(A few words of explanation: Because of NBC's production arrangement with DirecTV, I wrote about this season of Friday Night Lights back in the fall. I'm now reposting last fall's pieces each week as the episodes air on NBC. So now, you know. No spoilers, please, if you've already seen the season. Enjoy.)
The East Dillon Lions end tonight with a 3-0 record. Vince, already a star, has the game of his life, one that should silence any remaining doubters. He gets the honor of placing the winning game ball in the shrine reserved for such artifacts at Buddy’s, a new bar and grill owned by the smiling Buddy Garrity. Look at it from a distance, and all seems well. Better than well, even. But there’s more going on. As good as this show is with dialogue, the best shot of this episode has no words. It’s the one where Vince, flanked by his teammates and looking sharp in his suit, walks to the game. Crowds cheer them on, singling Vince out for praise. He ought to be elated, but his face can’t hide his troubles. He’s a winner who’s discovered winning isn’t enough.
Vince is the MVP of the game, and Michael B. Jordan would surely earn that title for this episode. Both Coach and Jess note how much he’s changed, but part of what makes Jordan’s work so strong is that he makes Vince seem like he’s fundamentally still the same kid we first encountered at the beginning of last season. He was a good guy struggling to find direction amidst the limited choices he’d been given. He still is. The choices have gotten better, but they’ve gotten more complicated too.
The return of his father (Cress Williams) hasn’t simplified things either. He’s been out of the picture, in prison, for five years, time enough for Vince to grow from a boy into a man, one who’s none-too-happy to have his dad back in the picture. And why should he be? He blames him—and rightly, it would seem—for his mother’s addiction. Without him, she’s staying straight and having a happy, productive life. With him? Who knows? And while Vince’s hostility might seem a little premature—he did change, as Jess points out—it makes all the sense in the world. He may have been a boy when his father was last in the picture and up to no good, but that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten what it was like. Challenging him at every opportunity just makes sense.
It doesn’t, however, reveal his true character, which both Williams and the show play close to the vest. Is this a man truly interested in reengaging with his son? Is the pride he talks about genuine? Or is he on the verge of backsliding into his old life and taking his family with him? Whatever the case, it’s clear that Vince has found someone else to fill in for his absent father. For all his reluctance to remain outside the grocery store or to sign on to Coach’s tightened notion of standards, by the end of the episode, he seems to get it. After his confrontation with Coach, he has a deeper understanding of how Coach’s help took him from nowhere to where he is today. That hug at the end isn’t just a manly celebration of victory. It’s summoned up from somewhere deeper.
Vince’s father isn’t his only source of unease. After befriending Tami, Jess lands a job as the team’s equipment manager, a position she seems to have summoned out of the ether in as an outlet for Jess’s football enthusiasm. This makes Vince uncomfortable, and not without reason. It takes a special kind of couple—a Coach and Tami, say—to be able to work together that closely. And who wants his girlfriend hanging around a locker room anyway? What he fails to notice, is how much pleasure it gives her. She’s positively giddy at being able to make a contribution to the team. Anyone who can still feel that way after receiving instructions on the best way to prevent staph infections is a true football fan. Maybe more than a fan. Maybe someone who should try to make a life out of it.
She’s the opposite, in other words, of a rally girl. After a victorious opening, the episode kicks off with the controversy created by “Drunk Puppet Girl!!!!!,” a video taken at the party seen in last week’s episode, one that left Marah insensible and getting passed around like, well, some kind of drunk puppet girl. I thought Marah was going to be a one-episode foil for Jess, but it looks like she’s got a bigger part to play, especially now that Tami has taken an interest in her. (Woe be to those who want to underachieve now that Tami’s the guidance counselor.) I like that this episode didn’t lay all the blame for what happened on the team or on Marah. She was a willing participant who probably expected to get about that drunk when she went to the party, even if she didn’t expect her drunkenness to be immortalized. But Tami’s determined to make her consider the consequences, especially those that extend beyond a few seconds of Internet infamy.
Elsewhere, another character stands to face some consequences of a different sort. Adrift, Julie has latched on to the one person who’s shown an interest in her, even though it’s a creepy, inappropriate interest. Tipsy after a salon at a professor’s house—who apparently doesn’t have a problem serving minors—she sleeps with a married TA who feeds her a line about marital troubles and how in “in a different world and a different time” they might have had something. It’s a mistake, one she seems to recognize as soon as she wakes up next to him. The saddest, and creepiest part of the whole affair? That Julie justifies it by echoing the TA’s advice about taking chances back to him and he lets her. Sometimes, Aimee Teegarden plays Julie as being wise beyond her years and makes her look the same. This week, she looked very young.
Finally, there’s Buddy, who learns of trouble with Buddy Jr. and decides to take him in. (Presumably Santiago has long since vacated the Garrity residence.) It’s an echo of Vince’s relationship with his father, though which will turn out better remains an open question. On the outside, however, everything looks great.
- “We didn’t do any of this crap when we were kids.” Silence.
- So, did Buddy sell the car dealership?
- I’m not sure hanging around outside a grocery store en masse harassing customers is really the best sort of community outreach. It’s more like something a cult would do. Wouldn’t charity work be better?