Isia was here

Isia Jasiewicz is a student at Yale Law School and occasionally a journalist, too. She majored in art history at Princeton.

A Tale of Two Finales, Or Why Emotional Honesty Always Wins on Television

*Spoiler warning for How I Met Your Mother and True Detective*

March was kind of a rough month for TV finales. First, the season finale of HBO’s critically acclaimed anthology series, True Detective, literally broke HBO Go. Then, once everybody actually got it working, the finale itself was a letdown, as the plot reached a disappointingly predictable conclusion and it turned out all the fans’ frenzied theorizing was for naught.

Then came the series finale of How I Met Your Mother (“HIMYM”), the beloved and oft-quoted sitcom that ended a nine-season run on Monday.  Fans took to Facebook and Twitter in advance of the finale with weepy updates about the “end of an era” and “OMG I’m going to cry my eyes out.” Then the finale actually aired, and no one wept—they shouted instead.

The titular premise of the show—how Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) met and fell in love with the mother of kids—turned out to be one giant fakeout, as the Mother (whose name, we finally found out, was Tracy McConnell, played charmingly by Cristin Milioti) was not the central object of Ted’s affections after all. No, it was his early-seasons crush, Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders), all along. After Tracy conveniently dies of an unspecified illness, Ted waits six years so that his kids won’t think he is a total scumbag and then goes after Robin with the blue french horn like he has so many times before.

Fans were mad—and I mean ALL-CAPS MAD. Here’s a random sampling of texts exchanged among a group of my friends on the night of March 31 and morning of April 1 (and, by the way, all four of us are attorneys, not teenagers):

“I AM SO SAD AND ANGRY”

“I hate that it’s making me question life choices and beliefs”

“It made no sense and it was the worst”

“I think I’m starting to go through the stages of grief”

“UGH I HATE EVERYTHING FOREVER”

“I am at the throwing things stage of grief”

“I’m walking to work right now and am listening to angry breakup music on my walk because I feel angry and betrayed”

You’d think the four of us had collectively gone through a breakup. Or maybe found out a dear friend was completely betrayed by a boyfriend. No, fiance. This is some evil-fiance-level vitriol.

But despite my anger, I have tried to come around to the HIMYM finale. Like Ted Mosby, who is so devoted to Star Wars that he ritualistically rewatches the entire trilogy once every three years, I am generally a loyal fan. I get invested in shows and characters I care about, and I root for them to succeed. So when a show I have loved ends, I won’t let the ending tarnish the series for me if I can help it. I will find redeeming qualities wherever I can, not admitting defeat. And that is precisely why I have come to embrace the anticlimactic True Detective finale, but I don’t foresee ever getting past the sting of HIMYM’s admittedly clever and cohesive ending.

Clever plot twists and narrative cohesion are certainly welcome and valuable on television, but not at the expense of emotional honesty, which is prized on TV above all else. While a three-hour movie can sustain itself on the momentum of a well-structured plot, a television show—whether it lasts eight episodes like True Detective or more than eight years like HIMYM—rides on the faithful development of its characters and themes. In other words, its emotional truth.

Even for shows that are generally successful on this score, writing a satisfying series finale is incredibly difficult. I can much more readily recall disappointing finales than excellent ones. Dexter was sloppy and nonsensical. Lost was a mess (“Wait, are they in purgatory? What about the polar bears?”). The Sopranos cut to black and millions of viewers assumed their cable had cut out (I kind of like that one, actually, but there’s no denying it incurred wrath).

Then there are shows that jumped the shark and lost their viewership long before the final episode (The O.C., Gossip Girl, one day Grey’s Anatomy and Glee); shows that were cancelled before their time and ended on sloppily thrown-together finales or worse, cliffhangers (Pushing Daisies, My So-Called Life, Veronica Mars); or shows that lived on the bubble for so long that they required midstream “just in case” finales, rendering actual finales less memorable (One Tree Hill “ended forever” more times than I can count).

