Close-up on Robin

Few TV series finales have disappointed a fandom quite like the ending of "How I Met Your Mother." The nine-season show had amassed a massive fan base by the time it entered its final season, and fans waited with bated breath to finally see the moment they’d been waiting for all these years: how Ted met the mother of his children. Yet in the last two episodes of a 208-episode series, the writers upended the entire premise of the story and defied not only the expectations of fans, but the show’s very title.

Because as it turns out, we didn’t just watch nine seasons of TV to meet Ted’s future wife, Tracy. Nope, we devoured almost a decade of television just to learn how Robin was always Ted’s number one choice. Talk about a red herring.

From not using the mother as a means to a toxic end, to finally letting Lily live her artistic dreams, to not breaking up Barney and Robin just to serve Ted’s journey, here are a few ways the "How I Met Your Mother" writers could have given us the ending we deserved. This, kids, is why we want a refund. Or, at the very least, nine years of our lives back.

Don’t break up the gang

The gang at the bar

Fans have a myriad of issues with the "How I Met Your Mother" finale. However, the objection that almost everyone can agree on stems from the fact that it breaks up the gang. We begin the first episode of the finale with a flashback where Lily tells Robin that once you’re in the friend group, you’re in for life. Yet the final two episodes show the gang drifting apart and failing to truly make time for each other — especially when it comes to Robin. The friends’ promise to be there for the big stuff (and Robin’s successful career as a journalist definitely qualifies) gets thrown by the wayside. Instead of feeling nostalgic, this plotline is just an upsetting bummer.

Sure, friends drift apart, but we just watched nine seasons of the gang going through hell to stay together in their 20s to late 30s. Given that the series begins precisely at the point when life begins to get away from an adult friend group, it’s a little late to force that development all the way at the end. After all of the gang’s build-up, growth, and prioritization of each other, having that be the final message is pretty lame — especially when it wasn’t super necessary for the plot. The members of our favorite group of MacLaren’s regulars are well into their 30s and 40s at this point, and given that the finale only gets worse from here, we’re already beginning the end on a pretty sour note with the realization that they’ve grown apart. Let the friends stay together, for the love of the Cockamouse.

Set up the final season traditionally

Let’s face it: The issues in the finale don’t even start in the finale. If we’re honest with ourselves, we can all admit that the entire 9th season is a bit of a mess. The timeline is all over the place, and the writers set the whole season up with the kind of avant-garde story structure that would normally be reserved for a single experimental episode of TV. Between repetitive storylines, clunky transitions, and focusing most of the season’s events on the minutiae of a single weekend, it’s certainly not how fans wanted to say goodbye to nine years of a beloved show.

With over 20 episodes of whiplash-inducing time jumps and flashbacks, the final season is annoying at best and insulting at worst. To add salt to the wound, after dealing with all that, the final two episodes jump years forward out of nowhere after spending the majority of the season droning on about Barney and Robin’s wedding weekend. For a series as beloved as "How I Met Your Mother," fans deserved a final season with a traditional timeline that explored more than just a single event. If the writers wanted to try out a whole season with this bizarre setup, they could have chosen any of the seven seasons between the first and the last.

Keep Barney and Robin together

Robin and Barney get married

What’s worse than setting an entire goodbye season around the events of a single wedding? Breaking up said couple in the final two episodes. If Barney and Robin could make it work in the final two episodes, the season’s setup wouldn’t be nearly as infuriating. The breakup comes out of nowhere after the never-ending wedding plotline: The moment feels just as forced as the time the writers visually explained away Alyson Hannigan’s pregnancy by entering Lily into a hot dog eating competition. You’re not fooling anyone.

Additionally, we spend the entire last season watching Ted let go of Robin, all while creating significant character growth for Ted, Robin, and Barney — only to take it all away in two episodes (for a really flimsy reason). Three years after the wedding ceremony that took a year to tell, Barney’s annoyance with Robin’s work travels is enough to kill the couple for good. Given the time we invested in Barney and Robin finally figuring out their baggage, they’re thrown away like day-old trash to further Ted’s story. But then again, what else is new?

We need more time with the mother

Ted and mother under umbrella

We know that the writers planned to kill the mother off all along due to the kids’ reaction getting filmed all of the way back in Season 2. We could have used a lot more time seeing her and Ted as a couple with that farewell in mind. Instead, we get scene after scene of random hijinks at Barney and Robin’s wedding. There are a few intermittent scenes and a random montage of Ted and Tracy together, but it’s just not enough.

After so much buildup, fans feel cheated that the mother was essentially a red herring to throw together Ted and Robin — a couple that stopped working years prior. Not only do fans feel backstabbed over the ending, but they feel like the writers manipulated them into watching nine years of a different show than what they were promised at the beginning — and in every episode since except the final two.

Tracy’s death would also be a lot more gut-wrenching had we spent more moments getting to know her when she was alive. The series could have even spent half of the final season doing the bizarre wedding format if they balanced it with a handful of episodes at the end that took us through different periods of Ted and the mother’s relationship. Instead of the solitary final montage, an episode could’ve been dedicated to each of the periods that we briefly see in that sequence. Had the creators done that, fans might forgive them a bit more for the intentional deceit.

