I don’t watch much TV. This is partly because my schedule is so out of whack with normality that it’s difficult for me to regularly keep up with any television show. I will marathon the shit out of TV series when I am given the opportunity – which is what shows like Breaking Bad and True Detective are destined for…one day. The other factor is that it’s hard for me to put that much emotional investment into a serialized form of media – I end up caring way, way too much about what I’m watching – and don’t deal well with not knowing what’s going to happen. (I’ve already had ONE Lord of the Rings series in my life, thank you very much. I don’t need it twenty-four times a year for five to seven years running)
Which is what’s caused me to feel such immense outrage over How I Met Your Mother today.
For those not in the know, the show deals with Ted Mosby’s (Josh Radnor) eternal pursuit of “the Mother”, which was revealed at the end of last season to be played by Cristin Milioti. This whole season – twenty-four episodes covering the events of a three-day weekend – has been up and down, but every time Milioti’s character has been onscreen, the show has experienced a much-needed breath of fresh air. It’s easy to see why she will inevitably make the perfect wife for Ted (and he the perfect husband for her, an important part that I give Carter Bays and Craig Thomas for actually covering), and they will ride off into the sunset together.
Or, at least, that’s what we all thought…until the events of last night’s episode. (MAJOR SPOILERS ALERT)
In “Vesuvius”, it is revealed that Robin’s (Cobie Smulders) long absent mother will actually be attending her wedding after all. As Ted explains this part of the story in 2024 to the mother, she rhetorically – almost glibly – replies “What mother would miss her daughter’s own wedding?” Ted’s reaction was the last thing I expected – he started to break down, crying silently, forcing the mother to reassure him and to change the subject. As the episode ended, Bob Dylan’s “If You See Her, Say Hello” plays over a pullback into a winter snowstorm.
There’s a theory going around, based upon Ted’s soliloquy in last season’s “The Time Travelers”, that the Mother is, in fact, dead. Ted’s telling the story to his children is a way of coping with the grief of the loss of his one true wife. I don’t put much credence into fan rumors regarding this show – particularly since every rumor about the identity of the mother turned out to be DEAD WRONG…but there’s a lot more to this one particular theory that lends it an air of fact. Given how the show has portrayed relationships (things don’t always work out, and love is rarely easy), this wouldn’t be that big of a surprise. Bays and Thomas have lived and died on the alter of plot twists and reversal of expectations since the first season, and this would fit right into their typical mode of operations. It wouldn’t be surprising. It might even be sweet.
But it stings a bit. Even as the show has sunken into mediocrity, the characters have been (for the most part) strong, reliable, and bastions of easy, sitcom comedy that entertains. However, if the mother were to be dead, it would be a form of “cop-out”, I feel – a way to explain her absence over eight years that wasn’t entirely earned. Her relationship with Ted that has been built over this season – that’s been earned. To pull the rug out from under fans at the last instant, depriving them of a happy ending that they’ve been anxiously waiting for – as Ted goes through incredulously massive amounts of heartbreak – is almost to cheat them.
I made a Facebook post of a Vulture article as a means of starting dialogue – many of my friends love the show as I do. From their responses, and from talking with Alex, I’ve come to three beliefs about what the possibilities are:
1) The Mother is dying as of 2024, and will be dead by 2030, missing her daughter’s wedding. Everybody cries.
2) The Mother undergoes a health scare, which will be resolved by the end of the series finale. Everybody cries tears of joy.
3) Carter Bays and Craig Thomas are playing on our expectations as a means of increasing interest even further in the show’s ending.
The second option seems a bit forced, and if possible, even more of a narrative cop-out (though both Neil Patrick Harris and Smulders have openly stated that the finale is “complicated”) than killing the Mother off. The last option is cruel and sadistic, yet I still remember the episode ending with Robin announcing that she is pregnant, something that sadly turned out not to be true in “Symphony of Illumination”. The first…well, is the worst.
And here’s why I spent so much of today agonizing about this god damn TV show.
Because I started watching this show around my sophomore year of college. Because the characters helped me to get through the dark days of college, and the immediate aftermath. Because this show is what helped me get through moving out of my parent’s home into a strange, new city over two years ago. Because this show taught me the value of a close circle of friends, and what it means to be there for them in times of need – and how any night can be legendary. Because the episodes dealing with the unexpected death of Marshall’s father helped me get through the unexpected death of my own mother. Because every heartbreak and breakup I’ve gone through since the show’s beginning has been mildly reflected by many encounters of the characters on the show. Because I see so much of myself in these young twenty-soon-to-be-thirty somethings, living, working, and playing in the city. Because after nine years of emotional investment in these characters that I’ve come to love, I desperately want Ted to get the happy ending he deserves, if only because I want that happy ending, for myself and for my friends whom I care about deeply.
This is why I don’t watch TV. Because I can’t not care about these things.
Having said all of this, I repeat what I said on Facebook earlier today: Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, if you kill off the Mother, I will never forgive you.
It is going to be a LONG month.