Divergent Timelines and Artistic Freedom

Why the value of both ‘HIMYM’ endings is proportional to the value we, ourselves, attribute to it.


Let’s talk about ‘How I Met Your Mother’ one more time. I cannot guarantee that it is the last time, but in light of the fact that, firstly, the alternate ending of the series has been leaked, and secondly, we have had enough time to truly digest the series finale five months ago, this is a great opportunity to have an open discussion and recap of what we have seen. I would like to point out, I am going to take the alternate ending as the alternate ending the Creator’s had to choose from and I am not going to take a stance on the ‘Creators-had-to-make-a-new-ending-because-of-the-backlash’ — conspiracy. If you haven’t seen the alternate ending yet, you should click here and watch it, because otherwise the following won’t make any sense to you.


To start with, I am going to take a deeper look at the differences between the ‘main’ finale and the ‘alternate’ finale. Because the creator’s have basically created two divergent timelines (yes, I also watch ‘Community’) from the point where Ted narrates the final minutes of the show, it’s essential to compare the two different voice-overs before discussing the ‘Robin’ controversy.

Lily: “A man with more emotional endurance than any man, I know. It was a long different road. Thank God, we finally got here.”
Gang: “We’re here.”

A:Main’ (Josh Radnor): “Aunt Lily wasn’t wrong. This time was a long and difficult road. But I’m glad it was long and difficult. Because if I haven’t gone through hell to get there, the lesson might not have been as clear. You see kids, right from the moment I met your Mom, I knew I have to love this women as much as I can for as long as I can and I cannot stop loving her for a second. I carried that lesson through every stupid fight we ever had, every 5 am Christmas morning, every sleepy Sunday afternoon, through every speed bump, every pain of jealousy, or boredom or uncertainty that came our way. I carried that lesson with me. And I carried that lesson with me when she got sick. Even then, in what can only be called the worst of times, all I could do was thank God, thank every God, there is or ever was or will be, and the whole universe and anyone else I could possibly thank. That I saw that beautiful girl on the train platform, then I had the guts to stand up, walk over to her, open my mouth, and speak. [… Ted/Tracy dialogue …] And that kids, is How I Met Your Mother.” [… Luke/Penny not acknowledging this lesson, instead coming up with the theory it was all about Robin … Ted trying to emphasize said lesson only for the kids to encourage him to meet Robin. Ted is temptated to give Robin a call, instead goes big and gets to Robin’s apartment with the Blue French Horn as a symbol for their relationship.] (Track: Downtown Train)

B: Alternate’ (Bob Saget): “Aunt Lily was half right. It was a long road. You might even say it was really, really, really, really long. But difficult? Nah. It was life. Things happen in life. Things fall apart. Things get put back together. When I think how happy I am to wake up next to your mom every morning. I cant help but be amazed by how easy it was. […recap how everything in the last 9 years led to him meeting Tracy…] Be in the right place at the right time. And somehow summon the guts to do the most impossible thing in the world. Walk up to that beautiful girl under the umbrella, and start talking. [… Ted/Tracy dialogue …] And that kids, is How I Met Your Mother.(Track: Uplifting ukulele/guitar)

Basically, we can break down the differences between both into two parts. First part being to observe how the plot changes and secondly how with that the lesson Ted wants to teach us does. To begin with, the besides the fact that Ted gets back with Robin: In the ‘main’ ending Tracy gets assumingly terminally ill and dies 6 years prior to Ted telling the kids the story of how he met Tracy. In the ‘alternate’ ending, we are presented a truly happy ending, a never-dying love and marriage that is to ‘Last Forever’ as Tracy still lives in 2030. As a result, the underlying lesson of the entire story diverges here as well.

