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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Friday Night Lights: "Swerve"

Illustration for article titled Friday Night Lights: "Swerve"
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To talk about this week, it might be best to start at the end and circle back. Has the show ever had a more quietly devastating ending than the silence that greets Julie’s “I didn’t meant to disappoint you”? However overly familiar and disconnected from the rest of the show the Julie/T.A. subplot has seemed until now, “Swerve” brought it all back home, showing how Julie’s misadventures in independence have redefined her relationship with her parents. Julie’s always seemed both older than her years and a bit too fragile for the world, and that’s turned into a dangerous combination. She embarks on an adult—and adulterous—affair, then finds she not only doesn’t have the maturity to handle it but starts to act out in destructively immature ways. It’s sad to watch Coach and Tami piece together that they’ve been lied to, sadder still to watch Coach say things like “I don’t know that girl in there.” He does know her, as Tami points out. And now they have to know a more flawed version of their daughter than they ever imagined possible.

It’s serious business. So serious it makes Coach late for a game for the first time, I have to imagine, ever. He conducts himself with dignity, and his lateness allows Billy a moment at the helm. He rises to the occasion, just as he rose to the occasion of dealing with a distraught, drunken Luke, who takes the news that he’s been used as a pawn by TMU quite badly. And how couldn’t he? True, it’s not smart to take it out on Vince, but he’d had a vision of himself playing for TMU, and now, he has to watch that vision go down the drain. (Quite literally, in one scene.) It’s a passing crisis of confidence, however, one he shakes off before the next game. He’s one of Coach’s boys, ultimately, and he knows how to focus on the road immediately in front of him.

Meanwhile, Min tries to coach Becky, steering her away from her dreams of Tim and toward the more attainable Luke. She’s reluctant and still smitten with Tim, of course. The way she eyes Min’s stack of money suggests she’s taking away a different message anyway. Which makes sense: Here’s a girl who’s had little guidance in her life, and she’s latching on to the first more-or-less with-it female role model she’s ever had, even if her advice doesn’t seem all that motherly. (I don’t know too many mothers who told their daughter to go get laid, but then, maybe I ran with the wrong crowd in high school.)

(Can I just take a moment to point out again how superb Derek Phillips and Stacey Oristano have been this season? This cast’s bench goes deep.)

Finally, there’s Vince, whose past gang associations come back to haunt him this weekend. This spurs resolution, then panic. Then Vince does what player after player has done over the course of Friday Night Lights’ five seasons: He stands on Coach’s front door looking for advice. Then, unlike other players, he walks away. That’s a bold move for the show to make because I think, as Vince concludes, Coach couldn’t solve this problem. He’s a heroically inspiring figure, but he may not be the man for this job. Question is: Is Vince’s dad?

I think we finally get a sense of who Vince’s dad is this week. His intentions toward his son and his desire to go straight now appear to be in earnest. That doesn’t mean he’s discarded his past hardness, however, or forgotten how it can be applied. As played, quite well, by Cress Williams, Vince’s dad almost seems like a different person in dealing with the thug who threatens his son and Jess. Even his body language is different. He moves with a rage-powered swagger, and when he gives it up to enjoy some pie at the end of the episode, the shift is chilling. Where in the past we’ve had to wonder who this guy is, he now seems like a father willing to go to great lengths to protect Vince. He looks like a man making hard choices to ensure his child will live a better life than he had. But will that willingness allow him to live the quiet family life he now seems to desire? He’s learning it's a hard thing being a parent, a feeling general all over Dillon as the episode draws to a close.


Stray observations:  

  • Didn't mention the "Kingmaker" article, which Coach responds to with a characteristic mix of embarrassment and private pride. Who has time to think too hard about these things, however, when he's got a game to play with a team whose members have decided to start branding one another. "It's every coach's dream to experience the highest level of idiocy his team can muster," he says. But is there a hint of amusement behind it all?
  • "Rhinestones make me look trashy."
  • "Who you are on the field tonight is who you're going to be the rest of your life." Tough words. And before this series I might have written them off as hyperbole. But this show has shown even this extremely casual sports fan how a game can be life in miniature.