‘How I Met Your Mother’ finishes another Mother-free season

05.25.10 9 years ago 10 Comments
In one of our earliest podcasts, Sepinwall raised the idea, suggested by somebody on his blog, that it might be a good idea for “How I Met Your Mother” to set an end date, a la “Lost.”
That way, the writers would be able to plan out their final seasons leading up to exactly the perfect ending of their choosing and that would yield an unimpeachable finale, a la “Lost.” [Heh. Heh.]
I mocked the idea at the time. 
After watching Monday’s (May 24) “How I Met Your Mother” season finale, I’m rethinking that position. That “How I Met Your Mother” has lost the thread of what the show was originally about isn’t a problem for me. 
Shows need the ability to evolve and change and I never thought it was fair to make “How I Met Your Mother” stick to some timetable of when Josh Radnor’s Ted was going to meet the woman who’d eventually bear his children.
What I want, speaking only for myself here and your results may vary, is that the show find and solidify some core around which the wackiness can spin. “How I Met Your Mother” just completed a season in which the thread of Ted’s search for his future baby mama was removed almost entirely and without that stitching, the show unraveled. 
Now “HIMYM” is Craig Thomas and Carter Bays’ sweater to knit however they want, but this year’s version of the sweater was the sort of present that I probably wouldn’t wear out in public (not that I’d ever miss an episode).
More thoughts on the “How I Met Your Mother” finale, promising not to mention the stupid threat/stitching/sweater metaphor ever again, after the break…
One thing I want to say before complaining: I liked “Dopplegangers,” the fifth season finale of “How I Met Your Mother.” I don’t much care for it as a finale, but that’s just because Marshall & Lilly deciding to have a baby doesn’t feel like a big enough moment for me in a series that’s all about big moments. Some comedies can get away with uneventful finales, but “How I Met Your Mother” isn’t one of them.
But “Dopplegangers” was one of the erratic fifth season’s best half-hours, at least as a top-to-bottom episode. All season long, good A-plots have been stuck with uninteresting B-plots, or inspired quirky details have been buried within undistinguished primary narratives.
“Dopplegangers” was just satisfying. I got laughs out of “Monty & Moo-Moo,” blonde Ted, Lilly’s reproductive dirty talk, Ethnic Cab Driver Barney (and his “Round the World in 80 Lays” plot), Estonian Juggler Barney, the maligning of Barney’s blog and I even bought completely into Ted’s over-articulation of what seems to have been the theme of the finale and possibly the season, “Over time, we all become our own dopplegangers, they’re completely different people who just happen to look like us.”
Yet over this season, have Marshall, Lilly, Robin, Ted and Barney really changed as characters all that much? Have they progressed? They progressed *through* things, but not notably changed. Ted may have been left at the altar last season, but when it came up in last week’s “The Wedding Bridge,” it was like he was just remembering it for the first time himself. On a show that thrives on cumulative details and narrative advancement, fans have grown to expect better.
The creators, damn talented guys, have only themselves to blame for elevating those expectations and funneling them in a very specific direction. The show has been objective oriented from the very beginning. It’s not called “Me and My Buddies Hanging Out in a Bar.” It’s not called, “How Marshall and Lilly Gradually Advanced Their Relationship, Got Married and Had Kids” or “How Barney Matured for Five Episodes, But Then Didn’t” or “How Robin Kept Jeopardizing Professional Advancement To Hang Out With People She Met a Couple Years Earlier.” It’s called “How I Met Your Mother.” But that wouldn’t need to be the be-all-and-end-all of the series except that every once in a while, obnoxious Future Ted makes coy and teasing references to how we’ve moved forward toward the goal of the series, even though we really haven’t been.
Coming after last year’s finale, in which Future Ted assured us that everything in S.4 may have been rough, it finally put him in a room with Future Momma, this season was especially infuriating, never moreso than the 100th episode, a show that was all about teasing viewers with the identity of The Mother, but left us no closer to either us knowing her identity or to Ted being in position to meet her.
I’ve never cared in the slightest about the series’ end game, but the writers obviously do and it’s crippled them, or rather it’s crippled the show’s main character. Since the show began, Ted — always defined by his anxiousness to commit and fall in love — has had at least three or four serious relationships with women who we can now safely assume aren’t The Mother. The writers are justifiably antsy with the idea that they can’t introduce more than one or two more semi-long-term girlfriends for Ted before the teasing kills the show. So this season, they stripped Ted of his originally defining trait, reduced his love life to a series of flings and redfined the character by a snobbery and effeteness which may have always been there as background traits, but never should have become Totally Ted.
And since the show had always been driven by Ted’s romantic spirit, temporarily out of commission, this season was driven by… nothing, really. After a full season of hinting and escalating excitement, Barney and Robin had their fling, which was over before it started, practically. Barney returned to being Barney and Robin went quickly into another relationship which never felt serious, even if the writers tried to convince us it was. In lieu of Ted, this season needed a core and none was provided.
Maybe Original Flavor Ted comes back next year and the writers realize that six seasons was a bit of a blessing for a show that was on the bubble each of its first three years. Yet the finale passed with nary a word about The Mother and reached through the bars and poked at viewers with a joking scene that seemed to be leading up to another Ted & Robin hookup, but instead yielded only a near-kiss and a giggle. Most viewers, wary of an relationship we know won’t lead to Future Children, were probably relieved, but I wouldn’t have minded. As Sepinwall observes and I agree, “HIMYM” has been just fine when Ted has been in relationships that ended in break-ups and I never had a problem with Ted-Robin as a couple. 
But leaving aside whether or not the show would be funnier with Ted and Robin together, but only for the short-term, I’ve never felt like “How I Met Your Mother” actually needed to end with Ted meeting the mother of his future children. “Meeting” doesn’t need to literally mean the first time he laid eyes on her. Maybe he meets her and they hate each other and they grow to find attraction over a season? What would be the harm in Future Ted and the audience knowing something Current Ted doesn’t know? Maybe after they get together, circumstances keep complicating things and they don’t get together? Maybe in Future Ted’s OCD way of thinking, she’s not officially the mother of the future kids until she’s had at least one of them? I don’t know how many semantic twists and caveats you have to put in front of what “meet” means or what “mother” means or even what “how” means. 
Most comedies don’t face this sort of pressure. We want answers from dramas like “Lost,” but comedies are usually fine as long as they make us laugh. But most comedies aren’t mythology-driven in the way that “How I Met Your Mother” is. It a pact: The writers insert clues and the viewers follow the clues and remember the hints and hope that it’s leading up to something. This season was short on both hints *and* laughs. If Season Six finds a way to recover the laughs, I don’t care who mothers Ted’s children, but if the Mothering (or lack of Mothering) is what’s tripping the writers up, there are ways of solving that particular problem.
How about you? Do you care about The Mother at all? Do you just care about the laughs? And did Season Five deliver consistent enough laughs? Would you change anything in Season Six?

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