Friday Night Lights Recap: Austin and/or Bust

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Photo: Courtesy of DIRECTV

After last week’s emotional sledgehammer, it’s only natural that this week’s episode would feel like a bit of a letdown. Which, to be honest, is fine with us: We forgot to go the Kleenex store this week, and we’d hate to ruin our new East Dillon hoodies with another week of deep, racking, TV-induced sobs. And so, “Stay” — a good-but-not-great episode devoted to extended goodbyes.

There are lot of these drawn-out farewells happening in Dillon, it seems: to Matt, to Lyla, sure, but also to Julie’s childhood, to JD McCoy’s shopping privileges in the town Sears and, most affectingly, to McNulty’s streak of games without giving up a touchdown. (What’s that, you say? You don’t care about that last one? Our bad!) Let’s do these in reverse order of interest which, of course, means football first.

The challenge for East Dillon this week is a daunting one: a televised game against undefeated McNulty. Coach Taylor’s No. 1 priority is to keep anyone from blabbing to the media. But this seems to escape Stan, our favorite closeted member of the Lions coaching staff who, when confronted with a camera and some microphones, immediately guarantees a victory. Easy there, Joltin’ Joe! This outburst causes Eric to grimace — then again, what doesn’t cause Eric to grimace?! — but luckily he’s got a plan to deal with these so called “good” football players: the Riggins boys! Yes, in order to instill fear and respect into his wet-behind-the-ears players, Coach has decided to unleash the terrifying fury that is Little Billy Riggins in a football costume. And he’s so cute! Look at him with his little shoulder-pads. He almost looks like a real boy! Anyway, the Riggins brothers tackle at full-speed and generally punish the Lions until Vince and Luke — who are now totally besties! — figure things out and score some practice touchdowns. Good work practice!

Vince and Luke continue their bromance by decamping to Sears to watch tape on their opponent (something they NEVER could have done at Applebee’s, btw). But, uh-oh — cue the dramatic music — who should walk by but evil Wes Mantooth and the Channel 9 Evening News Team JD McCoy and his D-Bag Brigade! There is some more posturing, which we’re sure is intended to serve as dramatic build-up for the inevitable Dillon-East Dillon clash of the (teen) titans, but to our eyes is getting slightly repetitive. This time it isn’t the cops that break up the confrontation, it’s Shoutin’ Coach Stan who tosses the rich boys back thar where they done came from.

Finally: Game time! Coach Taylor’s whole “not having a quarterback” thing really seems to flummox the team from McNulty High, as Vince quickly scores what is apparently the first TD given up by this fearsome squad in two seasons. Man, Wallace just keeps on frustrating McNulty, doesn’t he?! Anyway, the Lions (of course) lose, but they do it with respect. We have to say, we’re pretty glad that the writers aren’t sugarcoating how terrible East Dillon is right now. To have them winning would be an enormous cheat. Let’s save that first W for Dillon, right boys?

Plot No. 2 focuses on the return of Lyla Garrity. After a fleeting glance between her and her former lover/Christian-redemption project Tim Riggins at Henry Saracen’s funeral, this week Lyla comes a-knocking at Tim’s trailer door. At first, she tries to talk to him about how he stopped taking her calls and abandoned his college scholarship in less time than it takes Billy Riggins to reach the high shelf in the kitchen cupboard. This approach gets her nowhere. You should know better, Lyla! Tim Riggins is a man! Man no speak with words! Man speak with lips and abs! Which means, of course, that soon enough Tim and Lyla are back where they’re at their best: in the sack. Afterwards, Lyla — glowing in a slightly dazed, post-Riggins sort of a way — tries again to get Tim to address his future, but he declares himself a “moment-to-moment” guy. And then Becky knocks, wanting a ride to school, and is pretty horrified to meet Lyla. Who can blame her? Derek Jeter is America’s sweetheart! What’s his girlfriend doing in a trailer in West Texas! Actually, all this scene does is (a) make us even more resolute in our decision not to be affected by this lame “forbidden love” subplot, and (b) make Lyla look about a decade older than Becky. (Actually, it’s 11 years. Thanks, IMDb.com!)