Indeed, it’s rare that TV writers actually get to go with a planned, thought-out ending. True Detective and HIMYM both enjoyed this luxury—True Detective because it was short and contained, HIMYM because the ending was filmed in 2006, before the actors who played Ted’s kids had a chance to grow up. For this reason, I think a comparison between the two finales is apt despite how radically different the shows are. (Apples, oranges, premium cable dramas, and network sitcoms!).

I wouldn’t dare get into the relative merits of the two shows overall, or suggest that the inconsistent and goofy HIMYM ever played on the same field as the cinematic wonder that is True Detective. But there’s an important lesson to be learned from comparing their final episodes: When a finale has to choose between a show’s head and its heart, heart should win, period.

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True Detective’s failings lay in its narrative cohesion. The show had spent an entire season weaving a complex tapestry of clues, only to have the whole thing spontaneously unravel in a pile of loose ends. What was going on with Marty’s daughter? Who exactly was the Yellow King? What was the extent of Errol Childress’s involvement (other than blood relation) with the Tuttles? For a show that masterfully played with pacing, the ending seemed awfully rushed.

But emotionally, True Detective remained utterly true to itself (and its detectives). The show was always about the unlikely not-quite-friendship between Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey). The most thrilling moments of the series were not plot points or “big reveals.” They were quiet moments of buddy-cop humor or Rust’s memorable philosophizing (the peak of the McConnaissance, arguably, was not the night Matthew won the Oscar, but the moment Rust uttered the phrase “Time is a flat circle.”). The one notable exception was the exhilarating six-minute tracking shot at the end of episode 4. But even that remarkable action sequence was at its heart about Rust himself: It was shot from his perspective, providing viewers with a glimpse into his mind. Watching the tracking shot, we suddenly understood how Rust retains sharp focus in frenzied chaos, and why the harsh demands on his mental reflexes have left him slightly off-kilter in his daily life.

For all the finale’s failings, its treatment of Marty and Rust was perfectly on-key. Again, the thrilling moments were actually outside the plot: Marty breaking down when his wife and children show up in his hospital room; Marty and Rust, both weak and weathered from their ordeal, sentimentally flicking each other off; and, of course, Rust’s emotional speech outside the hospital. In the series’ final moments, we saw Rust transformed and hopeful, but still as pensive and opaque as ever: “Once there was only dark. You ask me, the light’s winning.”

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If True Detective failed its narrative but championed its characters, HIMYM did the exact opposite. Plot-wise, the HIMYM finale was outright smart. It took the show’s premise and turned it on its head. It avoid the trappings of a predictable, too-neat ending (think Friends). It even included nice touches of symmetry. In the first scene, a flashback to 2005, Lily Aldrin (Alyson Hannigan) tells Ted and his womanizing friend Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris), “The only way you can hook up with [Robin] is if you marry her.” Turns out, both did, though Barney and Robin divorced after only three years—which translated to about a minute and a half of screentime, after the whole ninth season was their wedding weekend! (Don’t get me started.) And, of course, there was the blue french horn, a longtime token of Ted’s affections for Robin. We didn’t need to watch Ted declare his love for Robin in the final scene, because the blue french horn did it for him.

But just one episode earlier, when Robin was in the throes of pre-wedding jitters and pleading with Ted that she should be with him instead of Barney, Ted told her he wasn’t the guy with the blue french horn anymore. And here’s the thing: I believed him. At one point, Ted was so subject to romantic whims that he told Robin he loved her on their first date. But nearly a decade has passed since then, and Ted has been left at the altar and faced scheming girlfriends and continual rejection from Robin. He’s come to understand that he and Robin are fundamentally different people, and trying to turn his infatuation with her into a real relationship simply isn’t going to work. He’s on the verge of giving up, moving to Chicago, when he meets Tracy, and the stars align. They flirt under the yellow umbrella she once lost at a St. Patrick’s Day party, where Ted found it, not knowing it belonged to the future mother of his children. And here’s the other thing: Ted and Tracy’s chemistry is incredible, far more lovely and sweet than Ted and Robin’s ever was.

