I understand how many fans of the series feel cheated by how it all ended. My initial reaction was very mixed as well.
I had my own issues with it. However, despite them, I took another look at how I felt at the ending of one of my favorite shows.
Before I truly start to defend the conclusion of How I Met Your Mother, it should be stated that I am a viewer who has long accepted the fate of the mother. Why else would Ted draw out such a story to his children, as the sole narrator? Many hints were dropped throughout the series, as early as season 1 when Ted’s online matchmaking search came up with what he described as the perfect woman.
“I read the file, and by God this woman was perfect. She liked dogs, she spent her summers in North Carolina, she played bass guitar, she did the Times crossword, she played tennis, she liked old movies, her favorite food was lasagna, and her favorite book was ‘Love in the Time of Cholera.’ Her favorite singer was Otis Redding and she wanted two kids, a boy and a girl.”
Doesn’t this seem extremely close to the mother? The hints started here, specifically with the book, which Ted’s life certainly mimics. More apparent, during last season and Ted’s ’45 days’ speech. Then of course, a few episodes ago in Vesuvius, where something was certainly wrong for Ted and Tracy. So, I prepared for it. I accepted it. But I, like many other fans, didn’t want it to be true.
Now to the finale itself.
I don’t feel cheated by the mother dying. I find the entire situation, the entire finale for that matter, to have encased a heartbreaking amount of realism. How many of us have experienced loss in one way or another? You’d be hard-pressed to not find a single person. Not everyone can get the fairy-tale ending that is dreamed about. Because of this, our aim isn’t to get the perfect life, it’s to get the best one we possibly can. Tracy had a previous love, Max, who was tragically taken from her. She swore off dating for years before she gave it another chance. It’s because of her moving forward that she was able to give Ted the advice that ultimately propelled him towards Robin years after her passing.
“Life only moves forward.”
That’s word-for-word the line that the mother told Ted after they found out about her illness. Life only moves forward. Only four words, but those words have a profound impact on the finale. The mother was able to move forward, and wanted Ted to do the same. For six years he became the person she didn’t want him to be. He was the guy who gets caught up in his stories…until he wasn’t.
Ted’s first step at ‘moving forward’ was when he gave Robin’s pendant to Barney. That was the moment that Ted first moved forward. Letting his love for Robin go, a woman he had loved for nine years, certainly didn’t come easily. It’s only then was he able to focus what was right in front of him (or near him at the train station).
I don’t believe that the mother was ‘used’ for the sake of Ted having children. It was love, it was true love between Ted and Tracy. All of the moments we saw, the proposal (and re-proposal), the extravagant wedding plans, the Halloween party, his tearful realization that she wouldn’t be there for their daughter’s wedding. It’s obvious. It was love, and it was incredible for the duration of it. Their love being cut short doesn’t make that a cop out, or any less real. If anything, it makes it even more real. Ted learned how to love, how to cherish someone so dearly that you want every second (and an additional 45 days) humanly possible with that person. How could his love be any less than what we see?
Robin didn’t come back into the picture until well after Tracy’s passing. At the time of Ted telling his children the story, six years has passed since her death, and he still isn’t dating. Much like Tracy, who vowed off dating, Ted could have very much done the same. How could he find anyone who compared to his wife? The mother of his children? The love of his life? Ted is a hopeless romantic, and such a loss would be devastating to him. It would destroy him for a long time. And it did, for six years.
Then, Ted took Tracy’s advice again. For a second time, he moved forward. Why isn’t he allowed to move forward with Robin? A woman he has loved, by this time in 2030, for 25 years? Sure, the way they loved one another has changed, but it still existed. Ted moving forward doesn’t take away anything from the love he shared with Tracy. That love will always exist. He will always love her, and always miss her. That doesn’t change by him choosing not to be alone and going after Robin.
If anything, the show proves once more that not everyone gets a happily ever after. Ted moved forward is all; he didn’t move on. The finale wasn’t perfect, but neither was Ted, neither was Robin, and neither are we. All we can do is make the best of the moments we have because we never know how short or long those moments may be. That is what the How I Met Your Mother finale taught me. To love, to win, to lose, to pick yourself up, and to always keep moving forward.