On a filmmaking and storytelling level, the How I Met Your Mother series finale “Last Forever” was pretty sloppy. But the central point — killing the finally-named Tracy and having Ted end up with Robin — is the best possible way they could’ve closed this whole big beautiful mess out.
Ted and Robin have always been the show’s Ross and Rachel, the “Will They/Won’t They” couple whose conflict drives the series. And yes, it does in fact drive the series: it’s the only inter-character issue that has been present for the entire series. Other things come and go, Ted and Robin’s weird, complicated, sexual and romantic tension has maintained.
You might insist that finding “The Mother” is the real point of the show, but I’d argue that that’d be kinda terrible. Remember, “The Mother” isn’t a character until season 9, and doesn’t even get a name until the final minutes. Let me say that again, but with italics for emphasis. She doesn’t get a name until the final minutes. Ted’s pursuit of “The perfect woman” isn’t a romance story, it’s an emotional fetch-quest, shallow, selfish and narcissistic. Tracy just isn’t enough of an entity for the beginning of their relationship to provide the closure we need in a series like this.
In storytelling terms, “The Mother” is what Ted wants, “Robin” is what he needs, and you should always give your protagonist what he needs.
But of course, the story’s more complicated than that, isn’t it? Because Ted does get what he wants for a while, and there’s no indication that it wasn’t great, perfect, everything he wanted. And that’s exactly why we can’t see a lot of it: happy relationships don’t make good TV. So she died — just like her first “great love” died, which sets off a great string of narrative symmetries.
Their marriage didn’t fail, it just ended — much like Robin and Barney’s. Both Ted and Tracy had to move on after the death of a loved one, even though they weren’t sure they could — just like Lily had to move on to something better after giving up her dreams of being an artist, and Marshall had to push aside his dreams of being an environmental lawyer so he could become a judge. Just like The Arcadian had to be torn down to make room for Goliath National Bank.
Hell, every major story arc in the series has been about learning to give things up to make room for something new, because like Barney says, “newer is always better.” (That’s not true — newer is just new, and it’s okay to love it.)
And that’s why this ending, on a thematic level, is great. It follows the necessary sitcom plot structure (The “Will They/Won’t They Couple” finally does) but it uses it to send a message that subverts the entire thing: you don’t just get “one love” in your life. There’s no major event that defines your existence. You fall in love, and you fall out, and that’s okay. You have wonderful friendships, but then you drift apart, and that’s also okay. Everything great ends, which is exactly what makes those things so great — if they lasted forever, they’d be normal.
So don’t be afraid to move on. In this specific instance, to the next TV show.
JF Sargent is a Twitter and a Blog.