“Speaking of pieces of tail… Lyla Garrity.”—Billy Riggins
“Eyes Wide Open” (season one, episode two; originally aired 10/10/2006)
“Wind Sprints,” (season one, episode three; originally aired 10/17/2006)
Buddy and Lyla Garrity are two of the most frustrating characters in all of Friday Night Lights; no wonder they’re related. They’re both pigheaded—Lyla expresses it in a more feminine way, but her doe-eyed cheeriness in both of today’s episodes is just masked stubbornness. And Buddy Garrity, clearly, can’t let go of an idea once he’s sunk his teeth into it. He leads Coach Taylor right into Voodoo’s living room, because he has an idea about what needs to happen—in fact, what is going to happen.
The thing is, both Buddy and Lyla are mourning—they just happen to mourn in a really infuriating way. Buddy has become the voice of every single one of Coach Taylor’s demons and fears, a nagging presence at the edge of the screen that won’t shut up or go away. Lyla responds with a cheeriness that seems to erase what has happened—and also sort of erases reality; she’s convinced that Jason is going to walk again, and that everything is going to go back to the way it once was. It’s only at the end of these two hours, in the closing moments of “Wind Sprints,” that Lyla Garrity lets herself feel any of this—and then that takes an unexpected turn, because she collapses right into the arms of Tim Riggins.
Football, and the Panthers in particular, are integral to how both Lyla and Buddy see themselves. Not just to their identities as town booster/former champ and cheerleader/girlfriend, but also to how they literally derive meaning out of their lives. Without a winning football team, Buddy Garrity is just a sad-sack car salesman in the middle of nowhere, and Lyla Garrity is his pretty-for-now, not-very-skilled teenage daughter. Football offers them both glory of a sorts; it offers them, and the entire town of Dillon, a kind of immortality. It’s no surprise that “Eyes Wide Open” opens with the town at church. Football is just as much a part of the religion of Dillon as Jesus is—perhaps more so. And Buddy and Lyla are adherents to the faith. Buddy’s total conviction in the rightness of his actions as he peppers Coach Taylor with questions after Riggins walks off the field is equal to Lyla’s total conviction that she can pull aside a random doctor in the hallway to hang up the poster for Jason. The coach is there for Buddy. The doctor is there for her.
In these two episodes, Lyla Garrity is so lost she doesn’t even know it. It erupts in a naïveté that is painful to watch. There is no better encapsulation of Lyla’s quandary than her upbeat-verging-on-desperate assertion to Jason Street, as he’s lying in bed, acutely aware that he cannot even pick up a pen: “You are Jason Street and I am Lyla Garrity, and everything is going to work the way we planned it.” It’s shocking that she shows up to the hospital in her cheerleading uniform—shocking, and utterly predictable. Who is she without the uniform, anyway?
Given what we know about the Garrity marriage, it’s also telling that Buddy and his wife Pam quarrel about Lyla’s devotion to Jason—because Buddy doesn’t really get her objections. Pam is all for Lyla cutting her losses and ditching Jason (for another football player, perhaps?)—which is a little cavalier, for sure. But on the other hand, if it were your daughter, wouldn’t you worry about her rushing into the idea of marrying a man with special needs, at the tender age of 17 or 18?
I don’t like Lyla Garrity—in the sense that, I don’t think we’d ever be friends. We would have nothing to talk about. Given that, it’s incredible that Lyla is so sympathetic and vulnerable in these first few episodes. She’s a pretty, popular cheerleader—the essence of Tom Petty’s “good girl” from “Free Fallin’,” that paean to small-town teenage innocence. She loves Jesus, and her boyfriend too. In later episodes, Friday Night Lights struggles a bit with her character, in part because Lyla is so damn intractable—she doesn’t give herself a lot of room to grow, so she goes to host a Christian radio show.
But in these two episodes, much is said about Lyla mostly by implication. Lyla has almost no female friends that we can see—maybe she’s friendly with some of the cheerleaders, but maybe she’s not, too. She doesn’t get on with the rally girls. And she doesn’t get on with Tyra, either. It’s a stereotype, partly because it rings so true: Lyla is the type of girl that has trouble making female friends because she’s either competing with them or jealous of them. So her primary relationships in her life are her family and her boyfriend. And regardless of her other skills, she, and the world around her, have been satisfied with pigeonholing her just as “the pretty girl.” She is a cheerleader who wants to get married to the quarterback.
