(Greetings Friday Night Lights fans. A few words of explanation: Because of NBC's production arrangement with DirecTV, I wrote about this (pretty great) season of Friday Night Lightsback in the fall. I'm now reposting last fall's pieces each week as it airs on NBC. So now you know. No spoilers, please, if you've already seen the season. Enjoy.)
“We won! We won a game!” There’s pure joy, and more than a little surprise, in Buddy’s exclamation at the end of the so-called Toilet Bowl. It’s a feeling reflecting by everyone else on the field and in the stands. After showing signs of improvement—almost inevitable for a team that began its season by failing to return from halftime—the East Dillon Lions actually won a game. Nothing can take that away from them.
This season has spent a lot of time with characters’ changing expectations. Julie saw the man with whom she thought she’d spend the rest of her life disappear. Tim’s gone from football hero to living in a trailer with a dog. But there’s something to be said about starting over and climbing your way up from the bottom rungs, as Coach and Buddy learned this week. Victory tastes a little sweeter when it’s this hard-won. And if it has to be against the only other team with a comparably bad record, then so be it.
The game’s only part of the action this week, however. The Landry/Jess/Vince situation is turning into a proper love triangle, and I’m not sure where everyone stands. I know Landry seems into Jess, and his interest seems less complicated after his voicemail breakup with Tyra. Vince seems much more in earnest than in the past, too, perhaps in part because of the delicacy with which Jess handles Vince’s troubled mother. (How did everyone else read her behavior at dinner? Was she simply nervous or was she using again?) But I’m not sure how Jess feels, and I’m not sure she does either. That not-quite-a-peck-on-the-cheek-but-definitely-not-a-proper-kiss gesture she gave Landry settled nothing.
In our other love triangle, if that’s the right word, Tim and Becky’s relationship entered new, confusing turf with Becky playing the parental role and instructing him on how to conduct a job interview and Tim, swept up in the moment of looking at the land he wants to purchase, returning her kiss. Between the two moments, he taught Luke how to score some pain medication from the resident Dr. Feelgood, a former TMU hero who always asks the same questions in the same order.
I liked that detail, even if I was a little thrown by Tim being the known go-to guy for how to score pills in Dillon. I suppose it makes sense. Tim’s not exactly one to shy away from substances that numb the pain. We’ve certainly seen Tim cross over to the questionable side of the law in seasons past, too, a move he makes again at the end of this episode, joining Billy’s chop shop operation.
I feel a little uneasy by each of these developments—Tim placed in proximity to jailbait, Luke popping pills, the Landry/Vince/Jess love triangle, the chop shop—if only because each of them seems like it could be handled poorly and predictably. (Add to that an element revealed in the previews, but we’ll talk about that next week.) I also have a lot of faith in the show not to take storylines down their most obvious path, or at least do the best possible version of predictable storylines if they do. I wasn’t a big fan of the Smash-uses-steroids storyline, but it hardly derailed the show. And, while I’d rather not open the Landry-turns-murderer can of worms again, I will say that a sub-plot began by revving up the engines for a jump over some of nature’s deadliest aquatic predators but ended by revealing Jesse Plemons’ amazing versatility and opening up that character for new possibilities.
Still, for an episode that set up the back-half of the season, I can’t say I’m terribly excited—yet—about where the season’s headed. There were some really fine moments here, however, like that funny opening as Tami and Julie prepare for the trip and Buddy’s mission to get the East Dillon game broadcast on a station with little use for English, much less fútbol de Norteamericano. I’m also enjoying the way the Lions are slowly building a following, from the boosters at the barbecue that have befriended Coach to the way the stands have start to fill out, even during games held in the rain. That’s what having a real team can do.
• I probably should have mentioned Tami and Julie’s trip to Boston above but it really connected to nothing else in the episode so let’s drop it here. I liked seeing those characters out of Dillon, but the whole subplot felt pleasantly inconsequential. Tami’s a good mom. She supports Julie. We know all that. Yet, as usual, the acting and the presentation made it work. The way the camera lingered on Tami’s face as she hugged her daughter and her expression grew more intense as she thought about sending her off into adulthood. That’s the sort of thing that sets this show apart.
• Never drink unless you know for sure you’re not going to be called into action to unplug a toilet for an emotionally volatile pregnant woman.
• What does Tim want to do with that land? Do we know? Does he know?