Was there ever any doubt?
Coming after four hours of stumblin’, bumblin’, and fumblin’, tonight’s episode offered resounding proof of why critic-types like myself (and a too-small cadre of disciples) have been declaring Friday Night Lights the best drama on network television. Virtually every scene was beautifully observed and acted, full of exacting dialogue and painful truths, and suffused with authentic emotion. It’s by far the strongest episode of this season and maybe one of the all-time best, though perhaps that’s the lump in my throat talking after watching my beloved show return to form. Lots to talk about here, so let’s get cracking!
Right off the bat, a classic scene between Eric and Tami that I imagine will ring true to any couple trying to recover their libido after months in the desert that is late-term pregnancy and its immediate aftermath. Poor Eric tries for what is probably the standard scene-setting: Candles on the dresser, Linda Ronstadt cooing “Ooh Baby Baby” on the Easy Listening station, kids under wraps. Tami sees right through his routine (“Aren’t you sweet to ask about little old me?”) and opts for sleep over sex, which seems only fair given the child-rearing burden that was placed on her while Eric was off in Austin. How hilarious was it that Eric took Mac’s (not all that terrible) advice on how to get his wife “back in the saddle”? His efforts to get some action from her—doing all the wake-ups, fixing breakfast, buying tulips, scheduling a night out with the Book Club (“Those ladies are crazy,” says Tami)—are almost embarrassingly true to life in revealing just how guys operate. It’s crude, transparent, almost puppy-like in its expectation—and kinda sweet despite its obviousness—but clearly no guarantee of success. And again, I absolutely loved Tami’s matter-of-fact rejection because her breasts were feeling “like concrete.” Really, there’s no other network drama that achieves anything close to this kind of verisimilitude, and certainly no couples that play off each other as wonderfully as Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton.
South of the Border, Lyla has arrived to help keep Street from making a potentially life-threatening mistake. As Riggins put it, the best that could happen to him if he submits to the experimental shark goo surgery is that he’d be out $10,000; the worst, as even his doctor has warned him, is that he’d die on the table. In typical lunk-headed Riggins fashion, he didn’t bother to inform Street that Lyla was coming for a little intervention, so no surprise that he’s a little resentful, especially given the tangled romantic history of this threesome. To show you what a dope I am, I actually thought Street was lost to the ocean when he decided to flip over the side of that “Booze Cruise” boat. Having him silently slip into the waters was chilling to behold, much in the way that jumpers off bridges or buildings don’t scream on their way down; the silence, of course, being an indication that it’s not an accident and that they’ve embraced their own annihilation. It makes sense that Street wouldn’t commit suicide—despite many understandable moments of self-pity, he’s never been a defeatist—but it was quite a feint.
Back on shore, the three make the most of their final days in Mexico, as their euphoria (and lots of alcohol) leads them back into their screwed-up ménage a trois. Lyla forfeits the faith for long enough to plant one on Street and then plant an even bigger one on Riggins before reaching the sober conclusion that perhaps she needs to pray a bit. The hangover from this bit of debauchery promises to be a doozy; it’ll be interesting to see how Riggins and Lyla, especially, reconcile their undeniable attraction with seemingly unresolvable moral differences. Is Taylor Kitsch’s chiseled face handsomer than the face of God? Maybe so.
With the magical Latina nurse out of the picture for the time being, it was great to see so much time given over to Saracen’s problems on and off the field. Turns out, of course, that they’re very much related: In a private meeting with Coach (who serves the boys chili as an offering in much the same spirit as his wife’s tulips), Saracen links his issues with Coach, Smash, and Julie in one concise send-off. He’s a young man of few words, and he makes them count—Dillon was Coach’s stepping stone to TMU, just as high-school football is a stepping stone for Smash to get recruited, just as he’s Julie’s stepping stone to more glamorous destinations like the Swede. The scene ends there and why not? There’s nothing more that needs to be said.
As far as Saracen and Julie are concerned, I thought that was handled perfectly, too. Matt’s a nice guy and nice guys are made into chumps sometimes. For him to accept Julie’s “as friends” invitation to the Decemberists show felt right, despite Landry’s “No, no, no” protestations; sure, Julie hurt him badly, but he misses her company and doesn’t want to turn away her peace offering. He gets some great unspoken advice from Julie’s mom, of all people—in yet another fantastic scene—and his eventual resolve to decline the invitation and tell her how he feels is totally earned. He has a right to be mad at her, even if he’s not generally the type to be mad at anyone.
Finally, we get to the VBM, which I’ve now officially resolved is not the show-killing distraction it appeared to be. After Tyra’s emergence as a “person of interest,” Landry’s dad (played by the great character actor Glenn Morshower, who you might recognize from 24) puts two and two together well enough to know there’s something going on between Tyra and her son, and he does a father’s business in protecting him. That confrontation between Landry and his dad was a marvel to watch: Jesse Plemons, who’s been showing all kinds of dramatic range, plays Landry as a terrible liar because he’s just not accustomed to it. His denial of any knowledge of Tyra’s relationship to the deceased is painfully unconvincing, and we can see the sad recognition of that fact written all over Morshower’s face. His brief, purposeful visit to Tyra is absolutely believable; he hasn’t put all the pieces together entirely, but he knows well enough that she can’t be a part of Landry’s life and she knows it, too.
Still, how goddamned heartbreaking was it to see Tyra have to put the news to Landry, and right after his triumphant debut in a Dillon Panther uniform? The necessary brutality of her break-up speech to Landry (“take a look in the mirror,” “never in a million years,” et al.) reminded me of John Malkovich’s cold rejection of Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Liaisons. “It’s beyond my control,” he says over and over again; even though he doesn’t mean it—on the contrary, he’s fallen in love with her—he has to be cruel in order to ensure a clean break. Likewise, Tyra has to be cruel with Landry, because she loves him, too, and she’s protecting him now just as he did when he wielded that tire iron. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by that.
• Okay, so it’s a little unlikely that Landry would play so pivotal a role in his first game—nay, first play—ever in uniform, but I’m willing to look past it for several reasons: 1. It’s Landry, and it feels good to see him succeed for once, especially with so much on his mind. 2. His triumph on the field makes his heartbreak off of it that much more bittersweet. 3. At least he didn’t catch that final pass for a touchdown.
• Still waiting for Smash to get his very own subplot, though after last season’s so-so developments with the performance-enhancing drugs and the manic-depressive girlfriend, I’m not so sure I’m looking forward to it.
• Coach finally gets a roll in the hay. Good job laying the groundwork, partner.