Spoiler Warning: I’m about to talk extensively about the season 8 finale of How I Met Your Mother, so if you haven’t seen it yet and want to remain-spoiler free, don’t read the rest of this post. Also avoid Facebook, Reddit, Imgur, IMDB, McClaren’s Bar, and Shoney’s. That last one has nothing to do with HIMYM, I just don’t like Shoney’s.
In the season 8 finale, after literally years of buildup, we’ve reached an apex of sorts. We end the episode 56 hours before the wedding of Barney Stintson and Robin Sherbatsky, and all of our heroes are at something of a crossroads. Barney and Robin, of course, are about to get married. Lily is preparing to leave New York City for a year to take a job in Rome. She doesn’t know, though, that her husband Marshall has been accepted for the judge’s position he applied for long before the Rome gig was even in the picture, nor does she know that (if the “your honor” Marshall’s brother tossed at him at the end is any indication) he’s accepting the job. And the “I” in How I Met Your Mother, Ted Mosby, is at the cusp of the biggest decision of his life. Still hung up on Robin but unwilling to disrupt the marriage of his best friend and the girl of his dreams, Ted is planning to move to Chicago after the wedding is over, something nobody knows except for Lily.
And as this all takes place, in the last seconds of the episode, we saw a new face — a pretty girl with a bass guitar and a yellow umbrella — walk up to a clerk in a train station and request a ticket to scenic Farhampton, location of Barney and Robin’s wedding.
First of all, let’s debunk some of the folks I hear trying to argue that maybe this actress, Cristin Milioti, is just another red herring, that she’s not the mother at all. Frankly, if that was true it would be the cruelest tease this already tease-heavy show had ever pulled. She fits every single bit of evidence about the mother that we’ve been given so far: that she and Ted will meet at the wedding, that she will be the bass player in the wedding band, that she carries a yellow umbrella, and most importantly, that the show’s creators confirmed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that she is, in fact, the friggin’ mother.
That said, many of the fans have had reactions on rather different sides of the spectrum. On the one hand, there’s the “that’s it?” crowd, the ones who expected to see her face and have the clouds open up and light shine down from the Heavens and everything suddenly become clear and perfect and music to play and the Israeli and Palestinians to lay down their arms and DirecTV and AMC to finally come to an arrangement that would allow them to show Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead and for everyone in the world to suddenly find room in their hearts to tolerate lactose and me to find the button I lost off that shirt last week. On the other side, we have the fans who are screaming, “We know who the mother is!” and running around having pillow fights and popping champagne corks and writing their acceptance speeches for “best internet meme ever” and poking each other in the bellies and giggling like the Pillsbury Doughboy.
And to those people who belong to either of these categories, my message is the same:
For the love of God, you people are still completely missing the point.
For those of you who were expecting a life-changing revelation, why? As I pointed out months ago, the revelation of the mother isn’t actually what this series is about. The story, from day one, has been about the events in Ted Mosby’s life that led to him –both physically and emotionally — being in a place where he could find his true soulmate. I must admit, I’ve been slightly annoyed with the last several episodes as they seemed to be backsliding — yet again — to the Ted/Robin connection that we’ve known since the first episode of the series would never pan out. It felt far too much like we were retreading familiar ground and not really progressing the characters emotionally. The season finale changed my mind about that, though. At this point, the impression I get is that we’ve finally brought Ted to rock-bottom. He’s fallen as far as he possibly can — he’s about to unravel his entire life just to get away from the situation that’s caused him so much pain. And strictly from a narrative standpoint, you need to get the character to that low point if you really want the climb back into the light to be satisfying. I hope that’s what we’ll see in season 9. But more about that in a minute.
For the people shouting with joy because — and I quote — “we know who the mother is,” I’ve got something to point out to you. No. You don’t. You don’t know squat about the mother, at least nothing you didn’t already know about her prior to last night’s episode — she’s Cindy’s ex-roommate, she plays bass in a band, she carries a yellow umbrella. The only thing you know about Mom that you didn’t know before the season finale is what she looks like, and frankly, that’s the least important thing about her. No disrespect intended to Cristin Milioti, she seems cute as a button, but what she looks like isn’t nearly as important as what kind of person she is, what her hopes and goals are, what eventually led to her playing the wedding… hell, what her name is. That moment where we finally got to see her face was a satisfying moment, but not because it was revelatory (as the people in Group A expected), but because it’s a symbolic promise of a final season that will draw this story to a close.
And as for that final season, let’s talk about that for a moment. Craig Thomas and Carter Bays, the show’s creators, have made it clear that the narrative structure of the final season is going to be different from the previous eight. They declined, of course, to explain just how it would be different, but I think they gave us the clue in the final moments of the finale. As the episode drew to a close, before a montage of where each of our characters was and the flash of Mom at the train station, we got a title card that read “56 hours before the wedding.” I think it’s possible — maybe even likely — that the final season of this series may actually go for an almost realtime structure, using the whole season to tell the story of Robin and Barney’s wedding weekend. (It won’t be exactly realtime, that would require 112 episodes as opposed to the standard 22, and that would be insane, but it may be close enough.)
Could there possibly be enough in those 56 hours to encompass 11 hours of television, give or take time for commercials or any double-length episodes they decide to drop in the mix? Maybe. There’s an awful lot going on with each of our five stars, and it certainly seems like Milioti is going to be at least a semi-regular character in the ninth season, not somebody we’ve gotten a glimpse of now only for her to fall away until the final episode. What’s more, this series has never shied away from non-linear storytelling. Flashbacks and flash-forwards in the story have been common from the beginning, and may be even more so in this final run. It would be too much, I think, for Ted and Mom’s fateful encounter at the train station following the wedding to actually wait until the final episode… that is, unless the rest of the season includes glimpses of them together in the future. That’s what we need at this point — we need to see Ted with his wife, we need to believe that their love can wipe out all of the pain and frustration Ted’s gone through in the past eight seasons. We need to recognize in this girl somebody who can make Ted Mosby forget about Robin Sherbatsky once and for all, yet still remain a part of her and Barney’s life (his kids call them “Aunt Robin” and “Uncle Barney,” hardly likely if these were friends who he walked away from before they were even born).
This, I think, is what we need. This, I think, is where the last season of How I Met Your Mother needs to take us.
If there’s anything else we can count on, I think it’s this: in the last episode, when Ted finally finishes telling the story to his kids, when we as the audience have finally reached the final emotional satisfaction of nearly a decade of storytelling, we’ll see Luke and Leia calmly get up off the couch and wander off, unimpressed by Dad’s long story, because that reaction out of a pair of teenagers would be the most emotionally honest ending of them all.
UPDATE: Looks like Bays and Thomas aren’t done giving interviews, and this one seems to indicate some of my thoughts about the season nine format are pretty much on the money…