So that's how you met mom?

If last Monday’s series finale of How I Met Your Mother proved anything, it was that the show should have ended a long time ago.

Had the beloved CBS sitcom been canceled after one, two, or even three seasons, perhaps then the ending would have made some semblance of sense. But HIMYM was no typical three-season flop. It was a sitcom unique in its innovative and playful relationship with style, its serialized and time-jumping format, and its fearlessness in tackling serious issues along with hijinks. Moreover, HIMYM was a series with nine seasons to its name that endured the marriages, pregnancies, and career fluctuations of its main cast, in addition to surviving a serious post-season seven dip in quality. Nine seasons of watching meant that HIMYM fans experienced nine seasons’ worth of plot advancement, character development, and emotional buildup. After all that, the HIMYM finale was nothing short of unacceptable. And it’s almost absurdly easy to pinpoint why.

For years, creators and head writers Carter Bays and Craig Thomas freely admitted that the finale was long-planned, the endgame set. There can be no better sign than these confident assurances that they had lost sight not only of fans’ expectations, but of what an organic and fulfilling end would entail. They failed to consider the nine years of writing that had occurred between their conception of the final scene and that scene’s unveiling. Bays and Thomas were too blinded by their idea of the perfect “full-circle” ending to realize when that ending was no longer applicable.

Almost nothing about the finale makes sense when placed in context with the rest of the show. For starters, season nine is set over the weekend of Barney and Robin’s wedding. An entire season is devoted to the marriage of a couple — considered for years to be HIMYM’s most popular — which the writers go on to destroy in less than ten minutes. Then, to add insult to injury, seasons of character development for Barney — tossed away along with his marriage — are reinstated with the lazy insert of sudden fatherhood. Lily, career forgotten, is reduced to a baby-making machine. Robin, career-consumed, closes off, abandoning the gang and the ex-husband who was once her best friend. Marshall is perhaps the only one who gets off unschated, and the finale tells us practically nothing about his future that we don’t already know.

Ted, however, receives the worst treatment of all. Good-guy Ted, eternal romantic Ted, finally meets his soulmate. The Mother — whose name is revealed to be Tracy — is quirky and smart and perfect for Ted in pretty much every conceivable way. They meet at a train station, and it’s the one truly beautiful moment amidst a sea of suck. In that moment, and during Ted’s closing speech about how he loved Tracy with all that he had for as long as they had, it is doubtful there was a dry eye in front of screens across America.

But then it got bad. Viewers had been speculating for months about the Mother’s death, so the confirmation was hardly shocking. However, only the wildest, densest speculators could have guessed at the stunt the writers pulled next. After years of on-again, off-again, not over it, over it, and a season spent making viewers fall in love with Tracy, it turns out that the Mother was just one final obstacle in the way of Ted and Robin.

The final scene — filmed in 2006, before the kids could get old — is jarring and irreverent. Ted’s tale of “How I Met Your Mother” is really just an elaborate ploy to convince his kids to give him the green light to chase Robin once again. “Seriously Dad,” the kids seem to whine, “stop blabbering on about our dead mother and go hook up with Aunt Robin already. We all know that’s what you really want.”

Is it, though? Is there a single fan who thought, after all this time, that Ted and Robin were genuinely meant to be together? That the Mother was just a gimmick, one more plot twist at the eleventh hour to make the final scene of the last episode echo the final scene of the first? Judging from the fan and critic outrage that has met the HIMYM finale, it’s hard to believe that anyone wanted this.

What message are we to take from HIMYM now? That no matter how long you wait, how much you try, and how deeply you love, friendships fade, loved ones die, and good things never last? If that’s the truth of living, no one is going to be watching what was meant to be a light-hearted sitcom to learn it.

Fans came to How I Met Your Mother and stuck with it for so long on the promise of a show celebrating friendship, love, and life. The finale felt like a grievous betrayal of that promise, and fans are left with a bitter taste in their mouths.