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Media Review

How I Met Your Mother, Redux

HIMYM is over now. Last time I wrote about it, I was upset that Marshall’s career was steamrolling Lily’s yet again; since that time, of course, Marshall has been somewhat redeemed. He didn’t come to the conclusion that he should give Lily her turn logically; he just emotionally decided that he wanted to pay her back somehow for bearing his children. Not the greatest resolution (why does she have to be pregnant to deserve a full life?) but I guess I’ll take it.

The thing everyone’s talking about now, though, is the ending–and for the most part, what people have to say is how much they hated it. I have a slightly different perspective.

Spoilers follow.

About halfway through the final episode, I said, “I get the feeling they’re going to kill off the Mother and have Ted get with Robin. If that happens, I’m going to be pissed.” Oddly, though, as it actually unfolded, I did not find myself angry at all.

I never thought Barney and Robin were a good match. I have always believed they enabled each other’s immaturity, and to me it was perfectly natural that they would divorce after three years. If you think about it, the entire final season being about their wedding sort of underscores the characters’ own attempts to justify the relationship, to make it seem somehow meant to be. Cleverly, the writers slipped in just enough Robin and Ted stuff to cast doubt.

I’ve watched HIMYM all the way through at least three times, and each time I thought to myself, “They are going to have to find someone outstanding to play the Mother, because Ted and Robin’s chemistry is amazing.” They had something that I didn’t see with Ted’s other girlfriends, except on occasion Victoria and Stella. (If he’d married Zoey, it would have been another “divorced after three years” situation.) I never actually expected Ted to end up with Robin, but I wondered how on earth the show could top their relationship.

And I kept wondering about that when the Mother, Tracy, was finally introduced. In the beginning, her brief scenes with Ted did not have what I wanted to see. I felt like she had better chemistry with the other characters than she did with Ted. I think this may have been done on purpose, not to make us dislike her as his love interest but to start subtly chipping away at the notion of “the One” (that there is only one person for everyone). Toward the end, of course, that chemistry was there, and I loved Tracy and was glad to think that she and Ted would live happily ever after. But we got a little foreshadowing in the episode with Robin’s mom, just enough to prepare us for the possibility that things might not go perfectly after all.

When we finally got to the part where the kids reveal that their mother has been dead for years, I was surprised to find that not only was I prepared, but it made perfect sense. Of course Ted loved Robin–as his kids point out, the whole story has basically been about her. Unlike his stories of the Mother, in which Ted omits or glosses over any conflicts, Ted’s been completely honest about Robin, leaving out no detail that might make her look bad. Subconsciously, he’s trying to talk himself out of loving her. His kids see right through that and call him on it.

(I do wish that scene had been done a bit differently. The cuts were pretty awkward. I wouldn’t have shown Josh Radnor; I would have used Bob Saget’s voice.)

We know from the story that relationships aren’t easy, that there’s no perfect person. We don’t know that Ted and Robin will live happily ever after. But we do know they have a fighting chance, and plenty of history to build on.

Life is messy, and things don’t always go as we plan. I appreciate that HIMYM was willing to show the best and worst sides of its characters. Honestly, the reason I could get so passionate about the story was because on some level I felt like the characters were my friends, and it’s always painful to see friends hurting or making bad decisions.

I’ve seen Tracy described as a convenient, disposable wife, there just to make Robin finally realize she loves Ted and then getting out of the way so they could be together, but I don’t see it that way. Bad things happen. I think Ted and Tracy had a good relationship, but the story of HIMYM wasn’t actually about that relationship. I think ultimately that’s why I’m not mad. If Ted had talked about the Mother in each and every episode, if she’d featured prominently as a character throughout the series, it would have been much harder to swallow the kids’ argument that their dad was actually telling the story of his relationship with Robin.

I’m not even really bothered about the fact that Robin remained single (and she may have dated here and there; we don’t know). I can easily see her going back to her career-first mentality after Barney–she was already practically there anyway. With her job taking her around the world, she wouldn’t have much time for a serious relationship.

