Anyone who stuck with How I Met Your Mother for nine seasons knew, or should have realized, that in the end it would never be about the mother. Yes, it was nice to get confirmation that we were all right. Yes, it was nice to find out that Tracy McConnell had the same initials as our storyteller, or even had a name at all.* But the show’s title was a relic of Season 1 Ted. A Ted who believed, above all, in the One. A Ted who believed in a life that he could plan down to the last detail. A Ted who would never imagine he’d be a widower with two kids and end up with, well, Robin. OK, that part we kind of knew—or at least were hoping—all along.
Because, contrary to what some disappointed critics are writing tonight, if Ted hadn’t ended up with Robin, that would have been an enormous disappointment. The way Ted ended up with Robin—the ending set up, clearly, years ago—was far more interesting and romantic than anything the show could have told us about the mother in 45 minutes or less. This ending was a tribute to the fans who’d been watching for years, and for whom the bond between Ted and Robin would always mean more than the bond (no matter how nicely portrayed) between Ted and a character whose name we just learned tonight.
While running gags were what kept the show strong, the always-a-bit-off chemistry between Ted and Robin was always at its core. Instead of maintaining the will-they-won’t-they sitcom trope, the show tried (not always successfully) to do away with this tension—because Ted and Robin didn’t, couldn’t, quite fit yet. The show’s earlier efforts to throw us off the trail—he was telling this story to his children, Robin couldn’t have children—served their purpose, allowing the show to run on for a bit longer than it should have. We were to accept that there was no way Robin was the mother, and she wasn’t. But fans who had been watching forever knew that the mother had to be a red herring, not least because the show’s most romantic moment already happened in the pilot when Ted brought Robin a blue French horn.
The one episode we got this season devoted to the mother (instead of the entire season I was hoping for) focused on how she was the perfect fit for Ted, how her entire life was basically built for her to be primed to meet him. Cristin Milioti was great, but the character was never one we could root for. Thankfully, instead of trying to force us to fall in love with a new character, the show did what it did best in its finale: called back earlier plots and storylines, rewarding longtime viewers for paying attention to the major details. And in the process, the Ted of the pilot was able to keep his romantic side, but to face reality, with a little help from his children, who kindly told him what we already knew: “This is the story of how you’re totally in love with Aunt Robin.”
In the end, the finale was an homage to the pilot, a reward to those who kept watching and, perhaps, a disappointment to those who’d given up on the show but returned to see how it all turned out. The show began with Aunt Robin being the red herring and ended with the mother being the red herring. This was a mystery even the Mosby Boys could’ve solved.
Correction, April 3, 2014: This post originally misspelled the first name of the character Tracy McConnell.