Happy endings…or not

I watched the series finale of How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) last night. I’ve watched every episode of that show, without fail, from the very beginning. And so I found myself bitterly disappointed with the ending – specifically, the very end.

(There are spoilers from here on, so if you haven’t watched it yet, you might want to bookmark this page and come back later.)

My problem is not that there wasn’t the happy ending for Ted and The Mother that we were all hoping for. While it would have been a sad ending, I could have lived with an ending whether The Mother had died and ted was telling his children how he met her. That’s life. Sometimes parents die, or otherwise disappear from their children’s lives, and while I would’ve cried, I could have accepted that ending.

It was the after that I hate. Robin? Really? After 9 years of this show, after watching him get over her, watching him realize he didn’t love her, to see him go back to her was just…irritating. After watching her spend so many years telling him it wouldn’t work between them, watching her and Barney grow together as a couple and as individuals, to see her suddenly realizing that Ted actually was the one, was just…stupid. Her and Barney divorcing? Okay, sure, it was depressing, but not entirely unexpected. Barney falls back into his womanizing ways. Okay, again, not entirely unexpected. Barney has a daughter and falls deeply in love with her. That was unexpected.

Even all those things that I think are irritating, stupid, or shouldn’t have happened, I could have handled them but for the way they were written. And that’s what brings me to my point today.

As a voracious reader, and as an author myself, I don’t think every ending has to be happy, nor does every ending necessarily have to tie up every loose end (remember the end of Ripped Away, anyone?). But it does need to be well written. There does need to be a reason behind the sadness, or the loose end that isn’t tied up – whether that reason is that that’s how it is in real life, or that we’re leaving things open for a sequel, or whatever, there has to be a reason.

They claim this ending has been the plan since the beginning. This is evidenced by the fact that they taped the scene with Ted’s kids way back at the beginning. Got it. So, if this was the plan from the start, it begs the question: why was this ending so poorly written then?

We rushed through Ted’s life with The Mother, rushed through her death, had two happy kids rooting for Ted to go get “Aunt Robin” and an ending that strongly implied that now Ted and Robin would live happily ever after. If this was the idea from the start, then why was it rushed into one last one hour episode, rather than spreading it out over the whole season?

As many others before me have said, they threw away years of character development in this last episode, and that bothers me. I can’t imagine investing as much time and effort as it takes to create characters, to make them grow and become better people, and then just trash it all to fit some ending that just doesn’t fit anymore.

Whether it’s a movie, a TV show, or a book, character development is one of the most crucial parts. While characters shouldn’t necessarily be predictable and do exactly what everyone would expect of them (how boring would that be?), their out of character moments should at least make sense. It should not be an action that makes your reader (or viewer) stop and think, “WTF?” It should be something that makes them think, “Hm, I never would have expected that, but you know, I guess if I were in that situation, I just might do that, too.”

If you have an ending in mind from the start, that’s great. But as a writer, one thing I’ve learned is that sometimes your characters have other ideas. And if their ideas don’t find that ending that you have in mind, maybe you should reconsider that ending – even if it means scrapping something you think is wonderful or perfect. You shouldn’t force characters to do something just because it was the moment you had in mind all along. As proven by the HIMYM finale, when you do that, you end up with people who feel betrayed and let down by your ending, and you ruin something that was wonderful and very loved by your fans. And letting down your fans is a very, very bad thing to do.

**I am aware that there are many who disagree and think the ending was exactly what it should be, and that it made perfect sense. This just proves that when you write to entertain people, you’re going to make some people happy and some people unhappy. From what I’ve seen, however, it seems that the majority are unhappy (as am I), and so I’ve chosen to address it from that point of view.

 

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