In the ‘main’ ending, Ted, notably, agrees with Lily’s sentiment, that it was both a long and difficult road, which is why “the lesson might not have been as clear”. Ted uses the word lesson four times in the ‘main’ ending, putting an emphasis on the 9-year adventure he has gone through to be taught that lesson. The lesson being to fully commit and dedicate his entire self, his live and love for this woman, as much as he can for as long as he can. For one, he puts a huge stress on the intensity of his love, but more importantly, Ted, himself, essentially puts a time constraint on his love as well.

What Ted wants Luke and Penny to understand is that, for every happiness you experience in life, it is your own duty to make it last as long as you can and enjoy and value every second God gives you of it.

Throughout Ted’s journey he has always done his best to bath in every sliver of happiness life threw his way, although it was always clear from the get-go that every relationship had a date of expiry. Robin not wanting kids and then even being infertile, Stella obviously being still in love with Tony, Zoey having just a huge conflict of interest with Ted. Things just don’t work out. This does not change that, nevertheless, Ted arguably lived life to its fullest, he made the most of what destiny had in store for him. And then he was at the right place, at the right time after 9 years of uncertainty.

On the other hand, in the ‘alternate’ ending we are confronted with a whole different set of emotions and thus a completely different lesson. Although Ted himself does not use the word ‘lesson’ once in the entire speech, it is noticeable in the way he talks, that there definitely is one, as well and it can be summarized by his own words: ‘It was life.’ — The main thing to take from the alternate ending is the fact that things just happen in life that you cannot predict. You just have to live life and see what happens, some things won’t work our for you, other will. Some things will only make sense in the grand scheme of things. It is quite remarkable how Ted does not fully single out this lesson, but instead in comparison to the ‘main’ ending, completely disagrees on Lily’s sentiment that it was a difficult road. Ted, here, plays the entire story off as a simple chain of events that just happened to happen and put him to the place where he is now. He even makes it seem as if all the downs of this journey, have not taken a toll on him after all. Getting left at the altar, dating the wrong women over and over again… The lows of his life are only presented as a stepping stone to what happens after. Although the theme of destiny, which has been carried throughout the series, is an underlying motif in both endings, in the main ending Ted explicitly states that destiny really made him to the person that he is when he meets the mother. In the alternate ending Ted seems to almost disregard some of the life lessons his story has taught him and instead only embeds his journey in the great scheme of things.

“It was life.”

Arguably, there are some assumptions I make without true back up, but another thing supporting this is simply the music the creators chose to underline Ted’s narration. ‘Downtown Train’ as performed by ‘Everything but the Girl’ (and not Rob Stewart) is a melancholic song with only a piano to go along with the lyrics. The last lines of the songs are:


Will I see you tonight
On a downtown train
Where every night its just the same
You leave me lonely
Will I see you tonight
On a downtown train
All of my dreams just fall like rain
All upon a downtown train

The fantastic song choice embodies Ted’s situation in the ‘main’ ending. The lyrics suggest that the song is about loss (being left lonely) but also about the desire to get whats lost back (massive dreams and the hope to “see you tonight”) . And on the otherhand we have the, in loss for a better way to phrase this, uplifting ukulele jamming along Ted talking about how simple it was to get the girl of his dreams. There is simply a striking discrepancy between the way two albeit similar lessons are presented and I cannot help but value one ending over the other.

In my humble opinion, the main ending just delivers an epic conclusion and lesson based on 9 seasons of build up. The lesson was clear and should be clear by now. To not appreciate the ending for what it taught us about life, for what it should’ve taught Luke and Penny about life, is something, even if you dislike it, would be a huge loss. And people do have a point, when they say that they feel betrayed to only have Robin and Barney divorce after an entire season of a wedding, but the fact is that it does not truly change the theme of the series. As you might have read in my first post here on Medium about The magic and appeal of ‘HIMYM’ I was one of the people to hope for an happy ending. I wanted Ted to be happy, I wanted us to have the closure we deserve, the epic conclusion to an epic journey. To get the happy ending we deserved after nine seasons of constant fighting through a rollercoaster of up and downs. I am a person who loves this show and the last one to expect such a turn of events in the last 40 minutes of the show. As I thought the key reason why the show had such a huge success was the premise of a love story in reverse. I expected a story which is the comprehensive account of the chain of events that led to the woman of his dreams for him to Last Forever. At the same time, what was one of intriguing factors in this premise, is that at one point, when Ted meets the mother, he will get the love story he wanted to tell his kids. And what we got was one hell of a story.

