So far there haven’t been a lot of outright villains in the Friday Night Lights universe unless you count abstract concepts like “entrenched prejudice” and “youthful myopia.” But D.W. Moffett’s Joe McCoy has given Dillon a proper heel. The character doesn’t have a lot of shades, but Moffett’s done a wonderful job making him seem detestable without a lot of visible effort. Is he, as Buddy suggests, a cancer? Tough to say. Buddy laments the Panther Boosters of old and the show suggests his displacement as the Alpha Booster has changed the whole tone of the town and brought out the worst elements of its football enthusiasm. I’m not sure Friday Night Lights has drawn that great a distinction between the football madness of previous seasons and this one, but with Moffett as the figurehead, it doesn’t necessarily have to. The way he looks over those glasses when confronted by Tami or Coach or, now, Buddy makes him the most punchable man on television.
Making the Panthers the team of villains has its practical applications, too, since the East Dillon Lions need to play scrappy underdog Mets to the Panthers’ dynastic Yankees. (Sorry I don’t know a more apt NFL rivalry… Giants and Jets, maybe?) And they are looking pretty scrappy, even with those new uniforms they desperately need, even if neither the school nor Coach can afford them. This leads to a loud, raw, and well-handled Coach and Tami dust-up that works itself out in typically touching fashion. The tension goes away but the underlying problem—that Coach is starting to recognize just how over his head he’s gotten, even without the $3000 debt—remains.
The team’s raggedness is, of course, much of the problem. Beneath their unpracticed performance on the field, there’s a lot of talent. But that’s a problem of a different kind. Vince and Luke have got the goods and yet they spends much of the episode in separate corners feeling neglected and disrespected by Coach. He attempts to inspire Luke by charging him with leadership. But in paying attention to Luke he ends up neglecting Vince and their helmet-off confrontation, fueled by the racial distrust reinforced by Vince's friend on the basketball court, gave this otherwise low-key episode its most electric moment. I like both these characters but I think it’s smart, and dramatically interesting, to make their stories run parallel for now. Both have talent, yet that may not be enough to overcome the challenges ahead of them and neither has a reason to like the other. And with a season short on certainty, there’s no guarantee either of them, much less both, will get where they want to go.
Julie also spends much of the episode staring down uncertainty. Outside The Simpsons, few shows address churchgoing, much less religion. Friday Night Lights’ has never shied away from church scenes, but Julie’s crisis of faith—if crisis is the right word since it seems more like creeping doubt—is something new. Connie Britton and Aimee Teegarden handled it beautifully. Julie’s a smart kid trying to reconcile intellectual curiosity with the beliefs she’d been handed. Tami’s someone who recognizes that family, community, and values can serve as an anchor in a turbulent world. No one’s right or wrong here, and I loved the moment when Tami holds her daughter and refers to faith as “something that can hold you when I won’t be able to hold you anymore” and Julie stares off unconvinced. It felt true, and even if the show never returns to the topic it will have already have said plenty.
Between being quizzed about her doubt and verbally abused by Richard Sherman, Julie has it rough this episode. She’s been nothing of supportive of Matt, yet Matt’s new mentor can only see her, and presumably all women, as an impediment. So far Sherman’s tortured artist persona has felt a little familiar to me, though he’s well acted by John Diehl. But his pep talk, for want of a better term, with Matt does raise some interesting questions. If, as Sherman insists, Matt has to be selfish to be an artist, can he ever be an artist? Selfishness doesn’t seem to be in his DNA. Maybe the issue is whether or not Matt can prove Sherman’s lived his life as a cliché. The shot of Matt looking at up at the metal angel, moved for the first time by Sherman’s work, suggests he’s willing to give up more than he’d ever thought he could give up before in the name of art, however.
Elsewhere, there was plenty of action moving several plots forward in a busy episode that set up plenty for future episodes. I’ll save them for the…
• Landry becoming a kicker makes sense, doesn’t it? And the Landry/Jess plot seems to be developing rather quickly, thanks in part to her unexpected skills as a kicking coach. Her reveal that her father almost went pro is a bit convenient, but it sets up Steve Harris to play a larger role in weeks to come.
• Riggins’ landlady’s daughter (Madison Burge) made her intentions a little clearer tonight. So far this plot interests me the least, since it seems to repeat the everyone-in-Dillon-wants-jailbait themes of past seasons. Also, the age gap between Burge and Taylor Kitsch appears to be about ten years greater than the gap between their characters’ ages adding to the potential ick factor. That said, I’m not sure where this is going.
• Buddy’s meltdown was pretty righteous, but who is he if not a Panther Booster? No wonder he was downing four beers to Coach’s one. Julie may have questioned her faith, but Buddy appeared truly in the midst of a spiritual identity crisis this week.