When I first watched Friday Night Lights, the scene where Lyla attack-kisses Tim Riggins outside in the rain was what hooked me into the show. (In case you didn’t know, I am shamelessly susceptible to ’shipping.) It’s desperate, it’s passionate, and it’s tragic—it is immediately such a bad idea, but it’s also somehow so reasonable. Lyla has to do something to break out of the very constrained identity she has made for herself, because she is suffocating; none of the choices she is about to make will be easy from here on out. What better way than to sleep with the worst possible guy—the bad-boy, alcoholic best friend?
There are some laughable things about Friday Night Lights—by the end of these two episodes, the shaky-cam extreme close-up had already begun to grate on me. I find it more distracting than engaging, much of the time. But it’s hard to deny how powerfully it lays out the stories of its characters—characters who are some of our society’s most disenfranchised.
These two episodes have many stories baked in—Saracen and Landry and Julie and Smash and Riggins will all need to be discussed, in-depth, at some point. But the other character I want to talk about is Tyra, who begins to have more of a character in these two episodes. She’s mostly just a hot girl in the first episode, positioned as the whore opposite Lyla’s virgin. The show, smartly, works on unpacking those positions—which are so easily thrown around both in church and in high school—even when the rest of the town doesn’t.
In “Eyes Wide Open,” Smash’s mother Corrina catches Tyra in bed with Smash, which perhaps shouldn’t be as funny as it is. Corrina (played by Liz Mikel) observes, with just the slightest annoyance, that Smash should not be “messing around with white girls.” Then she asks Tyra if she’s trying to get back at Tim Riggins. Tyra snaps, “What are you, a shrink?” And Corrina, totally unfazed, responds: “Oh, I’d be nice. I work at Planned Parenthood, you ain’t seen the last of me.” Then, over Tyra’s ruffled dignity, she packs the girl into the car and drives her home.
Tyra is getting back at Riggins, naturally—because he’s a terrible boyfriend. Tyra might not be much like Lyla in terms of town pedigree or behavior, but the value system is the same: If she can’t keep her man happy, she’s less valuable as a person. So she, too, throws herself at another man—Smash, the one guy Riggins really hates.
But it’s also fascinating that she throws herself at a black man. The two make the first interracial couple you see on-screen in Friday Night Lights, and though it’s only the second episode, it’s sort of jarring—the palette of the show has clearly defined spaces for both its black characters and its white ones. “Eyes Wide Open” starts with church, but there are two churches: the black church, and the white church. Both are praying for the same thing, but the town of Dillon does not pray together.
I don’t know exactly what the politics of West Texas are like—maybe there are a lot of white women sleeping with black men in Dillon, and we just don’t see them. But it is a socially charged, loaded combination—and Corrina quickly diagnoses it when she walks in the door. It’s not that Smash can’t mess around; it’s that getting involved with a white girl is bad news. And if Tyra is interested in transgressing, crossing the racial line is just another way in which she’s not Lyla Garrity, and never will be.
But the best part of this whole moment is that Corrina drives Tyra home. It’s an indication that both women can be better than the racial politics of the past, I think—a mutual agreement that yes, driving Tyra home is the best way to handle the situation. Corrina isn’t going to mother Tyra, and Tyra isn’t going to ask Corrina to be a mentor. But they will equably coexist in the car, while Corrina (most likely) asks Tyra why a girl so smart would run after boys who are so stupid—her son included.
Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose:
- I skimped on writing about the climax of “Wind Sprints,” where Coach Taylor drags the entire team out to the field in the middle of the night. It seems like a terrible kind of torture to me, the least athletic person in the world. But despite that—the sound editing, the dark and rainy shadows that are the football players, and the monologue from Kyle Chandler make this gulag-style torture into an ecstatic dance.
- “How high do you think I can count, Smash?”
- The Family Coach: The Taylors’ date at Chili’s is a fantastic moment of two equals meeting for battle; Connie Britton and Chandler have an astonishing ability to bounce one word off of each other, back and forth, and give it new meanings and inflections each time. This week, it’s “interaction,” which Coach doesn’t want and Mrs. Coach maybe does, so he can just grow up. Also hi, the Taylors have ruined me for real marriage—which is to say, they’ve actually made me bizarrely hopeful that I’ll find and marry my own other half.
- “Field’s empty; let’s go make out.”
- The rally girls freak me the hell out, and Friday Night Lights knows it. The script unapologetically makes everything Matt’s rally girl says to him sound like she’s selling her body for sex. “Okay, I’m yours. So what do you like, Matt?” She doesn’t even get a name.
- “Eyes Wide Open” is also the first time we see the wonderful montage that is the title sequence. It also ends with a heart-stopping kickoff in the pitch-black night; it’s a beautiful episode.
- In an episode that introduces a lot of interesting women and their voices, there’s this all-too-real line from Coach Taylor: “Saracen’s just fine. Throwing like a girl, but fine.”