Friday Night Lights: “El Accidente” / “Homecoming”
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Friday Night Lights: “El Accidente” / “Homecoming”

“Mostly, you annoy.”

“El Accidente” (season one, episode six; originally aired 11/7/2006)
“Homecoming” (season one, episode seven; originally aired 11/14/2006)

We are all Landry Clarke.

Seriously—well before Jesse Plemons went on to play Todd in Breaking Bad, he held this show together—largely because he is like us. One of the best thing about Friday Night Lights is that it makes football, and football problems, interesting to non-football people. And the vast majority of us, even if we love football, are hardly professional-level football players. In this show, the players do a lot of talking, as do the coaches, the boosters, the cheerleaders, and the fans.

But so does Landry—and Landry is one of the most important voices in Friday Night Lights, one that keeps the show from turning into nostalgic cotton candy. Landry’s the show’s built-in ombudsman—the one asking, wait, why are we all doing this? And though he’s not the only one to ask the question—as I brought up last week, Tyra does a lot of that asking, too—he unexpectedly finds himself with one of the most privileged ears in Dillon: his best friend, Matt Saracen.

Landry’s friendship with Saracen is such a smart move for the show to have established early on. Saracen is so shy and slow that it’s hard to learn much about him from listening to him talk; Landry, meanwhile, goes a mile a minute. Half the time he seems to be mostly talking to himself, though Saracen is usually (half-) listening. He’s bursting with ideas about the world, and he has a strong sense of how things should be, too. He’s also hopelessly uncool, because most of us are, in high school.

At the risk of pigeonholing all of us, I feel that most of us reading or writing reviews here at The A.V. Club were far more like Landry than we were like Tim Riggins. Sure, we’re all nerds; but it’s more than that. Nobody really is Tim Riggins, because Tim Riggins is more legend than man. But we are all Landry. We are all not quite fitting in, too smart for our own good, trying to do some version of the right thing, and hounding Matt Saracen to just ask Julie out, already. Where Lyla, Tim, and Jason sometimes attain the aspects of mythical characters, Landry is always (sometimes too) real.

Up until now he’s been a wisecracking presence lurking on the edges of his scenes with Saracen, providing running commentary to the slow transformation taking place on Saracen’s face. But in this episode he pushes himself to go against the grain, and speak out against the town and team’s protection of one of its football stars. It gets him into some trouble, but he just can’t stand it anymore. And though Landry’s stand turns into an opportunity for Saracen to experience some growth, there is something wholly authentic and appreciable about Landry’s lost faith in football—which is mirrored by Kurt Castor and worse, Kurt’s mother.

I am from Florida, so it was with some personal investment and dawning horror that I discovered the cover-up behind Jameis Winston’s rape accusation—a case that followed Jerry Sandusky’s scandal at Penn State but apparently failed to learn anything from it. We have, as a culture, determined that football is more important than rape. Or, really, than most things: Just today, Deadspin offered an infographic that demonstrated just how much our state governments value football.

Even I am susceptible to football culture (and rape culture, too)—I knew Winston had been accused in December, while everyone was watching the championship games. I knew that his accuser had been shamed, discouraged, and pushed out of the public forum. I decided not to be a killjoy about it. I don’t really know why, except I assumed that maybe I didn’t understand the whole situation, and I didn’t want to offend anyone.

What I’m saying here is that I played Saracen in this case, not Landry. I kept my mouth shut—for too long, really. I said above that we’re all Landry. Saracen has the same questions and doubts. Saracen is Landry, too—he’s just not quite brave enough to really pull it off. (It’s okay, Matt. You’ll get there.)

Jameis Winston carried the FSU team to an undefeated season. The Noles went on to win the BCS National Championship Game against Auburn, 34-31, in the first week of 2014. The article above that exposes the willful mismanagement in the investigation against Winston was published on April 16. That’s too long. The investigation has gone cold. Winston is a champion and a star; he’s going to get away with it.

So the question is, why?

The why is that Coach Taylor loves football. He is sitting there out on the lawn with his wife in West Texas, and he says it with such sudden, forceful feeling. “I love football.” He could have said he loved his daughter, or his wife, or Texas. But no: He loves football. The love makes the price of the game worth it—or so he believes.

Coach Taylor, clearly, isn’t the only one. If Friday Night Lights works to expose the hypocrisies and politics of football, it also works to demonstrate that love. Friday Night Lights draws you into the love of the game that the town of Dillon has, and it’s a complicated, heartbreaking love—because like Landry, we know at what cost the game comes.

This week, the costs include: Jason’s legs (and penis, as it turns out); Kurt Castor’s sense of dignity; Reyes’ football career; Smash’s sobriety, such as it is; Lucas Mines’ whole life; and Riggins’ heart, sort of. It’s too much. For anyone outside this world, it’s too much. But I think this is part of Friday Night Lights’ mission—to show us who might not get it what the culture of football is really about. It is not without its flaws. Not all coaches are Coach Taylor, as the New York Times article above persuasively demonstrates. But there is goodness here, too.

