“Who’s Your Daddy” (season one, episode four; originally aired 10/24/2006)
“Git’er Done” (season one, episode five; originally aired 10/30/2006)
Voodoo is not a good character. The meaning of that—“good character”—is twofold: He’s not a well-drawn or particularly nuanced character, and he’s also the bad guy. I get that he was never supposed to be more than a caricature, but even the first time I watched this show, in a dazzled blitz, something about Voodoo seemed off to me.
It’s a little too easy for me. I’m as tired as anyone of the antihero narrative on television—ooh, you mean to say the bad guy is really the good guy, and that dualities like good and bad are easy to label, but hard to define?—but at the same time, seeing a character like Voodoo, I can see why the deconstruction of the villain became a thing.
Voodoo is presented as a very hard young man. From the start, he’s coded “bad”—it’s his slouch as he walks into a room; his calculated negotiation with Buddy Garrity and Coach Taylor about playing for the Panthers; even the tilt of his head as he’s listening to someone, and the dour, sinister expression on his face. Voodoo never smiles. He has nothing to smile about. Even when moments of softness are introduced into his character, they’re presented as merely distractions from our gut feeling about the guy—he can’t be trusted.
I wish that Friday Night Lights had not done this to Voodoo, though I get it. I just think there’s probably more to a Katrina survivor who has been transplanted to the relative hellhole that is West Texas, away from his friends, his school, and his community. Voodoo makes me think of the boys in Bunny’s first day at high school in Baltimore, in the fourth season of The Wire: So used to being called the bad guy that they have fully convinced themselves they are the bad guys.
But Friday Night Lights sidelines Voodoo so that it can sing the Lovesong Of Matt Saracen, and it does that admirably. I think it’s somewhat impossible to not love Saracen, because even though he’s a quintessential jock, he’s also unfailingly kind. And where Voodoo is hulking, unsmiling, and cocksure, Saracen is shy, stammering, and insecure. Even the physical difference between the presence of both men on-screen is alarming: Aldis Hodge, who plays Voodoo, is a dark-skinned black man, and often his eyes are the only part of his body that demonstrate animation. Zach Gilford’s Saracen, meanwhile, is so pale as to be pasty, even though he’s out in the sun all day playing football.
There’s a racial component to the story between Voodoo and Saracen. We know very well already that Dillon is a pretty segregated town—the white and black churches indicated that to us in the second episode. Buddy Garrity might stump for Voodoo on the field, but what if Voodoo wanted to date his daughter, as Jason Street did? It’s easier for the town, and for Coach Taylor, to dismiss Voodoo and embrace Saracen, because Voodoo is literally painted by both the show and the community as The Other. He’s not just a stranger—he’s also black. So of course he’s the enemy, and of course he’s angry, and of course he makes a crucial mistake because of his own arrogance.
I don’t doubt the realism of this story—or the values of the show’s writers. If anything, I think it’s more honest that the story went down this way. It’s not Friday Night Lights’ job to recast Texas to be something it’s not—or to recast football into something it’s not. But the impression I got from this story between Matt and Voodoo is not that Matt is the good guy, but rather that it’s easier to believe that he’s the good guy.
I say all this as if I didn’t cheer at my desk when Saracen passed the ball to Riggins so Riggins can score, in the final moments of “Git’er Done.” Or as if in the final moments of “Who’s Your Daddy” my heart didn’t leap when Matt hits his target in the center of the tire again and again. Or as if his quiet stoicism as he’s being beat on by the Tigers’ crew isn’t wholly endearing. This is the thing about Friday Night Lights: It hits the same beats as every other teen soap opera on the planet, but it somehow still sticks, and sticks hard. And I think it accomplishes that by being relentless—we’re given all the details of every character; and usually, the show doesn’t pick sides. Take, for example, Smash and Riggins: They hate each other, but the show lets them both be themselves. The same is true for Lyla and Tyra.
The reason things are different for Voodoo is because more than being his own person, he’s a vehicle for Saracen’s doubts in himself—and everyone else’s doubts in Saracen. Voodoo comes to Dillon as the answer to the Saracen Problem, and there’s a part of Matt that is relieved and a part that is more determined to be the best than ever.
Saracen’s relationship with his father comes more into the forefront as the season continues—it’s one of the more heartbreaking aspects of the show—but for now, I’m interested in how quietly Friday Night Lights is laying the foundation for that story. Last week, I wrote a lot about Lyla Garrity; this week, some of the things I surmised about her are beginning to show. The show plants its seeds well ahead of time. In “Who’s Your Daddy” it’s implied here and there: In the title of the episode, in Matt’s senile grandmother, even in the little detail that when the quarterback of the Tigers comes out and sees the Panthers wrecking his car, he calls first for his father to help. Matt’s father, obviously, isn’t there when the Tigers find him at work.
