How I Would’ve Ended “How I Met Your Mother”

The finale of How I Met Your Mother was met with anger and vitriol. Here's how I would have done it differently and, I believe, better.

Let’s start with a confession. I didn’t watch the last two seasons of How I Met Your Mother. I jumped ship after the Season 7 finale gave Barney’s character a viking funeral. In the same episode Barney gave the perfect Barney proposal to the perfect Barney match, it was revealed, for the sake of a season finale shocking twist ending cliffhanger, that he was actually going to marry Robin. The writers had passed on giving Barney any meaningful character development in favor of hooking the audience with something shiny (though decidedly very un-Firefly-like)…and essentially turned Robin into little more than a MacGuffin, a plot device whose character was tweaked based on whatever narrative curve ball they decided to throw. My love affair with the show ended that day as I realized why Ted went from a daring dreamer on an admirable path of self-progress at the start of the series to a whiny, mopey malcontent at that point in it. Over the seven years that I watched, the show had been spinning its wheels in hopes that I never caught on to the fact that nothing ever changed.

Over at Hitflix, Alan Sepinwall claims that the issue with the finale is that the writers had a fixed ending they tried to shoehorn into a show that had developed passed it. He goes on to state the backlash against the ending is the death knell to the idea that shows should have a pre-determined, definitive end-point, that it’s ok if they’re made up as they go. Sepinwall couldn’t be more off base. The problem with How I Met Your Mother isn’t that it had a pre-determined ending; it’s that it had no ending. The show was only a beginning.

It was nine seasons of Ted meeting Robin–a story that directly contradicted not only the show’s title, but it’s theme.Ted never grew past Robin like he promised us he would, and neither of them certainly grew to be right for each other. They ended up together because of true love and reasons and stuff. There was no prestige in the finale because the writers ignored their trick’s pledge (that Ted would grow up) and tried to include way too many turns to try to distract us from that fact. The hand may be quicker than the eye, but it isn’t quicker than the mind.

In Season 1, the producers found themselves in the fortuitous situation most shows dream of. They had a good cast. No, they had a great cast. No, they had the perfect cast for their production. Every actor and actresses fit his or her role like a glove and played off the rest off the cast flawlessly. It’s the kind of chemistry that drove shows like Friends, LOST, and Arrested Development to such success. It did the same for How I Met Your Mother, and it did so off of the strength of the Ted and Robin combination. Their relationship was the perfect gateway into Ted Mosby’s wacky world of dating. In that sense, I understand why the writers never wanted to give it up–and that compassion I feel for them is why, even though I think Ted ending up with Robin is a poor choice, I now present to you my alternate ending for the show where Ted ends up with Robin and the mother still dies.

My intent with this write-up is to show that the writers’ could have preserved their basic ending for the show, which they shot back at the start of Season 2, while staying true to their theme, title, and characters. Thus I will be picking up where I stopped watching–the start of Season 8.

Season 8

We pick up where we left off in the Season 7 finale. In the future, Ted is trying to talk Robin out of being a runaway bride while Lily and Marshall are trying to talk Barney out of being a runaway groom. Their cold feet leading up to them saying “I do” is tracked throughout the season as the gang fights hard to make sure this wedding happens. An emphasis is placed on the fact that Ted attended their wedding dateless, a first for him in such a major event in his life, instead choosing to focus all his energies on his duties as best man, or so it seems.

In the present, Barney and Quinn still break up because they’re not mature enough to trust each other. Ted attempts to make things work with Victoria, but they fail. The rest of the season is focused on Ted learning to be okay with being alone. He does so with grace and intelligence as he unintentionally becomes the glue for the group. Everyone is distracted with their self-professed dreams. Marshall and Lily barely have time to socialize because they’re trying to balance their careers with being parents. Robin works so much and is experiencing such success in her career, a fact that is rightly and repeatedly celebrated by the show, that she is also barely around. Barney is back to his womanizing ways. Still, each of them finds time for their best friend Ted at McLaren’s,  a routine which always brings them together–even if there is a lot of friction between them.

Sometime around mid-season Barney and Robin connect again. The remaining episodes are spent building Barney and Robin’s rekindled romance, the final hurdle of which is Ted’s blessing. In the finale, he finally gives it and Barney proposes to Robin. Following her yes, we transition back to their wedding in the future. The happy couple is standing at the altar reciting their vows. After they both say “I do,” we immediately cut to the group taking a photo at the reception that echoes the one in the opening credits. The tension between them is gone. Ted is truly the best man. Everything seems so perfect that this episode is playing like a series finale.