Let the mother live longer

Ted and Tracy nap

Ted waited a decade for his happy ending, and fans waited along with him, anticipating the moment that he’d get the forever that he dreamt about for so long. However, he barely gets that same amount of time with her as the time he spent waiting. Okay, yes, that’s life. We get it. However, fans may have been able to stomach Tracy’s death if it were two decades into the future rather than one. Instead, the entire plot feels like a cheap ploy to hook up the show’s most toxic and incompatible couple. And given how likable and incredible Tracy is (honestly, you can do better than Ted, Tracy), her relatively immediate death makes everything so much worse.

Not only does the mother have so little time with Ted, she never really gets to know her kids, either. The writers’ intention of killing Tracy off so early in the timeline is obviously to make it less shady that Ted goes after Robin so quickly — it’s been a long time since Tracy died, as the kids remind him in the finale. But all of these female characters, ultimately including the mother, shouldn’t have to exist solely to further Ted’s story. Please, let them have some agency.

How about not killing her off at all?

Ted reads to mother at hospital

So, why do so many fans hate the "How I Met Your Mother" finale so much? Oh, just the fact that the creators built a series around the one event of Ted meeting the love of his life only to pull the rug out from under the audience at the last second. By making the series all about a couple that failed to work for nine years, "How I Met Your Mother" gave fans one of the biggest finale slap-bets to the face in the history of TV. Through Tracy’s death, the writers render the mother useless, as she only exists to tell someone else’s story. And that story doesn’t even make sense.

Let’s refresh. What’s the biggest reason Ted and Robin didn’t work out all those seasons ago (beyond the fact that he forces her to give up her dogs)? He wants kids. She can’t have them — and doesn’t want to. So, how do we get around that? Oh, just throw in some mostly nameless woman so Ted can get the life and kids he wants and then kill her off when it’s convenient. Why does Tracy need to die so he can date Robin? At the very least, have them be divorced and keep the rest of the story the same. Tracy deserves better anyway.

Make different character choices or forget about Ted and Robin

Ted and Robin dig for locket

If the creators were hell-bent on having Robin and Ted end up together, they should have made very different choices for their relationship. Ted and Robin are a toxic couple from the moment Ted says "I love you" on the first date right up until he almost blows up Robin and Barney’s wedding. Both of these characters outgrew ending up together long before we spend an entire episode watching Ted let his feelings for Robin go with an unsubtle metaphor as he releases a red balloon.

A reconciliation seems like another mistake that will lead to more heartbreak after the credits roll. And regardless, it just doesn’t work with the final season the writers give us — or really, the entire show. During the show, we see that Ted and Robin can’t work; in the last season, Ted finally sees it. If you’re going to deceive a fan base with an ending, it needs to be plausible. The writers kill off Tracy so Ted and Robin can be together, but the ending of their story was written a long time ago. Time to write a new one.

The kids need to say no way to Ted dating Robin

Ted's kids sitting on couch

Why are the kids so on board with Ted dating Robin? Their father just offered them an endless supply of stories about how wrong he and Robin were for each other, yet they’re gung-ho about him going after her. We learned a long time ago that Ted isn’t exactly the most logical guy, but the kids should be a bit more clear-headed as to why this is a bad idea given the fact that Ted just provided them a loaded arsenal of objections to this union. At least one of them should argue that Ted and Robin failed to make it work multiple times, for good reason, and their unceremonious recoupling will lead to the same situation she had with Barney — a disaster that almost ends the friend group.

Sure, we’ve had nine seasons to realize that Ted’s gonna do what Ted’s gonna do, but the kids could at least try to talk him out of this certain future disaster. And then he can ignore them and go after her anyway in typical Ted fashion. But at least they’d get to say, "I told you so." Small victories, kids. Small victories.

The kids need to be angry

Ted's kids look angry

The kids should be furious that their father spent ages vocally lusting after another woman when he was supposed to be telling them the story of how he met their deceased mother. Imagine spending hours, days, months, or even possibly years listening to your dad tell the story of the mom you lost when you were a kid. But oh, wait. He was actually telling you about how someone you think of as an aunt was his true love all along, and your mom features for only about twenty minutes of the story. That might be a little upsetting, right? It’s wild that the kids don’t absolutely tell Ted off in this moment.

In fact, how does Ted escape almost the entirety of this series without getting told off for being insufferable? This marks the perfect chance wasted, especially when the kids had every right to call him out for cheapening what he had with their dead mother by basically announcing that their she was his second choice all along. Who wants to hear that story? Comic-Con released a hilarious parody video of the (grown-up) kids in a ticked-off tirade for having to sit on a couch and listen to stories of him banging random women. But honestly, something like this needs to be in the actual show.