So when Ted busts out the blue french horn again in the final scene, it is as if he has forgotten all the lessons of the decade before he met Tracy: from “nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m.” to “destiny is always at play” and “when someone is not right for you, you have to let them go.” Same goes for the other characters too. Barney Stinson, once an entertaining womanizer, grew devoted to Robin as the series went on, and by their wedding, he had achieved some semblance of maturity. But immediately after his divorce from Robin, Barney went back to being sleazy, then pulled a misogynistic about-face after he fathered a love child and took up paternalistic slut-shaming.

Aside from failing its characters, HIMYM also failed itself. Most TV shows with a long-term love story run on will-they-won’t-they sexual tension—think Castle, Bones, JAG, Ross & Rachel on Friends, Josh & Donna on West Wing. What was special about HIMYM was that its central love story (or so we thought) ran on hope. Ted’s longing was not sexualized or even localized, focused on an individual—instead, it was a general desire, a hopeless romantic’s quest to find the perfect girl to settle down with. Ted’s journey was the one every single twenty-something (without a hot-but-awkward co-worker or roommate they’re clearly meant for) goes through: Ted’s looking for love, but doesn’t know where to find it. His only fuel is faith.

There’s a poignant scene in season 4 in which Ted sits in a car with his ex-fiancee, Stella, and tells her he is tired of looking for the one. Stella reassures him, “She’s on her way, and she’s getting here as fast as she can.” Crucially, this scene—like almost all of the series—was filmed after the final appearance of Ted’s kids from the finale. But it defined the show HIMYM had become by that point. After the first season or two, it would have been just fine for Ted and Robin to wind up together, because Ted’s desire was still focused on her, even if only in the back of his mind. By the time he and Stella talked in the car, however, his desire was removed from Robin, detached, and Ted’s attempts to re-focus it on her continually failed, like forcing a square peg into a round hole. And along with Ted, the viewers shifted their focus too, and joined him in longing for the unknown Girl with the Yellow Umbrella.

So when HIMYM revealed it was a will-they-won’t-they between Ted and Robin all along, the twist rang hollow. HIMYM’s special brand of magic—hope, faith, destiny—was gone.

Now you can tell I’m out of practice at this, based on how long-winded this tirade has been, but the lesson here is simple: Ditching a plot device like the Yellow King is a bummer. But ditching an emotional lodestar like the Yellow Umbrella spells betrayal. So to all you advocates of HIMYM’s elegant plot: You’re right, but the ending was still wrong.

I am considering coming back to Tumblr and using it completely incorrectly

Once upon a time, I was a culture writer. Well, baby culture writer—technically, I was a lowly intern at Newsweek, but I bylined stories and went to screenings with a press pass and all the rest. Then, I went to law school. And on my last day at Newsweek, a writer there told me, “Just don’t let law school ruin your writing.” 

"Nah," I scoffed. "Won’t happen to me. Legal writing is dry but I’ll make it interesting. And besides, I can keep writing." 

So I went to law school, and at first, I kept writing. I wrote Oscars predictions on my Tumblr and took a class on writing about law for the press. But then law school got more demanding (a quirk of my alma mater, where the first year is the easiest instead of the other way around), and you already know how this story ends. 

In the meantime, friends from college actually became grown-up culture writers, and I’d eye their self-promoting story-link posts on Facebook with jealousy. “I used to make clever jokes about TV shows,” I thought. “I used to come up with those neat turns of phrase.” 

In the past year—my first as an actual lawyer—I have increasingly found myself writing reviews in my head. Since I am temporarily living in a city where I know no one, I saw all the Best Picture nominees in advance of the Oscars for the first time since college. And I came to realize that I had things to say about them, but nowhere to say them. My co-workers grew weary of my rambling ad-libbed reviews around the lunch table, and in any case, talking about movies is different from writing about them. Not necessarily less fun—actually, probably more fun, because writing is always painful, even when it’s a joy—but just different, and not what I was craving. 

