Review: 'Friday Night Lights' - 'Texas Whatever': There can only be one
Tough choices abound in the series' moving penultimate episode
(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.)
"Friday Night Lights" has only one week to go in its final season, and I have a review of the series' penultimate episode coming up just as soon as I try to write down a speech while driving...
"You know, it's kind of like this drug: When you get outside of it, you see it for what it really is. But when you're in it, seems like there's no other possible reality." -Tyra
Tyra Collette returns to Dillon just in the nick of time. Not only is the series almost over, not only does Tim Riggins desperately need a little love and tenderness and understanding(*), but in "Texas Whatever" we find several of our regulars seriously contemplating a life away from Dillon. And if ever there was a character who personified the desire to get the hell out of this devil town by any means necessary and not look back, it was Tyra. She mostly got her escape (though the presence of her family and of close friends like Tim and Julie have kept her from running away altogether), and a lot of this episode is spent wondering whether Tami Taylor and Tim Riggins will get theirs.
(*) As Tim dated Lyla for far longer on the series than Tyra (who dumped him in episode 3 of season 1), I suppose she could have filled that role. But I thought Tyra worked better, because A)Tim and Tyra have a much longer history, B)Even after they broke up, the two still had an obvious bond and still looked out for each other, C)Tough, seen-it-all Tyra seems far better equipped to handle the broken post-prison Tim than Lyla would have been, and D)I always found Adrianne Palicki to be a terrific actress on the show, and Mika Kelly to be someone whom the show at best learned how to use properly.
And as good as it was to see Tyra come back, and temporarily ease Tim's pain, and seemingly point him in the direction of not going anywhere (her "Alaska, Tim?" while they gazed at Tim's ranch property was just perfect), it was a particularly necessary ray of sunshine, because boy did this episode feature a lot of darkness.
Whether Tim stays or goes, he still doesn't seem close to forgiving Billy. The school board does the horrible but unsurprising thing and decides to erase the Lions from existence as they're on the verge of a state championship. Luke finally gets a sniff of a college scholarship and realizes that he cares less about it than he'd expected to. And the Taylor marriage is at one of its lowest points after Eric refuses to even consider, for a moment, the idea of pulling up stakes for the sake of Tami's dream job.(**)
(**) These DirecTV seasons have had to rush their storytelling at times, and I really wish there had been a way to put more distance between Eric turning down Shane State and Tami getting the Braemore offer. Not only does it feel like too much happening too closely together, but it felt wrong that Shane State wouldn't come up once during their arguments here - for Eric to try to shoot Tami down by saying he gave up his own college dream because he didn't want to leave this town, and for Tami to perhaps retort that he didn't consult her on that decision, either.
I swear, this show is making me a wreck in these final episodes. It really is.
Three moments in particular in "Texas Whatever" raised the dust level in the Sepinwall household. One was Tim in the parking lot begging Tyra to stay with him. (And to a lesser extent, I was also really moved by Tyra's reaction to Tim's reason for going to jail. Not only does that remind her of why she cared about this jailbird in the first place, but it sounds like a foreign language to her, because Tyra is too much about self-preservation to ever sacrifice herself in that way for the sake of someone else, up to and including Mindy.)
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The third was also in a parking lot, as Coach told Vince the words he needed to hear about his new life as a Dillon Panther, to which Vince responded with a big, unapologetic hug.(***) That moment said so much about how far their relationship has come, but also about the cruelty of what the haves of this town are doing to the have-nots, and about why Eric would turn down a college coaching job and why he would be so reluctant to leave this place, no matter how much the Buddy Garritys of this world jerk him around.
(***) Unsurprisingly, Michael B. Jordan and, especially, Kyle Chandler played the hell out of that scene. Coach is not a hugger by nature, but there are times when you just have to hug back, and when your QB One - who is, still, barely older than a kid, and who has struggled so much in his brief life - hugs you, then by golly you hug him back.
And it's because of moments like that that I can empathize with Eric, even as I also understand why Tami feels so hurt. He hates the boosters, hates the entitled, instant-gratification fans, hates Slammin' Sammy Mead and all the rest of the nonsense that comes with coaching in Dillon. But he loves coaching these kids. He loves giving them purpose and discipline and character. He loves those moments - like listening to the guys bond on the hotel balcony in "Kingdom," or hearing Tim Riggins call him sir, or being hugged by this kid whose life he more or less saved - that remind him why he's willing to be a sucker again and again and again for the games played by this town's less-than-perfect adults.