Breakup post-mortem episode featuring Ted’s greatest hits

Natalie fights Ted

Ted Mosby may claim that he’s a nice guy, but tell that to Natalie. Remember Natalie? She’s the girl he breaks up with on her birthday — twice (and once on her answering machine). The way that Ted comes off as rosy even when he’s being the worst makes it abundantly clear that he’s an unreliable narrator. Can we even trust a single thing we see in the show? The story blatantly sets itself up for doubt in moments where Ted misremembers something and then corrects himself or forgets the proper order of events. And while we have tangible proof that those instances make Ted’s story fallible, the way he comes off as the hero wouldn’t be believable even if everything happened exactly the way he tells it.

The final season needs an episode where all of his ex-girlfriends tell their side of the story. Maybe they’re telling their own kids about how they met some jerk before they met their father. Heck, let’s bring back Natalie for one final scene so she can beat the crap out of Ted again for being the actual worst. It would have been the perfect way to reintroduce fan-favorites while offering a bit of much-needed cheeky honesty.

Sometimes, you have to wonder if Tony’s in-universe movie ‘The Wedding Bride’ is the most accurate recollection of events in the entire series. Ted sure makes himself come across sympathetic when it comes to his short-lived engagement with Stella. But maybe Tony is more on the mark when it comes to the truth about Ted Mosby.

Let Lily be successful

Lily painting Barney with Marshall looking

Throughout "How I Met Your Mother," we watch Lily abandon her aspirations for everyone else. Whether it’s Marshall’s dreams of becoming an environmental lawyer or their plans for having kids, Lily rarely gets to have her own passions because she’s too busy fixing the lives of adult friends who act like children. Toward the beginning of the series, Lily fails when she leaves to study art — and everyone blames her for crushing Marshall when she goes to follow her dreams. Because of that, she never truly tries again. And while we see her keen sense of art land her a job with The Captain in Rome, we never really find out where that leads.

The finale, once again, deprioritizes Lily’s career aspirations, as she’s the only person we don’t have much closure on career-wise. Did she ever make it as an artist? Was she successful as an art curator or consultant? It would have been pretty easy to slip one of her paintings into the myriad flash-forward scenes of the finale. Or if she was more successful as a curator than an actual painter, she could mention owning a gallery or give some other hint that lets us know she gets to live her dreams, too. Let Lily be happy.

Don’t rush Barney’s character growth

Barney holds daughter

Barney deserves complex and evolving character growth that matures over time and not a quick Band-Aid fix to justify the show’s end. The birth of Barney’s daughter changing him into a more compassionate (and less misogynistic) guy is great and all, but it needs to happen slowly and not get thrown into fans’ faces out of nowhere. Having Barney go from rejoicing when he thinks the baby’s not his to immediately falling in love with her is unrealistic — as is him changing everything about himself the minute he becomes a dad.

Life doesn’t work like that in reality, and neither do unwilling parents. Had the finale bothered to gradually set these moments up instead of spending the whole season building up his failed wedding, this arc would make a lot more sense. But as it stands now, it seems like another rushed cop-out to throw Ted and Robin together at the end.

Why? Because if a daughter is the only thing in the world that can change Barney, it won’t happen if he stays with Robin. So it’s totally great that he breaks up with Robin, really! It’s not just so Ted can be with her — it’s also the only way for Barney to grow! However, we’re forgetting the growth he has with Robin herself. Once again, Barney is yet another character whose arc seems manufactured to further Ted’s. It’s not all about you, Ted.

Have a backup plan

Ted holds Penny

The series finale might not be such a contradictory mess if the writers weren’t married to the ending of the mother dying and Ted asking out Robin. Sometimes, your show outgrows the intended conclusion, and honoring the growth of your characters celebrates the story.

During an interview with Looper, Lyndsy Fonseca told us that she and David Henrie filmed the kids’ ending back in Season 2. And according to Fonseca, the writers didn’t throw in any plan Bs to stay on the safe side and make room for the story to adapt and evolve. It would have made much more sense to film a bunch of alternate endings in case the first ending no longer worked for the story.

And if the writers were still intent on killing the mother, a much better ending would be to just leave it open: Have Ted content and happy in life and finally not basing his entire identity on whomever he’s dating. His exes were his exes for a reason, and most of these relationships ended badly. Let’s leave it be. But to do that, we would have to go back in time to actually film some alternate scenes with Fonseca and Henrie.

End it where it began

The gang at MacLaren's

Instead of the Ted and Robin cringe-fest at the end of the show, writers could have ended the show where they began — at the booth in MacLaren’s with the whole gang in attendance. Rather than spitting on the mother’s grave and using her memory to hook up Ted and Robin, the gang can spend a few reverent moments sharing stories about the mother. And maybe then they can gently suggest that Ted move on (but not with Robin). Barney can do one last "Have you met Ted?" for old time’s sake and leave the possibilities open.

Heck, if the writers are still adamant about a Robin and Ted future, she could walk in at the precise moment Barney does ‘Have you Met Ted?’ and simply tease the intention. Some of the best series finales leave it up to the fans to decide what take they want to walk away with, and fans could have used a hearty dose of that in this instance — plausible deniability is a gift.