So I’ve toyed with the idea of starting a blog. But what would I call it? And where would I host it? And should it be anonymous, now that I’m a Grownup Lawyer and accordingly ought to be more aware of my online presence than I was in my carefree student days? (Let’s be real: a lot of the pop culture I’ve always most enjoyed writing about does not exactly match my now mandatory Serious Well-Educated Career Woman persona.) 

This Tumblr already exists, though it has been abandoned for years. It is full of frivolous reblogs from my carefree student days (wow, I really do sound old), and I’m not so much interested in Tumblr’s reblog-link-soundbite-picture platform anymore. But it has a few older posts along the lines of what I’d like to do now, including an Oscars prediction piece that made me positively wistful when I recently revisited it. I also like Tumblr’s aesthetic (at least for this public-facing page), and I’d like to keep my collection of clips around. So I am considering coming back to Tumblr and using it completely incorrectly and posting actual blog posts here. Mostly about culture and maybe one day about law, once I am no longer a federal judicial clerk and am allowed to have public opinions again. 

For now, I will ruminate on the issue. But I may be back with a piece on television finales soon (yes, you got me, I’m a scorned HIMYM lover and really just want a place to publicly vent). 

Obligatory “It’s Christmas I just watched Love Actually it might be the greatest movie ever made I LOVE CHRISTMAS SO MUCH” post. 
And to all a good night!  View high resolution

Obligatory “It’s Christmas I just watched Love Actually it might be the greatest movie ever made I LOVE CHRISTMAS SO MUCH” post. 

And to all a good night! 

legalryangosling:

LAW SCHOOL RYAN GOSLING. 

LIFECHANGER. 

markcoatney:

stecav:

Some rather beautiful London Underground infographics from the early 1900’s.

Love these.

Amazing. 

notacomplexperson:

You know what’s wrong with this cover? Meryl, as one of the select Celestial Supreme Godesses™, does not need to be splashed with dirty seawater so that she can seem “down to earth”; she rises above the rest of us commoners in almost every single possible way, so it’s not like anybody would buy that anyway. If I had been styling this shoot, I would’ve literally put her a giant marble pedestal, found the most regal looking gowns I could get, and put six of them on her all at once. A real missed opportunity here, Vogue.
(Image via thedailywhat)

notacomplexperson:

You know what’s wrong with this cover? Meryl, as one of the select Celestial Supreme Godesses™, does not need to be splashed with dirty seawater so that she can seem “down to earth”; she rises above the rest of us commoners in almost every single possible way, so it’s not like anybody would buy that anyway. If I had been styling this shoot, I would’ve literally put her a giant marble pedestal, found the most regal looking gowns I could get, and put six of them on her all at once. A real missed opportunity here, Vogue.

(Image via thedailywhat)

(Source: thedailywhat, via angelawublog)

thedailywhat:

How To of the Day: Justin White’s “skittle burger recipe”: 

Step 1: Get skittles.
Step 2: Smash em together.
Step 3: Eat it or whatever.

The Skittleburgers taste like Skittleburgers!
[jublin.]

Most hipster snack imaginable? Probably.  View high resolution

thedailywhat:

How To of the Day: Justin White’s “skittle burger recipe”: 

Step 1: Get skittles.

Step 2: Smash em together.

Step 3: Eat it or whatever.

The Skittleburgers taste like Skittleburgers!

[jublin.]

Most hipster snack imaginable? Probably. 

(via thedailywhat)

today:

Color of 2012? Pantone picks orange as top hue
Oh, right — because that’s a color that’s flattering on everyone.

ACTUALLY YES. LOTS OF PEOPLE LOOK GOOD IN ORANGE. 
I’m happy orange is getting the recognition it deserves. In case you can’t tell.  View high resolution

today:

Color of 2012? Pantone picks orange as top hue

Oh, right — because that’s a color that’s flattering on everyone.

ACTUALLY YES. LOTS OF PEOPLE LOOK GOOD IN ORANGE. 