But one of the reasons why the Taylors are my all-time favorite screen couple is that when they fight, there's usually a good argument from each side, and Tami sure as hell has a good one this week. If Eric had already taken the Shane State job (which would relocate the family and give them money and security like they'd never had before), that might be one thing. But for her to set aside her own dream job for him to play puppet to the Panthers boosters one more time? And for Eric to not only disagree with her plan but act like it's not even worthy of discussion? That hurts. When she gives him the congratulations he couldn't be bothered to give her, that really hurts.
It's been often said that "Friday Night Lights" is about football, but also about so much more than football. And when the show is truly great, it finds a way to make the football team integral to everything else - where every person and event in Dillon is in some way tied to what Eric is doing on that field with his kids. The team is the town, and vice versa.
Eric and Tami's "So you're rooting against us" argument turns that idea on its head. Suddenly, it's possible for the coach's wife - who has been a coach's wife for 18 long years - to divorce the idea of the family from the idea of the team, to make a not unreasonable argument that her husband doesn't have to stay joined at the hip to this place for the rest of their life together.
But if Mrs. Coach can think of the Lions as something other than "us," how fractured are things going to get in next week's series finale?
And how the hell are we going to live without this great, great series?
Some other thoughts:
• Glad to see the writers finally acknowledging that a scholarship would, indeed, be an option for Luke, even if it wasn't at a football factory like TMU. And I thought that scene where he met with the Warrenfield State recruiters was very well-drawn. If you take the glamor out of the game and send him to a town that doesn't sound any more big-time than Dillon, then how much does Luke really care about football? Last year, he said he viewed it as his escape route, but if the place he escapes to is basically the same, then maybe he does need to think hard about a different future.
• Speaking of Luke, his response to Becky's explanation of her feelings for Tim - "Well, that's really pretty. You should put that in a poem." - was among the episode's cruelest moments, and something of a shocker from the unfailingly polite Luke.
• Billy and Mindy are having twins? Three little Rigglets under the age of two crawling around that house? Yikes.
• At first, Julie's surprise appearance had me wondering if she had, once again, flaked on life at Burleson, but there's nothing about that in the rest of the episode. So I guess we're just supposed to assume that Julie left Matt in Chicago, went back to school, dealt with the humiliating blowback from the "Julie Taylor is a slut" incident and buckled back down. I guess? Didn't love that story arc, so on the whole I'd rather we not spend more time on it versus life in Dillon, but it does feel like a large piece was missing. On the other hand, I was glad to see Julie with Tyra again, and to be reminded of that friendship.
• Speaking of stories being dropped, it seems clear that the McCoys left town sometime after the humiliating loss to the Lions last season, and there needed to be at least a throwaway line at some point or other about that. Because Joe's absence from any Panthers booster scene, and the lack of discussion of Vince pushing JD aside as QB One, is just distracting without it.
• This was Kyle Chandler's second directing job ever, and the first since an "Early Edition" episode over a decade ago. Coach done good behind the camera, yes? I particularly liked the heated atmosphere of the town hall meeting, which nicely set up Mr. Carvill's relief at hearing Vince and Jess' calm, sincere plea for the Lions in his office.
• Also, kudos to whoever decided to dust off "Devil Town" to play on the soundtrack as everyone gathers to hear which team is about to be erased from existence. That song brings back so many season one memories, and also seems the perfect one to use under these circumstances.
• Tyra's return inspired me to use Netflix Instant to quickly skim through some of her big moments in season 1, which quickly spun out of control into a weekend "Friday Night Lights" Greatest Hits marathon, which climaxed on Sunday night with a viewing of "Mud Bowl." And after watching Tyra fight off her would-be rapist, I couldn't help thinking this: while the Lance/Tyra murder storyline was the biggest blunder in the history of the show, and season 2 still didn't happen... some people just need killin'.
• Also, I worried that going back to watch scenes with the original characters wouldn't be flattering to the newcomers, but I really feel like the torch was effectively passed. I watched Smash, Matt, Tim and Lance hanging out on Herrmann Field at the end of "Hello, Goodbye" not long after I watched Vince and Tinker and company doing something similar near the end of this episode, and the new guys don't seem like pale imitations, but worthy successors.
• Also interesting to rewatch Coach and Mrs. Coach's argument about the TMU job - where Tami didn't want to leave because, quote, "I'd feel bad for those kids" she'd be leaving behind - in light of these last couple of episodes.
The finale is going to air in a 90-minute timeslot next Friday. I'm going to bump up my post looking back over the series' greatest moments so it'll reappear that morning, my review of the finale will reappear Friday at 9:30, along with my series post-mortem interview with Jason Katims, and Fienberg and I will find some easy way to relink to the long all-"Friday Night Lights" podcast we initially released the day after the finale aired on DirecTV. Lotta content for a great, great show.
What did everybody else think?
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