Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose
Written by Duana
Season 5, Episode 13
(Lainey: I’m still sobbing. It’s over. And before Duana offers her thoughts on the end of The Best, we will be devoting some time to it during the TV LiveBlog on Thursday. Join us for a group cry!)
There are the days you dread, and this has rapidly become one of them. The day I have to write the last review of Friday Night Lights. It feels like a ridiculous task, because it seems frankly impossible that there aren’t anymore. But this is it.
I’m not overstating things when I say there was an outpouring of friendship this week, with people commiserating – some I haven’t heard from in years. But everyone wanted to talk about the End Of Days that came to us in the form of a little show about Texas.
I guess my big question is why? Why this is the show that mattered to so many people and why it was such a secret. I’m going to open myself right up here but is this what it feels like to be evangelical? To feel like you know something that is true, but no matter how hard you try, there are only a few people who are converted to knowing the real, true truth?
I’m going to put the philosophy on hold for a minute and deal with the show. We’ll come back in a second but needless to say, spoilers abound from this point on.
There’s so much to be thankful for but the first is that this was a 65 minute hour. I loved that the extra time was necessary, given, and that I didn’t hear a whole lot about it. It was just assumed that we were going to need the time that we did to say goodbye to our people.
And most of them we saw and loved as we loved them through the years. I was so everlastingly grateful that our last view of Landry was of him advising and chiding Matt in the same breath – that’s Landry, now and forever. I was similarly delighted that when we saw Grandma, she was lucid(ish) and delighted, not afraid and confused. These are the memories with which I’d like to leave people. Buddy Garrity was another person frozen in time – chortling happily in his golf cart, letting the SuperPanthers continue on their path to world domination. I love the idea that some things in Dillon never change.
But oh, the things that do. I’ll start with Tim, because I can’t honestly say that I felt as surprised or as touched as I did with the others. Rather, it was a sigh of relief that the Tim we saw coming into his own, finally, at the end of season 4, was allowed to return to form. It took Tyra, and Stevie, and the understanding that things endure like football, to soften the edges that Tim built up for himself over the year. And to be truthful, I don’t think Tim ever thought he was going to Alaska. He wanted to scare Billy into getting serious about life. But if I know Tim, and I like to think I do, he was desperately hoping people would talk him into staying. That he would find reasons enough to unfreeze his heart in Dillon – and one of those is watching Stevie grow into a man. Tim’s heartfelt admission that he’s never going to do anything illegal again isn’t just bluster, though I loved that the 20 year old then popped a beer – it would never even have occurred to him to do otherwise.
His gift and his curse has been to be born into a town where he was something special – and to be expected to follow that after you peak at 17. Tim chose to stay in town, to change the mold of what it means to be a State champion, to wear a ring – and still be a functioning member of the town.
I appreciated too that Tim is portrayed as a bit of a serial monogamist. If Tyra had said yes – if she’d said ‘we should start something up, Tim’ – he would have gone for it. He would have loved to have her to cling onto, to help him drive straight, and keep him on his path. Instead, due to her wisdom and a little maturity she’s gained over at UT Austin, he has a friend, one he can talk to but not lean on all the way – albeit one he was happy enough to ‘rawdog’ early in the episode.
I have to sidebar for a second. I don’t want to make too much of that raunchy slang, but this is what makes the show what it is, forever and immortal. You know and I know how much weeping was associated with this show and so do the producers know. You think they weren’t aiming for that? But still they keep the show irreverent, still, to the very end, the Riggins brothers are frank to the death about what goes on between them, and to that I say, if you don’t know the phrase ‘rawdoggin’ you should probably get to googling…
But of course, in an episode where the former convict finally gets to build the house on the land he purchased is the comic relief, you know we’re heading for some heavy stuff.
Which brings me to Julie and Matt. Let me be clear. I think teenage marriage is a terrifying idea that statistically has a ridiculously low chance of working out. I feel strongly that it’s harder not just because you’re immature and poor, but because it means you have to work so much harder to grow and change together and not let some revelation you have when you’re 24 throw you off course. I think the idea that Coach and Tami, who have one of the most celebrated marriages we’ve ever seen on TV, were married young, makes their current responsible, loving affectionate compromise of a marriage even harder to believe.
But I love Julie and Matt together. And I want it to work.
