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Few comedies in history had more riding on a finale than How I Met Your Mother. Unlike its sitcom brethren, the CBS show’s built-in mystery of who Ted (Josh Radnor) would meet and marry has been building to a fixed point for nine seasons.
The identity has been out for a year, since Cristin Milioti was cast as the Mother — whom we now know was named “Tracy McConnell” — but the couple’s actual first encounter and, more recently, the Mother’s ultimate fate have been the subject of continued speculation. Well, all the cards are on the table now. So if you haven’t sat down for “Last Forever” yet, head elsewhere.
How I Met Your Mother did not bury the lead. Aggressively moving into the future with flash-forwards earlier in the episode, the finale ripped the Band-Aid and showed that sitcom happiness isn’t real or permanent. Within three years of the episode, Robin (Cobie Smulders) and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) are already divorced and its amicable origins end up being more awkward than expected when the split drives Robin from the gang.
“The gang is a married couple I never see anymore about to have their third child, my ex-husband and the guy I probably should have ended up with, who’s now with the mother of his child,” says Robin. It basically amounts to a friend breakup — Lily being the unfortunate recipient — but the episode does give Alyson Hannigan another opportunity to showcase her exceptional TV-cry.
Robin’s absence from the bulk of the episode shows the former fivesome moving further into adulthood — Ted with the Mother and Marshall (Jason Segel) with Lily, all with a growing number of children — while simultaneously regressing to their pre-Robin status. Barney revives his Lothario status, writing a new Playbook and functioning as something of a satellite around his coupled-off friends. (He comes around again thanks to an accidental love child.)
And that’s the end of the light stuff.
After seven years and two children together, the Mother and Ted finally tie the knot — only to reveal that she has, in fact, been dead the entire time older Ted has been telling the story of their meeting. Not to linger on the darkness, the reveal leads into the couple’s first meeting on the Farhampton train platform.
This is when the story finally catches up with Ted in his study, and the children — played by Lyndsy Fonseca and David Henrie — do not have the reaction you might expect. “That isn’t the story of how you met our mother,” she says. “This is the story of how you’re totally in love with Aunt Robin. You want to ask her out, and you want to know if it’s OK.”
Hints at a Ted-Robin revival were evident early in the episode, when she started getting misty-eyed every time they shared a scene, but the extent of their reunion wasn’t clear until the very end. Robin, about 50 years old, opens her apartment window to find Ted standing outside with the blue French horn from the pilot. They smile and the title card flashes one last time.
The show really has been about Robin’s and Ted’s long road to being together all along. And that is bound to please some and certainly infuriate others.
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