Now that the dust has settled and the bait-and-switch is complete, the product of nine years of NBC’s How I Met Your Mother has become clear. It’s always admirable when long-running shows and sitcoms can continue to find ways to surprise their audiences – The Good Wife killed off a major character spontaneously, and Friends shocked viewers time and time again with back-and-forth relationships. And since its conception almost a decade ago, How I Met Your Mother has been destined to join the ring of long-admired television shows. The final scene of the Bob Saget-narrated sitcom was even shot during the filming of the first season in 2005 – in other words, they knew this was the ending that was coming since the first episode.
“And that, kids, is how I met your Aunt Robin,” Josh Radnor muttered with a chuckle at the conclusion of the show’s pilot in September of 2005. From that point on, it was universally known – or at least, believed – that Ted would never end up with Robin. Every time he made another hopelessly romantic gesture, the audience would recall the words “Aunt Robin” and scoff at the thought of them ever actually ending up as Mr. and Mrs., but then it was revealed that the mother had grown ill and passed away years before Ted had begun telling the story.
In retrospect, there were some red flags during the series that now seem to make a whole lot of sense. Band of Horses’ “The Funeral” played during the Lebenslager Schickshalshatz scene with Victoria’s fiancé Klaus. The mother didn’t appear in the series for eight seasons, and Ted always nostalgically spoke about her in the past tense. Ted was profoundly in love with Robin every step of the way, even during the weekend of her and Barney’s wedding. Nonetheless, the reveal was quite the twist and certainly a risky and heavy one to make during the final five minutes of the show’s existence.
The Finale aired to mixed reviews, and understandably so. How could one know how to feel? Barney, after undergoing several seasons of transformation into a man worthy of being a husband, is divorced and has a child with a random woman he doesn’t care for. Ted, often a depressed character, is forced to deal with the death of his eventual wife, Tracy, before finding his way to Robin. Some say that the outcome of the finale was planned too early, and the showrunners didn’t anticipate how much time they’d have to account for before the finale. Alan Sepinwall of HitFix.com wrote that what CBS didn’t account for when they filmed the final scene in 2005 was that the show would become the network’s longest-running sitcom and that the writers would have to drag out an entire season focusing on a wedding that is washed away within the first twenty minutes of the following episode. In addition, he said, “It would turn out that [Josh] Radnor wasn’t the only co-star that [Cobie] Smulders had absurd chemistry levels with, and that the fans would for a time get more deeply invested in the Robin/Barney ‘ship than they were in Robin and Ted.”
On the contrary, Brian Lowry of Variety said that “somewhat appropriately, the series came back to its key characters, zeroing in on the relationship between Ted and Robin (Cobie Smulders) that often felt so right in season one.”
The idea that viewers wasted six months zeroing in on every second of a bogus wedding is frustrating and hard to swallow for most, but in some bizarre, alternatively-thinking way that structure made a ton of sense. How else could the writers have built up so much Robin-and-Barney centric suspense in order to drop the multiple atomic plot bombs that followed in the finale?
In the end, the show’s writers proved something that they’ve exhibited time and time again: They’re willing to take inherent risks, and they know how to adeptly reach the ultimate “happily ever after” moment. From the beginning, it was always about Robin, and she was Ted’s true happily ever after.