The show has done such a beautiful job with this relationship. Ever so slowly, through the years, it’s proven to us that Matt and Julie – young and stupid and unformed though they are – are miserable without one another. That could still be only a puppy love problem, except for the genius moves of a few weeks ago. When Julie confesses her Great Shame to Matt, and he doesn’t blink – that’s when you know. That’s when you realize they somehow managed not to be selfish with one another, that they want to take every caution that you do take to protect the person you love.
There are still flaws. I’ve never been comfortable with the level of girlfriends that Julie doesn’t have. It’s so, so important to maintain other friendships, she’s never seemed that interested, and I think she’ll need them more than ever as she’s now in his world trying to make her way.
I think the Taylors worry that they set Julie up to be the kind of person who can’t be single. That their example of romance is something of a fluke, and that it looks too easy. They must know – especially with their struggles this week – that they look, on the outside, like something too perfect to be real...and there’s no way to prove that to young, starry-eyed Julie and Matt.
I do think that the moment I knew it was going to be okay was the moment Matt told Eric they don’t need his permission. The moment the stammering, cowering boy became a man in front of Taylor. Eric had lost then, though he wouldn’t admit it for days (possibly months, we don’t know). His daughter had chosen a man, the man had chosen her – there was officially nothing he could do.
Tami, of course, was a goner as soon as Julie showed her the ring. She only couldn’t deal with the idea that she might have to tell her daughter, after all these years, “Honey, I was wrong, and marriage isn’t the great institution I said it was, and it can disappoint you something fierce.” She doesn’t say it, but the fear that she might have to, that’s what causes the breakdown outside the restaurant. That’s what makes her fear, not that her daughter might get married, not even that she might stay in Dillon, Texas, going to Panther games for the rest of her life, but that she herself might lose faith in marriage; might resent Eric and never be able to come out the other side. She had accepted that she might not go to Philadelphia , might have to pretend to smile and be happy about Eric’s consolation prize of his-and-her closets, and she doesn’t want to be a hard woman.
This is ultimately the enduring message of the show for me. It’s the message that Eric and Tami teach each other over and over – it’s what they want each and every one of the kids under their care to remember. Don’t be hard. Don’t be rigid and closed off from the world. Every single kid, from Riggins to Smash to JD to the unfortunate Epyck, needed to hear this from the Taylors. The silent ‘J.Street’ on the wall in the Panther’s locker room is a testament to a kid who refused to be made hard, even when life wanted him to be.
The most memorable moments of this show (Tami telling Julie she wasn’t allowed to have sex, Matt begging to know why everyone leaves him, Lyla and Tyra reconciling on the way to the game and Smash humbling himself from his former dreams, hell, even Eric forfeiting that first Lion’s football game) come when the people involved let themselves be vulnerable and open to the world outside them and people who want to help. That’s what Eric and Tami offered in Texas and that’s what they offer in Pennsylvania. The ability to allow yourself to be soft inside. Not weak, not unbruised, but not hard, not unmoving.
The people who weren’t that hard to begin with are the ones who remained on the fringes of this show, and that’s something I’ve always enjoyed. Lyla, Landry, Mindy, Becky, Luke – hell, Tinker – these are people whose pride or stubbornness weren’t going to trip them up, so they figured in our world though just not as largely.
And this leaves Vince as the biggest question. Everyone else will be OK – but Vince will be tested again and again. Maybe he’s strong enough. The scholarship he’s sure to get will take him far enough from the pressures of Dillon, if those are still there. Of course new pressures are always waiting in the Devil Town, which, I think, can follow you …
But I think it’s safe to say it does not follow our Taylors to Pennsylvania, where Tami looks as happy and cleavagey and radiant as she ever has, and where Eric begins anew. The knowledge that ‘Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose’ is something you can learn – that it doesn’t have to be inborn – is the reason we love this show: that we can, in our daily lives, live with this kind of integrity and openness to whatever the world offers us, and not feel ashamed or naïve; that it is better to live with an open heart that allows us to believe in the possibility of an impossibly long pass, and the love of two people that endures no matter what; that the love of a show about football in Texas has nothing to do with football or Texas , and is instead about the potential each of us has to be normal, regular, incredible people - that’s what’s been given to us.
Thank you for reading, for your kind emails, for your opinions, for your serious concerns about Gracie-Belle’s mental health and mortal, human status. I can’t wait to discuss this at length with you all. We’ll revisit this article after everything’s aired on NBC to see how my feelings evolve.