Which brings me to my favorite moment of maybe this whole show—when Coach Taylor tells Matt he needs to ask that girl he likes out, and maybe get her into the backseat of his car. Coach is being fatherly—but he’s really the father to someone else, and that someone is a girl, and Matt likes the girl. The real laugh there is not in the first scene, where Matt stammers his way out of Coach’s office, but in the follow-up, at the dance recital, where Coach Taylor suddenly realizes he’s told his quarterback to get in the backseat of a car with his daughter. It’s a sly little nod to how men are willing to treat women a certain way until it’s a woman they know; it’s also just cute, and funny. Matt and Julie have such an innocent and sweet romance that it’s a joy to watch, and I am looking forward to rewatching it.
As Saracen is distracted by Julie at practice, Tim is distracted by Lyla. (The subtitle for “Who’s Your Daddy” should be “Women watching football.”) Distracted, but in a way that prompts him to be better than he is. Obviously, Lyla and Tim are doomed right from the start, but the whole romance centers around their chemistry, and Minka Kelly and Taylor Kitsch have it in abundance. A lot of these two episodes focuses on how much they just look at each other, and girl, it is steamy. Lyla doesn’t acknowledge her attraction to Riggins until the end of “Who’s Your Daddy,” but all it takes is a few scenes to establish a rapport that seems much stronger than anything Lyla has with Street. It’s all a product of terrifying fear, but okay, that’s how life is sometimes.
Contrasted with Saracen finding himself—which he does—and Coach Taylor proving himself—which he does—is Tyra’s random side story in “Git’er Done,” which introduces her to Patrick J. Adams’ Connor, an investment banker surveying oil holdings in Dillon. Tyra is so much smarter than she pretends to be, and Connor gets that immediately, responding to her strength and beauty without fully intending to. I don’t know what Tyra expected, on the last night of his stay, when she showed up and kissed him before dinner ever happened. But it’s telling, isn’t it? Tyra didn’t get to dinner because Tyra doesn’t think she deserves dinner. But she briefly convinced herself that maybe, if everything went right, Connor would fall in love with her, and take her to LA, and she’d get to start over, and be not-Tyra. But Connor wasn’t a reliable vehicle for her dreams—few people are, when you’re 18. Tyra wakes up in the morning and is just Tyra again. And that scene where she is alone in the hotel room, putting on earrings while crying, is utterly heartbreaking.
Because: Unlike everyone else in Dillon, Tyra sees through football. Her fantastic little monologue to Connor speaks to that: “Just a bunch of overheated jocks too dumb to know they have no future, fighting over a game that has no meaning, in a town from which there is no escape.” But she who increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow.
Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose:
- I don’t care what your orientation or preference is—Taylor Kitsch’s line reading of “I can’t stop thinking about you, Lyla,” is one of the most romantic moments on television. Later, he feeds her an Eggo waffle.
- “Dude, you need to chill out. I’m not ESPN.”
- Tami paraphrases the town’s perception of cheerleaders as “T-and-A and nothin’ between the ears.”
- The mayor of Dillon is auctioning off a heifer, and this has something to do with football. Texas!
- A lot of information about Lyla in these two episodes. One: “I hate myself for what we did. I hope I don’t go straight to hell.” And two: “Well, I was going to wait and see where Jason went.”
- The Family Coach: I cannot even with Eric and Tami’s cuteness this week. Taylors Under The Table might be my favorite family moment of the two episodes, but their unabashed and obvious sexual attraction for each other comes out in “Git’er Done” in really adorable ways. (And that apology! That is a sexy apology.) Julie is suitably shocked. Friday Night Lights’ overlapping, improvised dialogue really hits its apex of execution with Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler, who seem to get how married people talk more than any other couple on screen. A great example of this is that moment at the beginning of “Who’s Your Daddy,” when Eric forgets Julie’s dance recital, and Tami gives him a look or two, reminding him. And then as she’s walking out the door Eric says something like “Can you tell Julie that—” and Tami responds, interrupting: “I’ll tell her, I’ll tell her.” They already know what the other is going to say, and there’s a whole thing that has to happen verbally, but they’re too busy and too in sync to go through the whole conversation. “Can you tell her”/”I’ll tell her” is what that entire conversation boils down to. If anything, the Taylors teach us that compatibility is just a hell of a lot more efficient.
- “I could definitely do without everyone talking about the Great State of Texas.”
- Sonia Saraiya doesn’t really understand football: So, a two-point conversion is a thing, eh?