On its best days, How I Met Your Mother comments on the very idea of memory, letting its characters' distortions and misremembrances float far outside the bonds of reality. It's perhaps the series' central comedic trope (and certainly its most effective): give the audience all sides of a story in rapid succession, and every so often, the most absurd option holds the truth.
Maybe the biggest problem with "The Magicians Code," Monday's HIMYM season finale (and, really, with the seventh season as a whole), is that this sense of absurdity has bled into the show's master narrative. It seems creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas have lost the thread of their own memory, allowing their best comedic instincts to fall under the weight of heavily orchestrated plot concerns. Though not the only example, this is most evident in the overwrought plotline about Ted's future wife (which gives the series its title), a contrivance which outlasted its usefulness so long ago that I'm sure dissertations have been written about it by now.
A hint of this problem shows up in the finale's dialogue, when Robin lets Ted in on a secret we've all known for years: that none of Ted's love interests over the past seven years, for a multitude of reasons, could have ever been "the one." So Ted calls Victoria (who he dated back in season one, and who, truth be told, is the only one of his non-Robin love interests who was remotely likeable). She's the one old flame who comes closest to meeting his ideal, but it also happens to be her wedding day. After some pretty labored soul-searching on both sides, Ted and Victoria ride off, quite literally (because this show hasn't met a cliche it couldn't literalize), into the New York sunset.
We know that Victoria and Ted won't be together in the series' endgame, since it's been made very clear that Ted meets the mother at Barney's wedding, which takes place some time in the future. The episode's other big twist involved a last second reveal that Barney's bride -- shocker! -- is Robin. The episode had taken great pains to legitimize Barney's relationship with his (former) stripper girlfriend Quinn, culminating in a marriage proposal wrapped in a magic trick that Barney reluctantly performs in a TSA interrogation room. It's one of the best comedic setpieces the show has attempted all season, but we know that this engagement won't end so well.
And that's maybe the worst part -- that this whole ordeal is so amazingly predictable. The return of Victoria (who had been engaged last time we saw her) was pretty thoroughly telegraphed, while Barney's relationship with Quinn felt so forced that it was obvious his infatuation with Robin was back-burnered this season just to make the final reveal more surprising (this season even contained a thoroughly out-of-left-field rekindling of Ted's feelings for Robin, which never made much sense).
The one through-line that HIMYM has typically gotten right was also on display in the finale, as Marshall and Lily finally had their baby, Marvin Waitforit Eriksen (named in honor of Marshall's late father and Barney's second most enduring catchphrase). While it's hard to tell new and interesting jokes within the context of the well-worn sitcom "baby episode," Jennifer Hendriks (who scripted the first half hour, while Bays and Thomas handled the back end) managed to keep it fresh, using a series of non-sequitur flashback stories spun by Robin and Ted to keep Lily calm during labor.
In many ways, "The Magician's Code" is the quintessential HIMYM episode, as funny as almost any show on television when it's willing to put in the effort, but more often than not falling into unnecessary plot twists and a self-restricting internal logic that handicaps the comedy. It also hangs its narrative momentum on Ted, a character who has become less and less interesting as the show has advanced (played into nothingness by Josh Radnor, who has never really held his own against his four co-stars).
There are certainly plenty of external problems with HIMYM, many of which have been voiced over the years, including the hyper-specific experience of its relatively well-off, white New York characters (the same complaint was levied against Girls after two episodes; it's been HIMYM's bread and butter for seven years). But, at its best, it's able to universalize that lifestyle, highlighting the fundamental life decisions made by people in their late twenties and early thirties, and making light of them from an ambiguous future. There are experiences we choose to remember, and things we can't help but forget. In recent years, the show has been a bit too mannered about structural elements for this theme to shine through. Season seven of HIMYM, flawed though it was, put a lot of dominoes in place. Let's hope season eight isn't so fussy about how it knocks them down.
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