FNL: The Final Season – Part the First
Written by Duana
Season 5, Episode 1
Spoilers abound below. If you are waiting for the spring broadcast, be warned.
It shouldn’t be any surprise to anyone who reads here often to learn that Friday Night Lights is precious. To me, so much so that I went to Austin to stalk the set last year (I don’t know what’s still standing, but if you want the chills this show provides over and over again, all it takes is going to stand in Herrmann field, where the Panthers play…), and such that the decision to recap this final season of the show was, sing it with me, bittersweet.
TV doesn’t have to go on forever. When it does, it often gets grumblings of ‘it’s lost its touch’ – cast and other key creatives move on, and it’s not always about telling the best stories anymore. So I don’t mean to be overly sentimental. Five seasons is a solid, if not extraordinary, run for a show – and despite the fact that it never received the love we devotees think it should’ve, there’s no shame. We’ve spent our time with our people.
But the final season of Friday Night Lights nevertheless causes a sort of primitive stomach bracing in me, a preparation for what won’t necessarily be sweetness and light. Coach Taylor is as unflappable as ever in his red hat, barking his coaches into line, and despite all the inklings, the tiny wrinkles of unrest elsewhere in this hour, I feel more secure than ever in his commitment to teenagers – to getting egotistical young basketball players (Hastings Ruckle!) onto the bus, evading the domineering presence of basketball coaches who see their seasons slipping away as a kid blithely joins his red-jerseyed people.
This is the first episode, so all the questions I have are in no way criticisms. FNL has never failed to reward patience, to explain everything you need to know eventually, as long as you trust their pacing and not yours. For example:
Did you ever doubt that Landry would have one more Crucifictorious show? That he would spend his last night in Dillon at the Landing Strip? That he would go and visit Grandma Saracen one more time? I had a great time looking up where Rice University is and I think Landry is going to get more action than he has any idea of and probably make bajillions of dollars in life.
But the relatively joyful sendoff Landry got made me wonder what the deal was with Julie. Let’s put aside for a moment the truth that Aimee Teegarden is on the show for sure this season and discuss Julie. The previews remind us that she ‘always wanted’ to go to a great school. And something about the reluctance with which she treated everything from the roommate to the great ceremony of driving away to school – something is wrong. And I don’t mind saying that something felt wrong with the Taylors. These are not the parents I know. These same parents who crowded into a theatre on a bye-week to see her dance show – they’re not driving her to college? It’s obviously not far. Maybe she’s only going to UT Austin (where she can see Tyra (fictionally, obvs), but still. The ceremony, the procedure of Dad busily hooking up your stereo (I guess the days of setting up the computer are gone) and Mom fussing over folding linens that will not be that neat again for months, and then the sad slow drive back home when parents just feel so bereft (I saw this with my own parents but if you saw The Kids Are All Right you know exactly what I’m talking about). It feels like something the Taylors would do. It felt wrong without it.
I get that Julie is leaving the nest, that you show us the nest, with three people still living there (and man, do I love that Gracie Belle continues to be awkward looking). But it felt so false to me to let her go that way. And so I wonder… we never heard which school she is going to. Did Julie not get into all her aspirational schools, after all that? Is she embarrassed to be going only to UT Austin, or to San Antonio State, or somewhere else she might see as ‘shameful’? We know her roommate is from “Corpus” – as in Corpus Christi, Texas – which could be a coincidence at a school in the Northeast, but you and I both know Julie’s not headed to New England. What could have happened to our girl?
And worst of all – if she is going to what wound up being her safety school, are Eric and Tami implicitly agreeing that she doesn’t need or deserve to be driven there with more ceremony because it isn’t far? Or is this truly a rite of passage among teens these days – to arrive by yourself, to have to drag all your suitcases on the trolley and set up your room without anyone to help you? It felt, to me, awful and harsh and arms-length-y. But I will listen if you tell me this is what Kids Today do.
Then of course, there are the kids back in Dillon. Jess – oh, Jess, I am excited that we’re going to find out the answers to some questions I’ve had about you. Where is your mother? What happened to her after she had those three boys? Why does your father think that A) they’re your responsibility and B) that you’re capable of taking care of them for weeks on end without him? My questions tumble over each other. Jess’ dad was pretty anti-Vince for awhile there, and Vince himself was, as I recall, DODGING GANG INVOLVEMENT, and now her father isn’t even there to find out what time Vince is going home at night? Are you kidding me?
Also, who is the woman who works at the BBQ place and has enough authority to say she’ll close up at night? Who was the woman who told Landry last year he’d need to get a lock for the new bike Jess got? Why is this girl essentially bringing up her younger brothers – if in fact all three of them are her younger brothers – and why isn’t anyone complaining about it yet? Can the girl even drive?
As a sidebar, writing about Landry and Jess just now gave me a pain, because seeing her with Vince makes me feel disloyal to Landry. Like I’m not taking his side, when he tried so hard and cared so much, and yet Jess and Vince look happy and fitted together in a way that poor young Landry Clark never could have. Chemistry. It’s a science.
As for Becky, I know I’m supposed to feel sorry for her and think that her moving in with brand new Coach Riggins and Mindy is going to be dramatic and disastrous –but who are we kidding? It’s going to be hijinks and hilarity. The question is will Tim’s generosity – offering up his family for her – come at the expense of himself? I know you saw it. That hardness in Tim has existed but it’s never been turned on Billy before. Is it merely Tim’s resolve, to be strong enough to have the living keep on going without him? Or has jail really hardened him so much that he’s lost the plot of why he did what he did? Or was the ice-cold performance from Taylor Kitsch a choice, maybe, to make leaving an adopted home and family that much more permanent?
I am in Dillon. I am as ready as I’ve ever been to see how the massive ups and downs of some high school football players match the ups and downs that occur in the lives of people in small town Texas. But something about the sunniness of everything that happened this week – something about Tami Taylor in a windowless room – something is bracing me for downs. We’ve seen a lot of football downs last year – they were, as we’re reminded, 2 and 8. But I feel it, somehow, that a team that keeps getting stronger, as East Dillon surely will (Hastings Ruckle? What a name!), might be one of the only good things to happen in this town this year.
It’s not too late to catch up. Come on the ride with us.
(Lainey: seasons 1 to 4 of Friday Night Lights are available on DVD. We wouldn’t be bitching at you to watch it for so long if we didn’t love it down to our bones.)
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