Oh VBM, why did I defend thee so vigorously?
After last week’s glorious episode, we’re back in the soup again with this strong but somewhat problematic hour, which was hampered mainly by further developments in the Landry situation. Followers of this blog know that I’ve grown to appreciate this subplot to a large degree, even while acknowledging that it’s outside the well-defined boundaries that the show has established. Put simply, I love what it’s brought out of Landry (and the actor Jesse Plemons, who’s been brilliant); good dramas put characters in situations that reveal who they are and the VBM has shown us the depth of his character—his guilt and anxiety, his devotion to Tyra, his troubled but powerful bond with his father, and the darker side of a guy who’s better known as a clowning outcast. I don’t really see Landry as a killer per se, but a kid who made a grave mistake that could resonate through much of his life. He’s changed fundamentally as a person, and while that costs us the sweet-natured goofball we used to love, that evolution has paid dividends, too.
Tonight, the case against Landry—legally speaking, anyway—appears to be closed, now that his father has snuffed out his involvement and taken steps to protect him by setting fire to the station wagon, which is the only shred of evidence connecting Landry to the case. There’s nothing wrong with the way these scenes are handled; on the contrary, that confrontation in the garage between Landry and his dad (Glenn Morshower can’t be praised enough for his work here) is convincing and quite moving to behold. And yet burning the car felt like the pat resolution to a disturbing subplot: With nothing else linking Landry to the victim, life can go on as if the VBM never happened and I’m concerned that the show’s writers are putting it all behind them.
Still, it’s possible that those concerns are needless. Following this show week-by-week can be tricky, because subplots that seem at first like go-nowhere detours can turn out to be much better executed down the line. There’s no greater example of that this season than Street and Riggins’ adventures in Mexico, which took us well out of our Dillon comfort zone but wrapped up beautifully last week. Much as VBM-haters will squirm at the thought, I’m hoping that the Landry situation will continue to leave a residue for a long time to come; his actions carry too much gravity to tie up too hastily. Burning that car felt uncomfortably like a resolution to me, and I don’t think it can ever be resolved, at least not in Landry’s conscience or the consciences of those who know what he’s done.
In any case, “How Did I Get Here?” was a great episode for Street, who at this point has to be one of the tougher characters to write for. The writers have turned a potential liability into an asset. We’ve been through Street’s paralysis and (partial) recovery, his painful break-up with Lyla and related estrangement from his best friend Riggins, his bouts of defeatism with the lawsuit and the Mexico adventure, his resilience with Murderball and the assisting coaching gig. The question now becomes, “Where does he go from here?” I thought for a second last week that he goes to the bottom of the ocean, but this week the show ekes drama out of that question, as Street wonders how to change his life in a town where nothing ever changes. It’s a painful question to consider for a guy who probably dreamed of college ball and the NFL, was certain of his future with Lyla, and planned to leave Dillon for bigger and brighter destinations. Now he’s just a wheelchair-bound young man, out of school, with no girlfriend and no prospects outside a slow crawl up the high-school coaching ladder. And Street’s just too restless a guy to accept such a sorry lot in life.
(Aside: How great were the scenes between Street and Coach tonight? That first exchange, where Coach pleads with Street to come back to job, was almost Mamet-like in its clipped, shorthand dialogue. They know each other so well that complete sentences aren’t necessary, at least not until later, when Street decides to quit again and Coach accepts his reasons as tenderly as if he were his own son. When it’s running well, FNL usually has at least one scene that leaves a lump in my throat and this was it.)
What else? Tami’s sister is in town to ruffle a few feathers with her free-wheeling lifestyle, which irritates Tami in large part because she knows that she’s dug out a cozy little rut for herself in Dillon and can’t enjoy the pleasures that Costa Rica, the Dixie Chicks, and a nice glass of wine have to offer. The contrast between the siblings was too broadly sketched, but there’s a lot of truth in Tami’s line about having to spend 16 years caring for Gracie, only to raise another bratty teenager who’ll be mean to her. On balance, she has the life she wants in Dillon, but the grass is always greener.
In less interesting news, Lyla’s hog-wrestlin’ juvy project Santiago is brought to Coach as a football prospect, but he’s a little raw—and by a little, I mean he doesn’t seem to have watched a football game in his life, much less played in one. The ending implies that he might have a place in the Dillon Panthers inner circle, but I’ve yet to see much personality from him. At least the show’s other newcomer, Saracen’s magical nurse Carlotta, remains out of the picture while he explores life on the rebound; it won’t stick, but it’s nice to see him finally notice the options his QB1 status affords him.
• Hilarious line from Coach when Tami’s sister says she could bounce a quarter off her ass: “You could bounce all kinds of things.” (Pervy aside: Amen, brother.)
• Nothing with Smash is ever a mystery. Right now, Smash needs Riggins because Smash needs to get his touches and his yards. There’s something endearing about his transparency, especially in contrast with his “broodin’” fullback.
• The Julie we used to know has finally returned. Welcome back.
• Percy Daggs III, who played Wallace Fennel, my favorite supporting player on the late, lamented Veronica Mars turned up in a frickin’ Hot Pockets commercial tonight. Somebody please give this kid a real job.