I cannot deny that I felt backstabbed and fooled when I first saw the finale as well. I could not help but be sad, angry and mad when I went to bed at 4 AM because I thought that the ending did not make sense and did not do justice to what we thought the show was about, a fairytale. There have been signs for Tracy’s death and for Ted and Robin to come back together here and there through out the episodes, but it couldn’t be. We thought. Our desire for the ending as we painted it out in our minds also brings me to another point

This also raises the problem if creators actually have the right to do what they want with their own creations. Artistic freedom is something we naturally praise, having freedom in what we do is just the way we operate. It is in our history and in our DNA. But an interesting fact about TV shows is that one can at the same time firmly believe that:

At one point the creator does go from creating a stand alone work of art into making a piece of conversation between him and audience.

A point where it is your obligation to satisfy the audience. It has been stated multiple times that the ending of the series was set in stone from the early beginning, the footage of Luke and Penny was filmed in 2006 and even Josh Radnor has shown that he has known the ending already at an early stage of the series. You see, that Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, the producers of the show, never really expected the show to be around for this long. Hell, they planned to finalize the series in season 1, season 3 and season 6 with this one ending with Viktoria, Stella and Zoey respectively. But when it came to season 9, I strongly believe, there must have been a huge discussion if they can and should pull this ending of. From the perspective of the creator:

Would you feel such a strong obligation to give fans what they want after only one or three years, or would you rather go with what you wanted in the first place? On on the other hand, as a fan: Would you have really cared about how these 22 or 68 episodes concluded? The question was if after years of putting the viewer and Ted through this adventure, it was reasonable to pull a 180° and get Ted and Robin back together and let the mother die. Die after 8 years of waiting and 1 year of learning to love and appreciate her. Obviously, Bays and Thomas went for the ending as planned from the beginning and they both knew that the backlash was going to be big. It was a conscious decision made.

There’s no way that everyone can accept the ‘main’ ending. Loyalty, commitment and love for the show makes it impossible for a lot of people to believe that this is how one of their favourite shows turned out. Certainly, the backlash was natural and discussions like “Was The “How I Met Your Mother” Ending a Betrayal or a Triumph?” just prove how much we care about the characters that have slowly grown on us. But I strongly believe that with the alternate ending now out and plenty of time to process the ending, everyone should be able to make up his own mind about what the show is to him and why it still matters after which ending you choose you want. There is a similar but different lesson to each ending but it doesn’t change the theme underlying the 200 episodes before the finale happened. After everything we were allowed to experience with these one-of-a-kind characters, it is an injustice to disregard all this because you are simply not satisfied with the ending.

If you might have noticed I did not use the words ‘canon’ and ‘not-canon’ or ‘real’ and ‘fake’ ending through out my post. That is because for a show that has arguably influenced and characterized a century of television history, we need to realize that no matter if you choose the main or the alternate ending, both endings have created a profound set of memories and experiences that we have to value for what they are. You have freedom in which ending you choose, maybe even creating your own ending! We are free to put the show on a pedestal as high as we choose to. After all, it is just a simple show about a love story which only means as much to us as we are willing to commit. Both endings, main or alternate, only have the value we attribute to them. And that is a good thing, isn’t it?

As you might have noticed before, I do prefer the main ending but when, about five days ago, the opportunity was presented to me to live through the last true five minutes of ‘HIMYM’, I was so grateful to have one last chance to see all this unfold. From the Pilot in 2005 to the Alternate Ending in 2014, I am happy to say we’re finally here.

It was a long and difficult road.

Thanks for reading.

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