(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.)
Did everyone catch Coach looking at a picture of Julie and delivering one of those moments when Friday Night Lights says so much without saying anything at all? Here’s a father missing his daughter and worrying how the world’s treating her. (Not so well, as it turns out, but that’s another story.) But he’s also someone who probably doesn’t worry that much about whether or not he’s done everything he could for his kid. Coach was there for her as she grew up, and he’ll be there for her as an adult. Despite any missteps he may have made along the way, he’s a good dad. Whatever he’s feeling in that moment, regret shouldn't enter into it.
Among the show’s dads, he’s the exception this week. Having left her with a nightmare stepmother, Becky’s father first demands she return then effectively pays her off, a move that's sure to win him no awards for parenting. But Billy and Min might, having stepped in at Tim’s request to look after her. Despite Min’s initial misgivings, she now sees Becky as someone who needs her help. And who can blame her? Becky's lost the girlish self-regard that defined her when we first met her last season, and Madison Burge plays her with a winning sweetness. She’s a good kid who’s gotten bad breaks. Is it any wonder then that Luke keeps circling around her? They’re a matched set, but the way Becky looks at that picture of Tim—hey, motif—suggests she might not like him as much as he insists she does.
Becky’s dad may not yet know he’s made mistakes with Becky, but Buddy surely senses he could have done better by Buddy Jr., who returns from California a sullen, sarcastic, unapologetic fuck-up. (He manages to commit theft, vandalism, and underage drinking in his first week back in Dillon.) I like the way Jeff Rosick—whom the IMDB suggests will be around the rest of the season—plays him, making an affable statement then saying something awful without changing his expression (e.g. the segue from talking about Tami’s nice personality to talking about her “rack”). Buddy doesn’t help things early on. Talking about him as if he were a child in front of Tami only deepens their divide. What can fix things? For Buddy, the answer is, as always, football. Is he right? Buddy Jr. seems to recognize he’s bottomed out—or maybe he just doesn’t want to go back to eating seitan, “nature’s meat”—and signs on with the team. But he may be the rawest material with which Coach has ever had to work.
Then again, Vince was pretty raw when he showed up but look at him now: He’s a sought-after star. (Though not the only one: Luke saw some recruitment interest this week, and both earned a trip to TMU.) That’s not necessarily making his life easier. He remains in conflict with his father (Cress Williams), and as his dad ups his charm offensive—showing up at practices and attempting to reignite a romance with Vince’s mom—that conflict deepens. Both Williams and Michael B. Jordan continue to play it intensely and well, and the show remains coy about Vince’s dad’s real intentions. Is he a changed man? Or has the smell of fame and money brought him back into his son’s life? As viewers, we can afford to give him the benefit of the doubt for now, but Vince needs to challenge him at every step. He’s had to put the life his dad shattered back together piece by piece. He’s not sure he could do it again.
Problems with Jess aren’t making things easier. Nothing makes her happier than being an equipment manager—even when Billy takes credit for her coaching tips—and she holds her own with the guys, as if she were one of them. But Vince doesn’t want her to be one of the guys. They fight, and at the dance they sit by each other like an old married couple while others have fun, none of which bodes well for their future.
Of course, they might work it out, where Julie and the TA lothario seem to be headed to a spectacular crash. Most people I’ve talked to aren’t loving this subplot. I think it’s well played and could go somewhere interesting, but in this episode, it feels like it’s hanging out away from the rest of the show. In the past, that’s worked for Julie’s story. It played up her isolation, but here, when we see just enough to move the plot forward, it feels a bit removed from the rest of the show, especially when the show otherwise weaves everything together so nicely.
That’s a small complaint, and I suspect the big picture will make it look different, especially since this season has done a careful job of bringing its overarching themes about parenthood and the responsibility adults have to children into focus. Those are big themes, but Friday Night Lights has never shied away from big themes. I wouldn’t expect that to change as it looks to the end.
- So all this time I’ve been referring to the troubled girl whom Tami has made a special project as “Epic” when really it’s “Epyck.” How silly of me. There’s been some development on the Epyck front this week, but I suspect we won’t get the full story or figure out what kind of bad parenting has screwed her up until later.
- Great episode for Stacey Oristano as Mindy. She’s always quietly been a star player, so it’s nice to see her get more to do. And I loved her description of the indignities of stripping during the day time.
- I know, as I’ve admitted before, only a little about football and even less about the particulars of college recruitment. Is the show’s presentation believable?
- Looks like we’re getting Buddy’s story piece by piece. That bar and grill isn’t an expansion of his empire. More like an exile, the car dealership having been mothballed.
- And what to make of the TMU scene. Did they want Luke at all?
- Epyck's dude friend is credited as "Epyck's Dude."