Over the years, I had developed all manner of theories as to how How I Met Your Mother would somehow get around ever introducing the title character (or, maybe, get Ted together with Robin without contradicting its founding conundrum). The “kids” would, somehow, actually not be Ted’s biological children. Future Ted would keel over from a heart attack in the finale, just before the reveal. The entire framing device would be the fantasy of an elderly Ted Mosby, dying unloved and alone.
Instead, after eight seasons–and pending some further twist I haven’t anticipated—last night’s season finale delivered: one Future Mother, in the doe-eyed person of theater actress Cristin Milioti. Kudos to the producers for somehow pulling this off, in this day and age, without the casting news getting leaked to the high heavens. Now this sets up the show’s endgame: namely, with a big question answered, will the final season be worth watching?
After watching every episode religiously for the first six seasons (and blogging many of them), I’ve drifted away from the show the past two years; this season, I was lucky if I caught one episode a month to keep up. There’s no point in re-rehearsing the reasons in detail—the show got too caught up in Barney’s wackiness, the narrative tricks that were exciting in the show’s first few seasons didn’t feel as fresh anymore.
That said, one thing that didn’t bother me over the last few seasons was whether or when the Mother would be revealed—to me, it was just an intriguing side game that only became a problem when the mechanics of it got in the way of the central stories. But now that Mom is cast and on stage, I’m hoping that the change will revitalize the show for its next and final season.
I was always going to watch the series finale anyway: there are some shows where, even if you’ve lost interest, you’re invested enough that you have to come home in the end. That’s what, say, The O.C. and Dawson’s Creek were like for me—really, my attachment to HIMYM is more like the kind I’d usually have to a soap not a sitcom. I’ve put in the man-hours to follow these characters’ lives and growth, and I want to see where they come out.
I also want the final season to feel new again, to have real stakes, which is why I hope the revelation of The Mother means the end of the teasing and the red herrings. The producers could, I guess, make season nine a string of near-misses, stretching out the time until the wedding with flashbacks and real-time episodes so that Ted and Mom don’t meet until the finale. But I’d rather they got them together as soon as possible, and spent a season actually developing a relationship between them that we can care about. I’d like to see her get to know Ted—and, as important, Marshall and Lily and Robin and Barney. Seeing the five central characters through the eyes of a new character could help us see them, after nine years, with fresh eyes again.
We always knew, after all, that Ted would meet his match at some point. Let’s hope the show turns her from a plot device—an umbrella and a pair of boots—into a person. “How I met your mother” may not be nearly as interesting as “Why I fell in love with your mother.”
Update: Or maybe not! According to a statements from CBS and the producers at Alan Sepinwall’s blog, the final season will tell the story of “the longest wedding ever.” Which doesn’t necessarily mean the show can’t develop Milioti’s character before Ted meets her, it would seem, in the finale. But it does make me last optimistic that she’ll get fleshed out as a person, rather than serving as a fixture in flashbacks in which she just misses meeting Ted. Sigh.