Vulture

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Friday Night Lights Recap: Straight Flush

Welcome back to Dillon, Panther Lion fans! Feeling a little rusty after the holiday layover? Having trouble distinguishing your Jess’s from your Becky’s, your Vince’s from your Luke’s? Unsure whose life Coach is saving or which doughy guidance counselor is trying to paw Tami? Never fear, because Friday Night Lights is finally back with a corker of an episode — which is unfortunately named “The Toilet Bowl.” We understand how that could be off-putting, so how about we phrase it like this: Tim Riggins fake-interviewing a puppy with a beer can. Is that something you might be interested in?

We’re assuming you just shouted “yes!” in your best Canadian-Texan drawl and clicked through so we can admit it: This episode wasn’t really a “corker,” per se. Merely another quality brick in what is shaping up to be an outstanding season. Since this hour was, much like an actual toilet bowl, a collection of well-built pieces put together to form a smoothly flushing functioning whole, we’ll take this baby plotline by plotline, okay?

Mother-Daughter Road Trip!
“Mom,” Julie cries out in the opening seconds, “every outfit you packed I look like a realtor in!” Which of course can only mean one thing: It’s the college-visit episode! A touching hallmark of quality episodic television wherein daughters and parents alight on a university campus in order to sit in on classes, soak up culture, and murder an old mob associate. Julie (who seems to have edited her dream-school list considerably since she name-dropped everything short of Starfleet Academy earlier in the season) and Tami fly off to brisk, bustling Boston to visit Tami’s favorite Jesuit institution, Boston College. (No offense to all you Eagles out there, but this is Tami’s No. 1 choice? Was she a huge Doug Flutie fan in her youth?)

Everything is all bricks and scarves and talking about Chaucer in context for Tami (wait, did we just describe a Vampire Weekend song?), but Julie is uncharacteristically pouty. Still reeling from her breakup with Matt and the lack of Wi-Fi in the hotel room, she tells her Mom that all this interview stuff seems fake and, besides, going to BC is Tami’s dream, not her own. And we have to say, Tami does seem a leeetle too involved here — could it be that she actually has a (gasp!) flaw? Things between mother and daughter come to a head in Harvard Square where, en route to a vegetarian restaurant, Julie storms off (which is exactly what we would do if someone were leading us to a vegetarian restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts). The next day, though, in her interview with BC’s admissions officer, Julie suddenly comes alive, accurately describing the plot of Capote (BOOM. MINDBOMB.) and waxes eloquent about her slow acceptance of her hometown. This is extremely eloquent and nice (and exactly the kind of self-knowing blather that gets higher-learning types hot and bothered), but where did it come from, exactly? Maybe a missing scene between avoiding the vegan BLTs with Mom and showing up for the interview? Look, we’re not complaining about Julie’s growth — but a little more setup would have been welcome. Still, the scene in which Julie tells her mom that she “kicked ass” and then Tami says that BC isn’t her dream, but Julie is, made us, um, realize how long it’s been since we’ve dusted in here. Sniff. Give us a second?

Girl Torn Between Quarterback and Kicker! (And Other Bulletins From Impossibleville)
Our new favorite cutie, Jess (server of brisket, breaker of hearts), is in a pickle this week! First she makes a date with Landry (Landry!), who promises to wear his best shirt. But then she cancels the date because Vince’s (maybe?) cleaned-up Mom invites her over for dinner. This leads to Landry being unable to hit high notes in Crucifictorious practice (who, last we checked, played Christian metal, not Sigur Ros covers, but hey — we’re not in the writer’s room, so what do we know?) and generally mope around because once again he’s being “the friend,” not the boyfriend. Dinner over at the Howards' kinda goes well, maybe? Vince’s mom seems chatty — okay, too chatty — but her mashed potatoes are the best, even if her arms shake a little while filling Jess’s water glass. Vince glowers and seems embarrassed when his Mom gets super intense and tells Jess how beautiful she is. Fair enough. But remember, Jess! Landry will LITERALLY KILL A GUY to win the love of a tall girl. That’s not to be taken lightly!

The next night — a Thursday, which Landry feels is “more sexual” — Landry and Jess finally get their date, which seems to also involve telling backseat bedtime stories to two of Jess’s cutest little brothers. Landry also gave them swords! (Whereas all Vince did was demonstrate how to put a perfect spiral on a package of sesame seeds. POINT: LANDRY.) But then Landry makes cute with one of those talking shark-head toy thingies (pictured here) which is always a really sexy way to prove to a lady that you are a grown man, and leads Jess to pull the ol' “I’m kissing you on the side of the mouth which is more like your cheek because you were nice to my brothers but, seriously, you’re the punter” move and runs in the house. (See the video below!) Poor Landry!