“El Accidente” is a simple but well-balanced episode of Friday Night Lights, one that uses the altercation between Reyes and Castor as an opportunity to let men of principle be men of principle. Saracen’s strained friendship with Landry—and eventual reconciliation—immediately is compared to the same circumstances between Riggins and Street. There the similarities end, but there’s a lot of tender bromance in the episode—and a lot of communication of expectations and boundaries. These are men who care about each other, and that is the basis, on some level, of a team in sport.

“Homecoming” is a shaggier episode, but damn, I love it. On a story level, it doesn’t quite deliver the complete arcs that “El Accidente” does. It’s a far more deconstructed and impressionistic episode—in a way that recalls the pilot episode. But it also plays the viewer like a violin, eliciting all the required notes and then finishing with a flourish. I don’t even really like Jason Street, but his return to the Panthers field is totally heartbreaking.

And though “El Accidente” flirts with the theme I talked about above, it’s “Homecoming” that really gets into the price of football. It doesn’t just introduce plot elements—it sells exactly how heartbreaking they are. Lucas Mines, who also loves football, and just doesn’t know who he is without it. He got coddled for too long, and then he lost his scholarship, and the castle came crashing down. And that’s it; it’s over. He doesn’t even really know it’s over. But it’s over. Smash, who gets fired up over a scout, and then works himself into nervous anxiety. And Jason, of course, whose life is entirely destroyed; the reality of that is sinking in, episode after episode. He’s got a catheter for the urine dripping out of his body. He has to train his body how to poop again. He can’t have sex anymore, because if he ejaculates, he could leak semen into his bladder. He was one of the most physically able and attractive people on the planet. Now he is in a wheelchair.

And the sudden change in his state really hits home when he breaks through the Panthers flag for the homecoming game—rolling out onto the grass to an audience that is, at first, silent. He can’t even really use his fingers yet, so when he pushes through the flag, his hands are unnaturally curled into half-fists. He waves with the fists and cheers with the fists and at the end of the episode, he takes the football Riggins gives him with the fists. And somehow, even though he will probably regain use of his hands, it’s the curled, ineffectual hands that are the hardest to confront.

“Homecoming” is a powerful episode for another reason: The poet wins. Riggins is a creature of odd grace; unpredictable, but predictably sincere. He’s unreliable because he will always do exactly what he feels he will do, and often, he feels that he will drink a lot right now. It’s that honesty to his own feelings that gets him tangled up with Lyla and snapping at Tyra, and it’s that honesty that kept him away from Jason for too long. And it’s that honesty that saves him, even as Jason begins to suspect the truth. Riggins stops drinking for Lyla; he wins the game for Jason. Then he hands off his game-day ball. “I love you like a brother. Like a brother, Six.” It is just a true statement. The rest doesn’t even matter.

Friday Night Lights is not just the only show that has sold me on football as a culture; it’s also the only show that has sold me on the meandering process of forgiveness and acceptance that can come after someone cheats on someone else. Both Tim and Lyla cheated on Jason; but it’s also so painfully clear how much they both love him. Riggins ends “El Accidente” with: “The three of us can get through anything.” And he really means it. That is love. And teamwork, for what it’s worth.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose:

  • The only problem with “Homecoming” is Tyra’s party story, which is oddly disconnected from the rest of the episode. It’s not a bad story, but it certainly indicates that the writers didn’t quite know what to do with Tyra, even in just the sixth episode.
  • That being said, Landry and Tyra were bound to collide at some point—they’re both so critical of football, and yet so close to it. (Julie, too, but she has Saracen to deal with.)
  • The Family Coach: I neglected Julie terribly in the last review, but that’s okay—because these two episodes are great for her. Julie’s reaction to Matt Saracen doing anything is very funny—both knowing and surprised simultaneously, a young woman getting a handle on her own power. She likes him, obviously; he makes her more nervous than she’d like to admit. I can’t believe “Homecoming” ends without clearly coming down on whether or not they’re going on a freaking date. Aimee Teegarden is such a winning actress, and also, her hair is crimped for the homecoming party, which is just perfect.
  • Also, Buddy Garrity can just quit cockblocking Tami and Eric, don’t you think?
  • “Am I speaking to the guidance counselor or my wife?” Busted.
  • “Why didn’t you save some Jello for the other patients, Street?”
  • Julie, on Landry and Saracen’s split: “You two look pretty pathetic without each other.”
  • “I’m confiding in you, bro! Just because I have stumps, do I not bleed?”
  • “I pry, I prod, I wheedle.” “Yeah, mostly, you annoy.”
  • Reyes sounds like “race,” which is kind of hard to not read into.
  • Taylor Kitsch drops a Canadian “aboot” into his game-day ball speech. It’s okay, we forgive him.

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