Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: We add TV to the mix, presenting a week of our favorite series finales in honor of Parks And Recreation’s final episode. (Note: Plot details are revealed.)
Friday Night Lights, “Always” (season five, episode 13; originally aired February 9, 2011)
When Friday Night Lights struggled to find viewers, fans of the show would insist to skeptical friends that it wasn’t like the more unremarkable movie it was based on, and that it wasn’t “just about football.” I myself was wary, until I finally watched the series at a particularly lonely time in my life and realized Friday Night Lights is first and foremost about a community. Even if the small town of Dillon, Texas is far removed from your own reality, Friday Night Lights uses everything from brilliant acting to intimate cinematography to invite viewers to become a part of Dillon. Despite the asterisk of an ill-advised murder plot meant to grab higher ratings in its second season, Friday Night Lights was a series of intimate human stories wrapped in the guise of a high school football season. The show had a knack for getting the audience invested in the stories of people who would likely be two-dimensional elsewhere: “the dumb jock,” “the virginal girlfriend,” “the slut.” What could have been “that high school football show” became one of the most consistently emotionally resonant series on television.
In that respect, it wasn’t all that surprising when head writer Jason Katims and company managed to pull off a near perfect series finale. “Always” brought in cameos and callbacks from earlier seasons without seeming like pure fan service. It resolved existing plotlines without tying things up in a neat bow; some characters walked off into the sunset, while others embarked on new and difficult journeys.
What makes “Always” even more impressive is that the series had very nearly rebooted itself after its second season. After its third season ended and many of its high school characters graduated, the series pulled off an impressive feat. It said goodbye to characters and actors it had previously done such a good job of investing us in, like Adrianne Palicki’s ambitious Tyra, Zach Gilford’s heartstring-pulling Matt, and yes, Minka Kelly’s wide-eyed Lyla—and then it introduced an entirely new group of teenagers from a poorer part of town. Some—like Taylor Kitsch’s shaggy slacker Tim Riggins—remained behind, as they might in real life. For the most part, though, the entire series’ focus shifted, yet Friday Night Lights stayed as strong as ever. It took as much care to develop newcomers like Michael B. Jordan’s conflicted Vince, Matt Lauria’s earnest Luke, and Jurnee Smollett-Bells’s determined Jess. They only had a couple of short seasons to work their way into our hearts, but the show had laid such intricate groundwork with their characters that their loss stung as much as any other.
Crucially, this finale reminds us why we followed and fell in love with the series’ core relationship of Eric “Coach” Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his brilliant wife Tami (Connie Britton). The final season throws substantial obstacles in their paths, raising serious questions about trust, loyalty, and priorities. And so Eric and Tami spent the last few episodes of this final season in an intense, unusual fight that pitted their futures against each other.
It’s brutal to watch them fight, since we’ve come to know the Taylors as one of the most solid and realistic relationships to exist on-screen. “Always” keeps the tension alive, drawing out their disagreement until late in the episode, when Eric realizes it’s time for him to make a sacrifice like Tami had done for him countless times over the years. His run to find Tami to tell her that it’s “her turn” defies all expectations for that “romantic run and tell her” trope, thanks in large part to Chandler and Britton’s effortless acting. The Taylors’ final reconciliation is a joyful, heartfelt moment that represents the best of their relationship—a moment in which they are true and generous partners. There’s been talk of a sequel movie to continue the Taylors’ story ever since the finale aired, but it’s not necessary. Friday Night Lights made sure that the Taylors—and Dillon—got their due, always.
Availability: “Always” is available as part of the Friday Night Lights: The Complete Series and The Fifth And Final Season DVD sets. It’s also currently streaming on Netflix.