Egged on by his kids, Ted began to call Robin to ask her out. Then he stopped. He had a different idea. Our closing shot of HIMYM was Ted outside Robin’s apartment, once again holding up a blue french horn. After all these years, Ted and Robin were together.

This is where “Last Forever” is going to divide fans. Heck, it’s not even going to divide HIMYM fans into clean “loved it”/”hated it” camps. It’s going to leave us struggling to sort out our feelings toward this finale for years. I’ve been going back and forth in my head for hours now, trying to figure out how to explain what went right and what went wrong here.

There was a time — a few seasons ago, maybe even a moment or two last season — when I would’ve loved to learn that Ted and Robin wound up together. They were so good early on in the show’s history. Ted truly loved her, and he would have done anything for her. HIMYM spent a large chunk of time, though, telling us why Ted and Robin couldn’t be together. They didn’t agree on where to live. They didn’t share the same goals when it came to having kids. They had tried several times to be together but could never make it work.

Maybe HIMYM could have patched over all of that if it wasn’t for one tiny thing.

The Mother.

HIMYM was a victim of its own success on this issue. Maybe fans could have accepted The Mother passing away in a montage and Ted winding up with Robin if the show hadn’t done such a spectacular job making The Mother an amazing character. Over the course of just one season, HIMYM turned this elusive character into someone that we rooted for and really, really wanted to see end up with Ted. “How Your Mother Met Me” showed us the world from Tracy’s side, even managing to deliver a heartbreaking story about how she lost the love of her life early on. Thanks to the show’s writing staff and Cristin Milioti, HIMYM had a huge victory on its hands with The Mother.

Asking fans to drop all of that with a simple line about The Mother getting sick and passing away was a very difficult request. If HIMYM had given us a flat, unconvincing version of this character, it probably would have been easier to move on so quickly. Instead, we were asked to forget her and everything she represented when it came to Ted’s search for his soulmate, in just seconds.

Combining this challenge with the fact that HIMYM had done everything it could to convince us that Ted and Robin weren’t right for each other is what’s left fans torn about “Last Forever.”

I keep wondering if things would have been different if HIMYM had spent more time on these key moments in Ted’s journey. What if the show had used an episode or even a multi-episode arc to show Ted and Tracy raising their family. We would have been able to see the family deal with Tracy getting sick and fighting through that. I know Ted would’ve fought. This is the guy who once made it rain to stop Robin from going on a camping trip with another guy — he would have moved heaven and earth to get more time with his wife. Maybe it would have been 45 days or even 45 seconds, but Ted would’ve fought for those moments.

On top of that, “Last Forever” didn’t show us what happened during the six years between Tracy’s death and Ted deciding to ask out Robin. Had Robin resettled in New York City? Was she hanging out with the gang again? Prior to Ted and Tracy’s wedding, the episode made a big deal over the fact that Robin's job and the traveling involved with it had led to hers and Barney’s divorce and caused her to drift away from Lily and Marshall too. Unless Robin’s life had dramatically changed over the past six years, why wouldn’t the same happen again with her and Ted?

After putting so much effort into making The Mother awesome and debunking the possibility that Ted and Robin could be together, HIMYM’s finale wasn’t earned. It advanced too quickly. The show sadly spent entire episodes on Marshall and Daphne’s road trip, but tried to tell its most important story in just a few minutes. HIMYM fans love the details. We love the drawn-out story. We love putting the pieces of the puzzle together. I think this is why so many HIMYM fans feel robbed by the series finale — we didn’t have the chance to invest in this story.

As a friend of mine pointed out, sometimes things just happen in life. Despite every part of the Universe pointing to Ted and Tracy belonging together, the hope that they could spend forever together was never guaranteed. For HIMYM to be an accurate portrayal of life, we have to accept that some random turn of the Universe could have prevented Ted and Tracy from lasting forever. We unfortunately don’t know what she was sick with, which makes it harder to accept this turn of events. Like I said, HIMYM fans have always been about the details. Asking us to just accept that a key moment was glossed over is a mighty request.

So can your feelings toward HIMYM’s finale ruin the entire show for you? I’d hope not. There was a part of me on Monday afternoon that thought, What if I never watch the finale? What if I just stop here and forever leave HIMYM in suspended animation. I won’t know how things end, but I’d avoid having my love of the show shattered.

As The Mother told Ted in “Vesuvius,” we can’t keep living in our old stories. We have to go out and find new stories. Leaving HIMYM in suspended animation would have never been right. If I really believed the show was an integral part of my journey from college kid to approaching-30 adult, letting go of HIMYM had to happen.

The finale — two episodes out of over 200 episodes — can never destroy what HIMYM meant. It can’t take away the lessons we’ve learned about family and friendships. It can’t take away the phone conversations we’ve had over plot twists. It can’t take away the tears we’ve shed crying when Marshall’s dad died or laughing during the slap bet. HIMYM is stronger than one episode or one scene. If the finale wasn’t for you, if it didn’t sit right with your pop culture brain, please don’t let that spoil everything the show means to you. Over the past couple weeks, as we’ve worked toward this finale, I’ve seen so much love expressed for HIMYM. This show has placed a huge role in so many lives. As Ted once said, love is the best thing we do.

