(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.)
“The March” can really be boiled down to a few dialogue-free moments: Returning victorious from the semifinals to the strains of “Champion Angel” by The Low Anthem, Vince and Coach Taylor both scan the red-and-white crowd, seeking someone they’re not sure they’ll find. Despite the fact that Vince, Eric, and the Lions have a clear, tangible goal they’re marching toward game by game—and, in the nail-biting semifinals sequence, yard by yard—their lives off the field are mired in uncertainty. The journey toward State is thrilling and tangible, while real life is ambiguous and full of doubt.
This sense of uncertainty is magnified in Tim Riggins, who’s as unmoored as we’ve ever seen him this episode. Last season, without the grounding force of the Panthers and Coach Taylor, Tim was pretty directionless; now, as an ex-con who feels out of place in this new, Lions-centric world, he’s completely at sea, with no clear purpose outside of surviving, and that ’07 State ring isn’t going to help him with that.
After evolving into the show’s comic relief over the past few seasons, Riggins is back in first-season brooding mode tonight—and with good reason. Obviously, he was not going to emerge from prison the same guy who went in, and this episode dealt with the unavoidable fallout of his time inside. He spends the episode first passive-aggressively, then aggressive-aggressively berating both Billy and Becky about the current state of the Riggins household, which currently has two members working at The Landing Strip and another member being babysat backstage by a stripper. In his mind, Billy has reneged on their deal (“I screw up my life, you fix yours”), though it’s clear there’s a fair amount of envy and despair coloring his opinion: Seeing Smash (hi, Smash!) run touchdowns for the Aggies and watching Billy lead the Lions in their corny war chant while he changes kegs at Buddy’s serves as a brutal reminder that he has little connection left to the game he loved, and subsequently, the town that still loves it. He copes by alternately retreating and lashing out, which not only costs Becky her job at the Strip but also potentially (and unintentionally) jeopardizes her relationship with Luke, who has to deal with his own uncertainty of whether a corn-fed high-school football star can replace the sexy, sad-eyed Tim Riggins in Becky’s heart. Tim’s pretty toxic this episode, throwing his loved ones into a tailspin because he can’t get a handle on his place in the world. He even makes Mindy cry! Misery may love company, but misery also likes hiding from that company and drinking beer in an Airstream. (Misery should probably get a dog… hey, where’s Skeeter??)
Tim’s problems are rooted in intangibles like envy, self-pity, and his sense of loyalty, but Vince’s problems have an easily identifiable source. I give the Friday Night Lights writers credit for not taking the obvious route with Vince’s dad, at least not right away. When he appeared early in the season, he was an ambiguous figure, seemingly reformed but not entirely redeemed, as capable of improving Vince’s life as of ruining it. His gradual route to villainy was circuitous, taking root in his support of Vince’s football career before branching out into general assholery. For a minute, it seemed like Vince’s dad would ruin his son’s life through blind ambition rather than a boring old relapse—but nope, this week he’s fully returned into his old ways, getting drunk in front of his recovering-addict wife and showing up to dinner with an armful of stolen goods and a pocketful of sinister-looking baggies.
It became obvious a few episodes back that Vince’s dad would not end up being the family’s savior, but that doesn’t make the inevitable any less heartbreaking, particularly watching Michael Jordan (whose work has been particularly excellent this season) try to talk his dad down as he attempts to kick in the door. Now, as he’s facing one of the greatest moments of his life—winning State—he has to worry about his dad dragging his mom down with him again. Thankfully, Regina shows up at the post-semifinal celebration after bailing on the game to go to an emergency NA meeting. There was a moment when Vince was scanning the crowd where it seemed like she wouldn’t, and the moment he spots her is as emotional as that final touchdown was. There’s still time for things to go ass-up in the last couple of episodes, but I hope they don’t; Vince deserves a win off the field, too.
But the biggest shadow looming over the Lions’ victory is the question of whether there even will be a Lions team next year. The murmurs of belt-tightening and resource-conserving that we’ve been hearing in those East Dillon staff meetings all season reach their logical conclusion this episode: budget cuts. Apparently Principal Levi used up all the school’s funding throwing Eric that “please-don’t-leave-us” pep rally, and now the only advice he can offer Coach and the other employees facing major cuts is “pray.” Apparently Coach used up all his prayers on the quarterfinals, though, and the committee decides that Dillon only needs one football team, though they haven’t decided whether the Lions or the Panthers are getting the axe (or perhaps forming a hybrid team… the Jaglions, anyone?). It seems sort of cruel to end Friday Night Lights by dissolving the team we’ve come to love (or the team we used to love two seasons ago, for that matter); then again, it’s hard to imagine the Lions, or even the town of Dillon, existing beyond the show’s end, depriving us of so many triumphant touchdowns and inspiring speeches by Coach—so why not make a clean break?
It seems prescient that Tami interrupts Eric’s griping about having to make further cuts by announcing that she’s going to fly to Philadelphia to interview for an assistant admissions director gig at a sorta-Ivy-League university. (Which is not at all out of the blue, thanks to the convenient introduction of Sympathetic College Admissions Conference Lady last episode.) Despite her constant downplaying and self-effacement, it’s obvious Tami is excited about the gig, which she’s actually passed over for in favor of an offer to become director of admissions, presumably because Braemore College hires based on charm. (I really wish we had heard her response to the hiring committee’s question about her ascent to and descent from principal at Dillon.) Now that there’s a good chance that Coach won’t be Coach next year, State title or no, and he presumably passed over that plush job in Florida, could a move east be in the Taylors’ future? My instinct says no—the town of Dillon is too important to the FNL-iverse for them to abandon it as the series ends—but again, sometimes a clean break can be a good thing. (Plus, spin-off potential: The Taylors go to Philly!)
Now back to that final shot of Coach scanning the crowd, presumably for Tami: He knew she wouldn’t be there, yet he still looked for her. Why? His reaction to her news about the interview was guarded—he seemed more dismayed that she’d be missing a big game than anything else. Deep down, he doesn’t really believe that all this Philly nonsense will lead to anything, yet there he is, alone on the field during his moment of glory. What does this mean for the Taylors? Hard to say, but one thing’s for certain… we’re going to State!
- Your Gracie Bell moment of “awwwww”: Feeding Coach her stuffed tiger’s tail. I love that kid and every square foot of her gigantic head.
- One more time: Hey, it’s Smash! Hi, Smash! (If we can’t get a real Smash guest appearance, can we maybe get Mama Smash in here? Maybe she can get Vince’s dad in line or something.)
- I’ll be interested to see if Jess shadowing Coach is going to pay off somehow in the final episodes. Right now, it seems tacked-on, though her excitement at Coach finally saying “yes” (and Vince’s smile in the background) was adorable.
- “Hastings! Go pick up the ball!” And thus concludes Hastings’ contribution to this episode.
- I guess Julie’s back at school now? She’s been MIA for two episodes.
- It was cute that the Lions came to “pay respect to the God Of D,” but man, that was some salt in the ol’ wound for Tim, no?
- Who’d have thought Tim Riggins of all people would be the one to point out the creepiness of a 17-year-old high-school junior working at a strip club?
- I loved when Luke pulled up as Becky was leaning in to talk to Tim through the driver-side window. She’s a woman caught between trucks.
- Thanks for letting me sit in on FNL this week. No show fills me with more happiness from week to week, and saying goodbye in two weeks is going to be rough. Keith will be back next week for the final stretch.