(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.)
I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this, you’ve watched “Don’t Go” already and thus don’t mind my talking about the ending first. Right? Right? Everyone else gone? OK. Wow. What an ending, right? Just the perfect, elegant, understated, and unexpected conclusion to a storyline that I thought might get dragged out until the season finale. Coach might easily have left. Heck, he left before, and however unsatisfactorily that ended up working out, the offer on the table here looks much more appealing. Three years with a two-year option. A nice home. A salary that almost makes him betray a little bit of shock when he sees it. An escape from the world of high schoolers and all the teenage drama he’s been experiencing the last few weeks. And Tami seems just fine with it, which ought to tip the balance.
But, in the end, he stays. What persuaded him? Was it the “impromptu” testimonial dinner? Vince? Was it testifying in favor of Tim Riggins’ parole and realizing that he would never get an opportunity to get to know one of his college players as well as he knew Tim? Did he decide during the interview? Coach plays it close to the vest. So does the show. I don’t think there’s a single moment in the episode or in Kyle Chandler’s excellent-as-usual (but maybe a little more-than-usual this week) performance that betrays the moment he makes up his mind. Maybe I’ll feel differently when I rewatch the episode, but I doubt it’s there. That leaves it a mystery. I’m tempted to say there’s not a single moment, that Coach slowly realized he wanted to stay in Dillon where he knew he belonged.
I’m further tempted suggest that he knew from the beginning that he would be staying put, that he went through the meeting out of due diligence and obligation to Jason Street, but I don’t think that’s the case. He wouldn’t play coy with the press and his players just for the sake of playing coy. And when he talks to Tami, he seems genuinely tempted. So why stay? I don’t think there’s a compact answer, which makes this week’s episode that much more satisfying. We watch Coach taking in his surroundings and appreciating the life he’s made for himself and his accomplishments. He’s a satisfied man. That look on his face at the end is contentment.
Coach wasn’t the only Taylor reassessing his place in the world this week, however. Tami continues her efforts to improve East Dillon and education in general, both at school and away from it. She pushes homework club and continually asks about Epyck, whom everyone else seems happy to let disappear into the system and become someone else’s problem. For Tami, the “someone else’s problem” attitude is anathema, a notion she takes to a conference that leads a fellow attendee nodding knowingly. (I believe that may be a bit of foreshadowing, in case you didn’t catch that.) It’s an interesting moment: Tami gets to rail against the test-scores-above-all attitude that have become a much-complained-about problem in the No Child Left Behind era. Will she just be a common sense voice of reason concerning that problem or will the show put her views to the test before it’s through?
(An aside: I still can’t believe we’re looking at the end of this show. There’s so much left to do. Vince and Luke aren’t even seniors. We’ve barely spent any time in Buddy’s bar. I’m not entirely sure why Hastings was even added to the show. He’s done so little. Sure, I know production closed down months ago but… All right. I think I’ve entered the bargaining stage of dealing with this.)
Elsewhere, Vince has thoroughly come around to Coach’s way of thinking, much to the chagrin of his father, who’s now working through a succession of ever-more-suspect back channel deals with various colleges. Though his new attitude has created some tension at home—with his mother getting caught in the middle—it’s also caused the ego that’s separated from everyone else—from Coach to Jess to the rest of the team—to deflate. And it’s not like he has much to be inflated about. He’s forced to win his starting position back and now looking at now viable offers. But he also realizes he’s not back where he started a few years ago and that he primarily has one person to thank for that, the guy who’s decided to stick around.
Another character, however, has found bottom. Tim looks like hell both before and after his release. I’m tempted to make some tacky comment about there being no decent hair product in prison, but Taylor Kitsch portrays how far Tim has fallen in ways beyond his drab, limp locks. This isn’t the Tim of past seasons or even the Tim we glanced briefly at the beginning of this one. He’s been through hell, and he at least partly—and rightly—blames Billy for his torment. We’ve mostly seen the lovably lunkheaded Billy this season, but Tim’s initial refusal to have him testify on his behalf serves as a reminder of his selfish side and how much damage he can do without meaning any real harm.
So what has Tim been through? Why is he so cold not just with Billy but Becky? What will this mean to Becky and her seemingly thriving relationship with Luke? (Even his mom has started saying “hi” to her, a huge step.) “Don’t Go” leaves us to wonder about all that as we near the end of this final, excellent season. I have every reason to believe its winding down will live up to what's come before.
- Where’s Julie? Does anyone know? Do her parents know? Did they know about Chicago?
- Tim’s release happened pretty quickly, didn’t it?
- We don't know who the Lions are playing in the playoffs yet, do we?
- Next week: I'll be on vacation, but fellow FNL devotee Genevieve Koski will be sitting in for me. Then I'm back for the home stretch.