For those just tuning in, I watched the third season of Friday Night Lights when it aired on DirecTV last fall. All, that is, except for the season finale, which ran during a time when DirecTV decided it didn’t like me and broadcast only static for a week. (We’ve since made up.) And so I’ve been left in suspense in the meantime. Well, suspense of a sort: Season three’s penultimate episode was clearly the climax of the year’s various plots, leaving this one to handle epilogue duty. It also could easily have ended up wrapping up the series and not just the season. We now happily know that Friday Night Lights will return for two more 13-episode runs through the same sharing agreement between DirecTV and NBC that brought us this season. So, yay. That’s a good thing.
Watching the episode at hand, however, I kept thinking how I would have reacted to it if I didn’t know that, and I think a lot of it would have bothered me. I know it may be the last time we’ll be seeing some of these characters. But if it were the last time we saw all of them, I think I would have been left wanting a lot more. Fortunately, that’s not the case. In fact, the episode plays like a calculated gamble from show runner Jason Katims, who penned this episode, to set up the then-unsure next season. Rather than tying up the stories of our favorite Dillonites, it sends them heading off into the sunset on paths that jut off in unexpected directions at the last moment.
As the opening title informs us, the action is now five months after the Panther’s failed championship bid. (Nice touch, starting with a baseball game.) And as the montage informs us, life has gone on. Coach and Buddy have becoming golfing pals, Billy’s still getting married, and Julie/Matt, Landry/Tyra, and Tim/Lyla all remain happily coupled. A waffle breakfast brings us further up to speed: Matt’s going to the Art Institute Of Chicago, Lyla and Tim are going to San Antonio State, and Tyras’ still waiting to hear from UT. Much of the rest of the episode involves getting them where they’re going, even if it’s not where they think they’re going.
Same with Coach. Let’s deal with that first, since it has the most far-reaching implications for future seasons. Coach is out at Dillon thanks to a revenge scheme from monster dad Joe McCoy. (Didn’t anyone else find themselves stifling an “Oh shit” when the episode hit that shot of Coach walking up to the McCoy house.) And while it’s left undecided whether he’ll take the job at the rundown, reopened East Dillon High as the episode ends, I don’t think there’s much doubt about that. As a set-up for season four, it’s pretty brilliant, if a little too convenient. And I’m not sure that I believe someone at Coach’s professional level wouldn’t be snatched up by another powerhouse school rather than taking over at what amounts to a new school with no football program. But we’ve already learned that applying real-world logic to FNL doesn’t really get us anywhere, right? And who would want to deny the show its chance to have Coach lead a bunch of scrappy kids already counted out by the redistricting maneuvers up against his hated McCoy rival?
Where Coach’s next step remains all-but-taken as the episode ends, others paths remain unclear. Katims sets Matt up to go to AIC as Grandma Saracen heads into a nursing home, then gets drawn back. (“You’re the only person who’s never left me.” Jeez… if that doesn’t bring tears to your eyes. But it’s hard to see his decision as the right choice in the long run.) Lyla’s headed to San Antonio with Tim then to Vanderbilt. Tim then uses that an excuse to bail on college altogether and stay with his brother—a development the episode spends an hour setting up—only to have his brother spurn his offer to stay behind at the last moment. Tyra’s heading to certain rejection, and then not.
The episode handles all these whiplash turns pretty well, and with just a touch more grandiosity than it usually offers, particularly the arrival of Tyra’s acceptance letter. (That’s not a complaint; it’s earned those moments.) Julie’s sort-of goodbye to Matt and Lyla and Tim’s heart-to-heart were both beautifully played. (And the latter served as another reminder how good those two have gotten as the series has progressed.) My favorite scene, however, was the one between Julie and Tami in the car as Julie realizes just how rapidly everything is changing around her. Like a lot of kids, high school graduation provides the first stark reminder that nothing, even the things we love, lasts forever. Sometimes they don’t even last for long.
The show, on the other hand, will last at least a little while longer. So whatever faults this episode might have had a series finale, they don’t matter as much as a season finale. And as I revisited these episodes and the posts from last fall, I realized I underrated what turned out to be a very fine stretch of episodes, maybe in part because I was looking at it as the show’s last gasp. I was wrong about that and wrong in some of my conclusions. So let’s bump this one up a grade from my first instinct and leave the season with..
- Nice throwaway line there about Smash tearing it up at Texas A&M.
- Next year: Would you rather see these posted twice, once for the DirecTV run and again when it airs on NBC? Or should we just wait until the NBC run? I’m kind of leaning the latter since the division really seems to have cut into the discussion. Either that or there are fewer A.V. Club readers watching this great show than I suspected. (Or maybe I just did a lousy job.)
- Also, if this entry contains references to scenes not in the NBC version that’s because I broke down and watched it before it aired anyway. I am sorry.