…except as everyone indulges in the festivities Ted is the only one that knows this is the group’s last hurrah. He has been secretly preparing to move to Chicago because of the pain his friends’ marriage brings him and this moment is how he wants to remember them all. He looks longingly at Robin one last time, then at his plane ticket and ducks out hoping no one notices. One person does though, the bass player in the wedding band, the mother. On her knowing and sympathetic look the season ends.

Season 9

We pick up hours after the wedding reception is over. Ted has sneaked off to the Long Island Rail Station in hopes of leaving before anyone notices he is gone. As the rain pours down on him, he turns and notices a woman carrying a yellow umbrella–Tracey McConnell.

Three years later, the group is hanging out at McLaren’s. This future becomes the show’s present as it is the main story line of the season with minimal flashbacks or flashforwards. Ted has a new found confidence. Still, part of him wishes that he had moved to Chicago like he planned to as career goals are tearing the couples apart. Lily wants to move to Italy, but Marshall wants to stay in New York and become a judge. Robin is barely around anymore, so Barney is developing much more than a wandering eye. At the end of the season premiere, Robin leaves the pub in a hurry, needing to reach a flight on time. As she rushes out the door, she nearly bumps into Tracey, who walks in and takes the empty spot at the table. Tracey catches Ted ever so briefly staring at the door and the episode ends.

The first half of the season tracks the Ted-Tracey relationship and the marital problems of Barney and Robin and Lily and Marshall. Eventually, the couples go in opposite directions. At the midpoint, Lily and Marshall have reconciled. Lily’s second pregnancy has caused Marshall to want to move to Italy with her, as family is the most important thing to him. Meanwhile, Barney and Robin decide to get a divorce, a decision that is exacerbated by Robin’s traveling for her job and Barney spending time with Quinn (a detail I’ve included because I refuse to accept that she wasn’t perfect for him). After the divorce goes through, Robin attempts to hang out with the gang one more time, but finds it too painful. She leaves McLaren’s for the final time, again almost bumping into Tracey who takes her spot at the table and notices the deep sadness written all over Ted’s face.

The second half of the season is a “return” to “original” How I Met Your Mother. Barney is back to womanizing. Marshall and Lily are the token couple as they prepare for their move. Ted is overly concerned about his destiny and if Tracey is right for him. Robin is largely absent except for routine phone calls to Ted to “check up” on everyone. Eventually, Barney admits he doesn’t find any meaning in sleeping around anymore, just loneliness. He soon finds himself growing closer to Quinn. Their rediscovered connection inspires Ted to propose to Tracey.

In the second to last episode of the series, we cut to a hospital in the future where Barney is an expectant dad pacing nervously while Quinn gives birth. In the present, Ted proposes to Tracey and she accepts. We immediately cut back to the hospital in the future where it is revealed that Tracey is on her death bed. Ted, Marshall, and Lilly are by her side. The episode ends on a shot of pain on Ted’s face.

The final episode opens with Robin frantically trying to catch a flight to New York to meet up with her friends during this important time in their lives. She’s finally able to admit just how much she misses them. She’s achieved everything she’s wanted in life except for love and the deep friendships she had with the group. Meanwhile, Marshall and Lilly try to comfort both Ted and Barney at the same time, often swapping who is consoling who. In their conversations, Barney reveals he’s never felt as strongly for anyone as he does for his unborn daughter, and Ted finally tells the story of how he met Tracey (which we cut to the future to witness).

The tension is cut when it’s announced that Barney’s daughter is born. Meanwhile, Robin arrives at the hospital. The group huddles in Quinn’s room as Barney holds Ellie for the first time. As tears roll down his face, Robin walks into the room. It’s the first time the group has been together in years. She smiles warmly and says, “Congratulations. You guys deserve to be happy. I mean that.”

Back in Tracey’s room, Ted and Tracey are alone and Ted is crying just as Barney was, but for different reasons. A soft knock comes on the door. Tracey invites whoever it is in. Robin enters to Ted’s shock and Tracey’s peaceful, knowing smile. This moment is the first time in the series Tracey and Robin have ever been aware of each other being in the same room. Robin introduces herself. Tracey then invites her over to the bedside and says, “I just want you to know that once I’m gone, I’m ok with it.” Both Robin and Ted are confused. Tracey admits that she’s known that the two of them were still in love all along, she’s just glad for the time she got to spend with Ted because he’s an amazing man. Ted and Robin look at each other. On that look we cut to one last future storytelling scene.

Robin speaks over a shot of Ted and Tracey’s kids listening:

“And that kids is how I met your mother.”

The camera shows an older Ted and Robin sitting together holding hands. Cut to black for the final time.