Later, the Riggins boys — fresh from their success pounding on over-matched 15-year-olds at the high school (no Becky jokes, please) — take their ladyloves out to a honky-tonk, where Lyla rides a mechanical bull (no Derek Jeter jokes, please) and Tim imagines a world where Lyla would actually be satisfied being an office manager at Riggins Rigs. The next day, the writers give us the scene every true Friday Night Lights die-hard has been demanding: a Becky/Lyla confrontation! We have to tell you, we were so excited about this that we almozzzzzzzzzz. Sorry, must have dozed off there. Anyway, this story ends as you’d expect it to: Lyla takes a bus back to college. And Tim, heartbroken in a way he’s never known, stays behind. This parting is extremely affecting, actually, and feels true: Unlike on the rest of television, in Dillon, people don’t always end up together, even if they “should.” Lyla Garrity was always headed for bigger things. Tim Riggins — as much as we love him and his Canadian Southern drawl — wasn’t. Goodbye, Lyla. Despite our jokes, we will miss you. Have fun at Tenjune with Derek!

But all of this was background noise for the main story, which, once again, focused on Matt. He’s still grieving but trying to get over it by making out with Julie and cooking up plans to go to an “indie-music festival” in Austin. The only problem? The festival is on a school night, and Tami forbids Julie from going, and with good reason. Austin? On a school-night?!? It’s like Gomorrah-South, people! Not even Julie’s megashady “but his dad just died” card works. Oh, well. We’re sure Animal Collective will play Dillon eventually, Jules.

Meanwhile, back in Matt & Landry’s perpetual Levitra commercial, the two buddies discuss the “death gratuity” the Saracens received, which will take care of Grandma for the rest of her life. Landry again tries to push Matt on his feelings, saying, “either way I’m gonna be your best friend because you’ve been my best friend since we were five.” Or: at least since they were both 18 and then one of them inexplicably de-aged a year or two.

You all saw where this is going, right? Julie doesn’t tell Matt that her parents forbade the trip, and off they go to the land of cheap beer, cheaper music and Robert Rodriguez. Julie is thoughtful enough to leave mom a message which leads to an EXCELLENT Connie Britton-leaving-an-angry-voicemail scene, and an even better moment where Tami tells alien-baby Gracie (pictured here) that she’s her “favorite daughter.” Matt and Julie have sweet romantic times: picnicking on the hood of his car, slow-dancing to Patsy Cline in a hotel room, seeing the Heartless Bastards (?!) at Emo’s. All the while, Tami is melting down — first with anger, and then with the realization that the very fact that she’s raised such a responsible (if occasionally bratty) daughter means that one of these days she really will leave for good. A super, surprisingly tender showcase for the always awesome Tami that ends with a laugh as she tells the out-of-his-league Eric she’ll still “beat her ass” when she gets home.

But all is not laughter and Shiner Bock down in Austin, as the long-gestating cracks in Matt and Julie’s relationship come into the open. “Maybe just once I don’t want the responsibility of you having to stay in Dillon,” she yells, and then you can see it in Matt’s eyes: BOOM. TRUTHBOMB. There are no real villains on this show (outside of the McCoy household, anyway). People come and they go, and they make real choices — and sometimes those choices cause people pain. And so after many tears and even more whispered “I love you’s,” Matt drops Julie off at her house (Aimee Teegarden STEPS IT UP in this scene, sobbing with enough genuine force to knock the estimable Connie Britton back on her heels), peeks in at his mom taking care of his Grandma, and then drives away. Wait, what?

The show lost us a little here, we have to admit. We’re all for its general reliance on showing instead of telling, but some extra telling wouldn’t have been unwarranted here. For example, didn’t Grandma deserve a goodbye? Landry? Coach? Where exactly is Matt going in his busted Ford Taurus? And what the hell was the point of annoying-shirtless-artist dude?!? But enough of that for now. What’s done is done … and is that a flicker of a smile on Matt’s perpetually stressed-out face?

Godspeed, #7. Friday Night Lights — not to mention local pizza deliveries — won’t be the same without you.

Alan Sepinwall agrees that the details of Matt's sudden departure were a little too "fuzzy."
At EW.com, Ken Tucker swooned over Lyla and Tim's sexy-though-doomed relationship.
Keith Phipps over at the AV Club will miss Zach Gilford "most of all."