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television review

Controversial finish for ‘How I Met Your Mother’

One of the trademarks of “How I Met Your Mother” during its nine-season run was the way it whooshed forward and backward in time. But during the clever — and controversial — series finale Monday night, the jumps were usually forward, pulling us into the 2020s and the futures of best friends Ted, Robin, Barney, Lily, and Marshall. Rather than going for poetic or ambiguous farewell gestures, the writers opted to be quite specific about each of the characters’ fates.

No, the hour wasn’t a gonzo trip ahead through the deaths of each character — only “Six Feet Under” could pull that one off. But at last we reached the point where older Ted has finished telling his two kids how he met their mother, while they’ve been sitting listening impatiently for-seemingly-ever. The show came full circle, in a way — and then it moved just one more very significant step further (beware: spoilers).

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Turns out the endgame of “How I Met Your Mother” was not the death of the mother, whose name was revealed to be Tracy McConnell. In recent episodes, the writers had dropped clues to let us know she was fatally ill, and indeed we last see her in a hospital bed.

But once Ted says, “And that, kids, is how I met your mother,” the kids confront him. Affectionately, they make one obvious point: The bulk of Ted’s long story has really been about Robin, not Tracy. It being six years after their mother’s death, they urge him to ask “Aunt Robin” on a date (she and Barney had divorced — I mean consciously uncoupled — after three years). In the final moments, Ted stands outside Robin’s window holding the blue French horn from episode No. 1.

So that’s why the kids were grumpy all along; like us, they heard their father talking on and on about “how I met your mother” — but they knew better. They knew he was really saying, “I want to be with Robin again.” The very title of the series was a bit off topic.

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I understand why fans might not like the ending, which, after a slow season, rushed through many big twists. It wasn’t conventionally romantic, with each character winding up with their one-and-only. It portrayed life as a long and jagged journey, where people can have more than one soulmate. Ted loved Tracy and Robin, just as Tracy had been in love before Ted.

But remember: No series finale satisfies everyone. And more importantly, no bad finale should undermine memories of the many good episodes that came before it.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.
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