And so I may be in the minority, but I’m satisfied with how HIMYM ended. The pieces were all there, and they fit together. The resulting picture may not be perfect, but it is representative of life–something that we can’t control, something that’s not always fair. All we can do is our best, and that’s what these characters did.

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Media Review

How I Met Your Mother

It took me awhile to get into How I Met Your Mother–the first episode is so dumb that for a long time I resisted watching the show–but eventually it became my new Friends. I love all the in-jokes and watching the characters grow and change. I’m enjoying the final season; I feel like things are getting wrapped up well.

There are a few things that bother me, though. For one, I’m not a huge Robin and Barney fan. I liked Robin and Don. I liked how much they had in common (even to the point that when faced with huge life-changing career decisions, neither of them thought of the obvious: talk to the other!) and I liked how they made each other better people (when they weren’t avoiding actually talking to each other). I really feel like if they had just communicated a little more, they would have been fine. Robin and Barney, on the other hand, just seem to enable each other’s immaturity.

I also liked Barney and Nora. Nora inspired Barney to grow. The episode in which Barney decided to run away instead of rising to the challenge devastated me. He was so close!

I’ve noticed that in season nine the writers have been retconning in a bunch of backstory to make Robin and Barney work better, and I definitely think that helps…but I still don’t feel like their relationship has much substance. It seems to be based more on grand gestures and “how I feel right now” than actual commitment and mutual respect.

My biggest problem with season nine, though, is the apparent resolution of Marshall and Lily’s Italy issue. Based on the episode in which Marshall has a discussion with versions of Lily in his head, it looks like they will be staying in New York City so that Marshall can be a judge. Imaginary Lily even says “Of course we’re not going to Italy. We have a baby.”

This is total BS, and it quite frankly pisses me off. Having a baby does not make you incapable of living in another country; just ask all the military families and military contractor families living abroad right now. That’s a cop-out reason to stay in the States. What’s really happening here is this: Lily, once again, is being asked to sacrifice her career for Marshall’s.

Lily became a kindergarten teacher after graduating so she could put Marshall through law school. That was time she could have been using building up experience in her own field, but she put her career on hold. This is what you sometimes have to do in a relationship, and it’s a decision she made, and that’s fine.

When Marshall finally became a lawyer and they started making money, it might have been a good time for Lily to focus on a career in art. Unfortunately, she had racked up a ton of credit card debt. This irresponsibility shouldn’t be ignored; that’s clearly her own fault. I do wonder if that behavior wasn’t her way of subconsciously rebelling against not working in her chosen field.

By the time Lily got around to trying to change her career, she had no direction, no idea where to go. She tried a bunch of ridiculous jobs before ultimately going back to the safe choice of teaching kindergarten. At the time it felt like she had developed a passion for it, and maybe she had. But notice that she didn’t try to do anything fine art-related during that time.

She does start a side project selling her artwork online, and this seems to make her happy, although it’s disappointing that her work appeals to animals rather than people. It makes her degree sort of seem like a joke.

But then she is discovered as an excellent appraiser of art. Suddenly her expertise is valued and she has a real opportunity to do fulfilling, meaningful work in her chosen field. Where Marshall always had the luxury of an obvious path in front of him, Lily had to stumble through the dark to find her way to something that spoke to her and could also support her family. She finally found it at the end of season eight.

And then what happens? Marshall gets offered a judgeship, and so once again Lily’s needs must go right out the window.

There’s a reason Lily fled to San Francisco years and years ago. She’s grown responsible in the interim, and I can’t imagine she’ll run away to Italy without Marshall. But he needs to start reading the signs. One person can’t always be the one making the sacrifices in a relationship. In the conversation with Lily in his head, he learned that he needs to stop thinking of relationship discussions as something to either win or lose. While that realization has merit, he also needs to think about what it means that he has been able to pursue his dreams for the entire length of their relationship, while Lily hasn’t had much of an opportunity to do anything about hers. No, you can’t make a relationship totally fair, but this situation is egregiously unfair. There’s got to be a better balance.

Ultimately, I would like to see Marshall get his head out of his ass and realize that Lily’s dreams are just as important as his. And I’d like to see them move to Italy.