Don’t forget why you love How I Met Your Mother.

Notes and quotes 
The flashback to 2005 was fantastic. As always, the HIMYM crew did a great job restoring the looks of its characters during a past time period.

Lily to Ted and Barney: “Robin’s my new best friend. Nobody bangs her. … The only way you’re allowed to hook up with her is if you marry her.” We know that Barney made good on that deal — I guess Ted will now too.

Add “Major Pleasure” to the list of salutes Ted and Robin gave each other.

Lily saying goodbye to Ted (and summing up the thoughts of many HIMYM fans): “No, this is too real. I can’t handle this.”

Ted’s E.T. goodbye to Lily was adorable.

Turns out Ted got that bandage on his hand thanks to executing an Infinity Five with Barney.

Ted to Barney: “I’ve got a castle guy.”
Barney: “I’ve got like three castle guys. And a moat guy.”

Marshall while still working in corporate law: “My boss only called me three words that meant vagina.”

Lily standing alone in that white whale costume in the empty apartment was such a sad scene. Even when Ted was moving out, we never saw the apartment that empty.

For much of this episode, I was really disappointed in Barney. HIMYM put so much effort into showing that he had evolved, it hurt to see him return to his playboy ways. When he agreed to a divorce with Robin by citing his wedding vow to never lie to her, that even seemed like he was trying to be an adult. Then things just spiralled out of control, resulting in Barney attempting a Perfect Month … which resulted in him becoming a father.

Barney to Ellie, his newborn daughter: “You are the love of my life. Everything I have and everything I am is yours. Forever.”

And Barney was redeemed in my book. Not because this part made me cry or anything. Shut up.

Ted re-proposing to Tracy: “Will you marry me on Thursday? I called your office and you have nothing on Thursday. Will you marry me on Thursday?”

Marshall to kids in MacLaren’s booth behind him on Ted’s wedding day: “Do you have any idea what happened right here, in this bar?”

Lily toasting Ted: “A man with more emotional endurance than anyone I know. It was a long, difficult road, thank god we finally got there.”

Narrator Ted: "And Lily wasn’t wrong. It was at times a long, difficult road. But I’m glad it was long and difficult because if I hadn’t gone through hell to get here, the lesson might not have been as clear. You see kids, right from the moment I met your mom, I knew I had to love this woman as much as I could for as I long as I can, and I can never stop loving her for even a second. I carried that lesson with me through every stupid fight we ever had, every 5 a.m. Christmas morning, every sleepy Sunday afternoon, through every speed bump, through every pang of jealousy or boredom or uncertainty that came our way. I carried that lesson with me. And I carried it with me when she got sick. Even then in what can only be called the worst of times, all I could do was thank God, thank every god there is or ever was or will be and the whole Universe and anyone else I could possibly thank. That I saw that beautiful girl on that train platform and that I had the guts to stand up, walk over to her, tap her on the shoulder, and speak.”

So The Mother’s name was Tracy McConnell. It turns out HIMYM actually revealed her name way back in the Season 1 episode “Belly Full of Turkey” when Ted mentioned to his kids that he met a stripper named Tracy. Based on the name, the kids reacted as if that was actually their mother.

Very cool to see vintage Lyndsy Fonseca and David Henrie as Penny and Luke. Not many shows would think to shoot footage that far in advance, but HIMYM did. That said, show co-creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas may have written themselves into a corner thanks to their insistence on sticking to this original ending regardless of how the show evolved.

The song at the very end of the episode was "Heaven" by The Walkmen.

Loved the closing clips of Radnor, Cobie Smulders, Jason Segel, Alyson Hannigan and Neil Patrick Harris from the first season. I’ll miss you, How I Met Your Mother.
'How I Met Your Mother' 'Last Forever' Recap: A Divisive Finale and What It Means for 'HIMYM' Reviewed by Bill Kuchman on 4/01/2014 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. I've been going through just about every bit of analysis I can find, trying to sort out my own feelings, and this is the one that comes closest to expressing how I feel about the finale. All the final destinations we saw in this episode would have been totally acceptable, if only the journeys had been better. As it was, I was still feeling so betrayed by Barney’s backslide that I didn’t sob quite as much as I might have when he first held his daughter. I was still feeling so disappointed in Robin for withdrawing from the group that I couldn’t properly rejoice in her returning for Ted’s wedding. Most of all, I was still feeling so shell-shocked by the revelation of Tracy’s death that I couldn’t feel happy about Ted and Robin reuniting.

    I think the author’s “Instant Reaction” article perfectly summed up what didn’t work for me about that last moment when it mentioned catharsis. I felt like I wasn’t given time to grieve for Tracy, a character I had genuinely come to love, before moving on to a different happily ever after. I needed a reason to cry. I needed, like this article suggested, to see Ted fight – to watch him tilt at one last windmill. I needed to see that hopeless battle throw everything I’d come to love about Ted and the gang into the sharpest relief we'd ever seen.

    I needed to see a moment of tenderness connected with so great a thing being taken, so I could better appreciate what was given back.


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