(I originally posted this review back when "Friday Night Lights" was doing its exclusive DirecTV run. The comments from that period have been preserved. For the sake of people who are watching the episodes as they air on NBC, I will ask anyone commenting from this point forward to only discuss plot events up to the episode in question. Do not discuss, or even allude to, anything that has yet to air on NBC. Thank you.)

A quick review of tonight's "Friday Night Lights" coming up just as soon as I do a Samoan war dance...

"Don't you know you don't have to lie to me? I actually like you." -Tami

Is there anyone who isn't telling some kind of lie in "Fracture"? Vince is spinning BS left and right - including the shameless attempt to blame his skipping of practice on his mother's drug problem - Epyck lies to Tami to keep her close, Derek lies about his reason for visiting Julie, Julie maybe lies to her parents (depending on whether she thought she was really going to school or not), and the entire pep rally featuring a united Lions squad is one big lie, given the kerfuffle that happens in the hallway outside.

This is a very dark period for most of our characters - one of the episode's more optimistic stories includes Becky losing a beauty pageant - and that's often when "Friday Night Lights" is at its best. And, boy, was "Fracture" not only among the season's best, but the series'.

Just one charged scene after another: Eric backing Derek off his lawn without ever touching him (and then banging on his car with the tricycle handle), Derek then pressing his luck with Tami, Crowley getting in Billy's face over and over, Becky telling the Landing Strip girls about her abortion, Jess trying and failing to get through to her transformed boyfriend, Derek trying to manipulate Julie by saying of his wife "But I'm not in love with her," Vince lying to Coach, Coach confronting Vince about the lie but also failing to get through to him, Eric watching stoically as Julie drives away, Coach and Ornette going at each other and Vince and Luke beefing in the hallway.


Great work from the entire ensemble, and especially from Kyle Chandler. This is such a bad time in Eric's life. His daughter has just tremendously disappointed him - that look on his face as she leaves suggests a relationship that will take a long time to heal - his best player is being corrupted by his sleazeball dad, his team plays a style of football he doesn't like and neither his players nor his assistant coaches are getting along. And he's trying - he's really, really trying - to shoulder the load, but it's not a surprise that he would just explode and tell everyone to shut up. And of course the terrible thing is that some of these relationships are so frayed that everyone keeps fighting even after his outburst.

And yet all this darkness gets briefly chased away by the brilliant beam of light emanating from the face of one Matthew Saracen in the surprising, wonderful final scene. I was so afraid that Julie was going to keep being stupid and run back to Derek. Instead, it turned out that Derek's comment about the one he was really in love with made Julie finally acknowledge that the only guy she truly feels that way about is our former QB One. A nice surprise to see Zach Gilford back so relatively early in the season, and I think a Julie who says she's not going back to Burleson but will try to make her own way to a school in Chicago near the Coach & Mrs. Coach-approved Matt may be a compromise all can live with.

Because at the moment, I need all the happiness I can get from these characters, even as I'm enjoying the hell out of all the sadness.

Some other thoughts:

• Admit it: you would watch a reality show about a bunch of strippers who traveled around and commented on the beauty pageant circuit. Get on it, E!

• The one part of the episode that didn't entirely click was the Tami/Epyck subplot, because we're not remotely as invested in Epyck as we are in the other kids (including the hobbled Buddy Jr., who's at least tied to the football team and Buddy), and because that story feels fairly disconnected from everything else that's happening.

• I'd been wondering when we'd get around to seeing that shot in the opening credits of Vince pumping his fists in a big stadium. For a while, I was worried Katims had spoiled that the Lions were going to make state, but it turns out to be unrelated. (And by now, it's pretty clear they're going to make state, even if everyone wants to kill each other by that point.)

What did everybody else think?

 

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