(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" is almost done with its final season, and I have a review of tonight's episode coming up just as soon as I say "hoot"...

"It's okay 'cause it's Dillon! It's Dillon, Texas!" -Tim Riggins

On one level, things could not be more perfect for Eric and the Lions throughout the events of "The March," an episode that telescopes several weeks' worth of games into a single hour. The team is steamrolling its way towards the state championship, and the players and their coach are bonded more tightly than ever, as exemplified by that marvelous scene where they do calisthenics on the Taylor lawn while a beaming Coach, Mrs. Coach and Baby Coach watch.

On another level, things couldn't possibly be more of a mess for all and sundry. Only weeks after turning down all the money and power that Shane State had to offer, Eric could be on the verge of unemployment if the town decides to keep the tradition-laden Panthers and once again dismantle the Lions. And even if that works out okay, Tami now has her only ridiculously tempting offer from an out-of-state college. The return of Tim Riggins brings not joy but pain and confusion to Billy, Luke and Becky. And having lost his Svengali-like hold on Vince in last week's episode, Ornette loses his grip on the straight life altogether and goes back to drinking, dealing and being a nightmare for Vince and Regina.

"Friday Night Lights" has never preached that perfection on the football field is a cure-all for imperfections away from it. But there's always been a sense that no matter how bad things get for our characters, at least they have the games to look forward to. At least a big win (like last year's last-second triumph over the Panthers) can provide temporary relief to all the pain that's happening elsewhere.

But as we come to the end of the series' third-to-last episode ever (sigh...), it feels like the problems are getting so big that there's no way even a championship title for the Lions will be able to make everyone feel better about everything.

It's easy to imagine, even with a Lions title, that the town chooses the Panthers to survive. (Obviously, the best players on the Lions would wind up on the Panthers, and I could see Eric being offered his old job back, but all they just accomplished in building the program and culture up from scratch would be thrown away; they'd matter as much as the team Jess's father and the deacon played for.) Though Regina turns up sober to greet the team at Carroll Park, it's not hard to picture Ornette's presence knocking her off the wagon. The rift between the Riggins boys won't heal until Tim chooses to forgive Billy, and I can't exactly blame him for holding that grudge.

And what on earth happens with Tami's job offer? Eric turned down the (presumably far more lucrative) Shane State offer because he didn't want to leave this team and this town, but if the Dillon economy is really that dire, and if Tami's being offered a dream job of her own, would Eric really stand in her way? Would they try another ridiculous commuting scheme like when he went to TMU?

It's a definite roller coaster, both life in Dillon and the experience of watching this show. A week ago, I was all pumped for a feel-good finish where the Lions won State and that victory somehow solved everybody's problems. This week, I was reminded of how deep many of those problems run, particularly in the Riggins storyline.

God, is Taylor Kitsch doing some fantastic work this season as the shattered Tim Riggins, and Derek Phillips is matching him as Billy. Billy has plausibly turned into something other than a clown, yet even as we see him ascendant as a Lions assistant, we see how much the frosty relationship with his brother is tearing him up, and also how fragile he (rightly) feels his hold on his job is. Just a lot of ugliness there, a lot of pain, and a lot of collateral damage in what's happening with Becky and Luke.

Two episodes to go, and I expect Jason Katims and company to rip my heart out a time or twelve in those episodes. Dammit. I wouldn't be mad if I didn't care, and boy have they made me care over the years.

Some other thoughts:

• Coach is a brilliant tactician and motivator, but the man's Achilles heel is definitely clock management. He lost the state championship two seasons ago because he gave the other team too much time to march down field and kick the winning field goal, and here his team has barely enough time to get the decisive touchdown.



• Jess has spent most of the season as an adjunct to Vince's storyline, but I liked seeing the conclusion of her evolution from cheerleader to (briefly) rally girl to equipment manager and now to unofficial junior deputy assistant shadow assistant shadow coach. Jess has always been defined in part by her obsession with football (she's the anti-Julie, in that way), and while her road is hard, it was great to see her slowly but surely wear down Coach's resistance to the idea. (And good on Vince for being happy for her when it happens, after he was so uptight when she got the equipment manager job.) On the other hand, if the show wasn't ending in two episodes, I would start a pool on which character would wind up as an assistant coach next, because that seems to be the job that the writers give to characters they don't know what to do with (Street post-injury, Riggins post-college, etc.). We haven't seen any of Devon or the Crucifictorious drummer since Lance split town...

• Hey, It's That Guy! Bruce Altman made an unexpected guest appearance as the head of Braemore. Altman tends to play effete northeastern types, and it helped sell the setting to have him as the man giving Tami the offer.

• Hands up, anyone who didn't breathe a sigh of relief when Regina was there to greet the team and wasn't high. Damn. The scene where Ornette tried to break into the apartment was so rough (and so well-played by Michael B. Jordan and Angela Rawna) that I almost needed some medication at the end of it.

• Smash has apparently now moved from Aggie benchwarmer to Aggie star. Good for him, and I liked seeing Tim roll his eyes at seeing evidence of his frenemy's success.

• Loved the cut from the team doing the war chant on the Riggins lawn to them doing it before the quarterfinal game. Easy way to pump me up.

• Though I enjoy Coach and Mrs. Coach in part because the show doesn't play stupid games with their relationship, I do enjoy seeing them bicker now and again, and their argument on the drive to the airport had an amusing close where Eric tried to change the subject becase "You're kicking my ass here!"

• I haven't made much note of the music this season, but I particularly liked the use of "Champion Angel" by The Low Anthem as the Lions got off the bus at Carroll Park after the big game.

What did everybody else think?