I’m happy orange is getting the recognition it deserves. In case you can’t tell. 

manpodcast:

This week’s Modern Art Notes Podcast features MoMA curator Leah Dickerman, who has organized “Diego Rivera: Murals for the Museum of Modern Art.”
Rivera was a staunch communist and his murals include scathing critiques of American-style capitalism during The Great Depression — and of the Rockefeller family, which lavishly supported both MoMA and Rivera himself. The show — and the conversation I have with Dickerman — resounds with echoes of today’s American economic situation. [A detail from Rivera’s Agrarian Leader Zapata (1931) is both in this week’s MANPodcast.com banner. The complete artwork is above.]
To download the program, click here. To subscribe to The MAN Podcast’s RSS feed, click here. To download or subscribe via iTunes, click here. You can stream the program through the player below.
In our conversation, Dickerman and I discuss:
How a trip to Italy helped Diego Rivera transition from second-rate cubist to first-rate muralist;
How Rivera became the second artist to receive a MoMA retrospective (after Henri Matisse) and how he made his MoMA murals in a Manhattan studio near the museum;
How Rivera expanded what seems to have been the initial project to include a biting look at income inequality and the plight of the working class in skyscraper-mad, Depression-era New York; and
How it is that Dickerman, who curated the anti-war “Dada” exhibition at the National Gallery of Art  just as the Bush administration was pushing America to war in Iraq in 2006, repeatedly ends up curating modern exhibitions that speak to the present moment.
In this week’s draft, Indianapolis Museum of Art curator Lisa Freiman joins me to discuss which artists might represent the United States at the next Venice Biennale. The State Department is currently reviewing nominations for 2013. Freiman was the commissioner of the 2011 pavilion, at which the U.S. exhibited Allora and Calzadilla.
The Modern Art Notes Podcast is an independent production of Modern Art Notes Media. It is released under this Creative Commons license. For images of the works discussed on this week’s program, click here. 

I was lucky enough to take a course in college (on the origins of abstraction) co-taught by Leah. She is fabulously smart and well-spoken—so take a listen! 

manpodcast:

This week’s Modern Art Notes Podcast features MoMA curator Leah Dickerman, who has organized “Diego Rivera: Murals for the Museum of Modern Art.”

Rivera was a staunch communist and his murals include scathing critiques of American-style capitalism during The Great Depression — and of the Rockefeller family, which lavishly supported both MoMA and Rivera himself. The show — and the conversation I have with Dickerman — resounds with echoes of today’s American economic situation. [A detail from Rivera’s Agrarian Leader Zapata (1931) is both in this week’s MANPodcast.com banner. The complete artwork is above.]

To download the program, click here. To subscribe to The MAN Podcast’s RSS feed, click here. To download or subscribe via iTunes, click here. You can stream the program through the player below.

In our conversation, Dickerman and I discuss:

  • How a trip to Italy helped Diego Rivera transition from second-rate cubist to first-rate muralist;
  • How Rivera became the second artist to receive a MoMA retrospective (after Henri Matisse) and how he made his MoMA murals in a Manhattan studio near the museum;
  • How Rivera expanded what seems to have been the initial project to include a biting look at income inequality and the plight of the working class in skyscraper-mad, Depression-era New York; and
  • How it is that Dickerman, who curated the anti-war “Dada” exhibition at the National Gallery of Art  just as the Bush administration was pushing America to war in Iraq in 2006, repeatedly ends up curating modern exhibitions that speak to the present moment.

In this week’s draft, Indianapolis Museum of Art curator Lisa Freiman joins me to discuss which artists might represent the United States at the next Venice Biennale. The State Department is currently reviewing nominations for 2013. Freiman was the commissioner of the 2011 pavilion, at which the U.S. exhibited Allora and Calzadilla.

The Modern Art Notes Podcast is an independent production of Modern Art Notes Media. It is released under this Creative Commons license. For images of the works discussed on this week’s program, click here. 

I was lucky enough to take a course in college (on the origins of abstraction) co-taught by Leah. She is fabulously smart and well-spoken—so take a listen! 

(via 3rdofmay)

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