And yet, at episode’s end, Jess ignores Vince, the heroic QB, and chooses instead to embrace Landry, the only mildly heroic kicker, which is totally confusing to us (and to anyone that has ever spent anytime with people on a football team), but we’ll roll with this World’s Unlikeliest Love Triangle for another week because we kinda like all the parties involved, even if we’re not sure we buy them all together.

Tim Riggins Wants Some Land or a Job or Something!
When we last saw Tim Riggins he was gazing at some beautiful Texas farmland. Now that gaze has metastasized into something more tangible as he puts on a loose-fitting suit and inquires about said land at a realtor’s office, which is full of people dressed like Julie Taylor, obvs. The 25 acres are on sale at the low, low price of $85 grand, which seems perfectly reasonable to us for 25 ACRES, and yet Tim walks out of there stunned, as if he had been under the impression that all of that land could be his in exchange for two sixers and a trademark heavy-lidded soulful stare.

Meanwhile, Tim finds out about Billy’s own money-grab: He’s using Riggins’s Rigs as a late-night chop shop for Crazy Eyes’s stolen cars. Tim gets very upset about this misuse of what he thought was his and his brother’s shared dream and Taylor Kitsch pulls off this rare shouty Riggins scene with aplomb: Tim is so lackadaisical about so much, it’s a shock to see him agitated until you realize of course being betrayed by his brother would affect him like this. He did, after all, drop out of college because he never understood the context of Chaucer he wanted to build something in Dillon with Billy. So instead he goes running off first to Becky for some lessons in poise, and then to Sears to interview for a job that he doesn’t get (Sears certainly is getting its money’s worth this season!). After sharing another meaningful look at the property with Becky — and sharing a totally inappropriate kiss that he is suspiciously slow to end — Tim walks in on Billy and basically goes all in on the illegal car racket.

Wait, what? Tim’s ideals are that flexible? Near-statutory rape and grand theft auto in one evening? And we didn’t even mention the part where he hooks hurting Luke Cafferty up with a crooked doctor so he can score some pain pills. Come on, Tim Riggins! There must be other things to do for money! Flip Buddy Garrity’s condo, maybe! Or enter a cougar-seducing contest! Plus, we’ve never quite been told just why Tim wants this land so badly. He mumbles something about building a house but nothing about what he wants to fill that house with or how he would spend his time in it. We don’t like this Tim Riggins hardened-criminal act. Not one bit!

And finally: the Toilet Bowl!
As always: football. This week presents an opportunity for the struggling Lions: to play a team even worse than they are! How bad are the Campbell Park Timberwolves? They’re named after an animal that doesn’t even exist in the state of Texas! Burn! Still, the game must be played, and sarcastic local media have dubbed the clash “The Toilet Bowl.” One enterprising young d-bag has even gone so far as to deposit an actual toilet on the East Dillon field. Double burn! (Let’s just hope the toilet was purchased at Sears.)

The team prepares for this epic clash in a variety of ways. Coach, left alone at home with his strange alien baby, eats brisket with boosters and tells his team that they are no longer scrappers, they are now lions. (Translation: WIN THIS GAME.) Luke struggles manfully in practice despite his ripped-up hip and scores some vikes from Tim Riggins’s shady doctor friend. Vince stays on the straight and narrow, despite some pleading entreaties from Crazy Eyes to steal a couple of cars with him just one more time. And best of all, Buddy Garrity goes full Lion this week, bargaining airtime from a local Spanish-language channel (“El Fuego”!) and taking on a new career as a radio color man.

The game itself, played in the mud and rain, is a throwback to FNL games of yore, with some heroic plays and then some boneheaded mistakes that almost cost the Lions the “W.” But then Luke — all hopped up on goofballs or whatever the kids call 'em — scores a long TD and the Lions are winless no more! Hooray! Anything is possible thanks to pharmaceuticals grit!

But still, happy as we are to see the team put it all together, we are left a little disturbed at the thought of Tim pulling it all apart. (It is "his life.") A lot of questions are lingering this week, football fans. Will the Riggins boys get busted? Will Landry get lucky? And for God’s sake, will Gracie ever get any pants?!? As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments.

More Recaps:
Alan Sepinwall feels that Tim Riggins isn't at his best when required to, y'know, talk.
For a big fan of the show, Keith Phipps at the AV Club certainly seems both "uneasy" and "unexcited" with some recent developments!
Over at TV Squad, Allison Waldman has "a feeling" that Julie Taylor is going to end up at a college closer to home.

Photo: Bill Records