A Post-Mortem: How I Met Your Mother, "Vesuvius"
To call last night’s How I Met Your Mother a rollercoaster of emotions would do a disservice. Like grief itself, it was a series of waves, both calm and lulled and crashing and impossible.
In many ways, this episode reminded me of the famous countdown episode, one of the best in the show’s history. Filled with levity and silliness, seeing our gang happy and together. Then, the gut punch of reality.
And I’ve never gotten used to it / I’ve just learned to turn it off.
Let’s start with the light. There was a lot, and it was wonderful. It had everything. “Intrigue! Betrayal! Lamps!”
On the wedding day, we re-meet Robin’s sister, Katie, last seen at the Empire State Building not losing her virginity to the kid from Punk’d. While they’re playing hockey and going super Canadian, Lily just wants Robin to freak out and see how important this day is. Even a downright Knope-ish scrapbook doesn’t help. And then when Robin realizes The Wedding Bride 2 (the movie, not the smash Broadway musical) is on Pay-Per-View, Lily’s attempts are swiftly backburnered.
In the meantime, Barney is trying to find the perfect suit to walk down the aisle in, to be admired by everyone as they stand when he walks into the chapel (Barney is unsure how weddings work). Tim Gunn made him one, but he doesn’t like the fit. Obviously Timmy G would never steer him wrong, because once Ted reminds him of how important this day is and how happy he will be seeing Robin, it’s a perfect fit. Aw.
She might think that I’ve forgotten her / Don’t tell her it isn’t so.
Of course, all the sweetness and levity is broken up by a future visit to the Farhampton. Ted and the Mother learn they know all each other’s stories and are an old married couple (high five!). But it becomes clear quickly that this is no ordinary romantic getaway. The Mother is worried about Ted. She’s worried he will live only through stories, stuck in the past. And we know it’s true to some extent. Ted remembers it all down to nearly every detail, save for some Blah Blahs and timelines. Ted tells her why he chooses stories over feelings.
What’s Ted afraid to feel? At this point, we all knew. But I know I didn’t want to believe it.
And though our separation, it pierced me to the heart / She still lives inside of me; we’ve never been apart.
The inevitable was set in motion with this moment, after we witness the long-awaited arrival of Robin’s mom—played by Tracey Ullman in a flawless bit of casting. The happiness was short-lived.
Sundown, yellow moon, I replay the past / I know every scene by heart; they all went by so fast.
It’s not fair. It’s cruel. To have us watch as Ted pissed around for nearly 10 years on his path to finding this woman just to lose her after 15 years together is cruel.
But life is cruel. People we love die and we are left with heartbreak and pain and confusion, but also stories. In stories, they live forever. And if the Mother now only exists as Ted’s story, the most important one he will ever tell, it hurts. It will destroy those of us who have dedicated almost a decade to this show.
But it also makes sense. This is not a gimmicky pulling-out-the-rug. It won’t cheapen its end; rather, it will make everything else, down to the tiniest points, matter. This has been painstakingly plotted, right down to us falling as in love with her as Ted does, seeing her as a mother with kids bouncing into her bed. It isn’t just a fairly brave way to end a mainstream network sitcom, but the show’s whole thematic purpose, the reason why this story mattered so much, why it was more than just a windbaggy man boring his kids.
Life is cruel. Death is cruel. But the stories. When they’re all that remain? You cling to those stories. You savor. Because the moments are fleeting. The stories are infinite.