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Friday Night Lights Recap: Talk to the Hand Painter

Looks like we were right, former Panther fans! The showdown between Good and Evil East Dillon and West Dillon is exactly where this wildly satisfying season has been headed all along. And just like us fans, it’s all anybody wants to talk about — at least judging by the sample size of one call-in to Buddy Garrity’s two-week-old Spanish-language sports-radio talk show. Too bad a little thing called life keeps getting in the way: Instead of looking ahead to the big game (still a week away), our characters are stuck dealing with the fallout from some recent, difficult decisions. And things don’t look like they’re getting any easier.

While the relentlessly heavy drama of “Injury Report” might make it a little harder to make jokes (Did we mention that Buddy Garrity is on Spanish-language radio? Uh ... ), that’s a price we’re happy to pay for a season that has given us paper cuts from thumbing through our thesaurus looking up synonyms for “consistently phenomenal.” There was little resolution this week aside from the status of Luke’s season and the wearing of Buddy’s Panther championship ring (Spoiler alert: They’re both over). Instead, as we barrel toward the finish line (and the chance to see someone — anyone — pop J.D. McCoy in his smug, Escalade-driving face), why don’t we break things down decision by decision?

Decision No. 1: It’s a good idea to move to Chicago in the middle of the night and not call your girlfriend for weeks to tell her about it.

Bad decision! We have to say we were thrilled to have Matt Saracen back this week, bravely making his way in the rainy, loft-having Seattle section of Chicago. And while his drawing-of-hands collection seems to be growing nicely, we can’t say he has much ground to stand on with Julie. In fact, it was refreshingly honest of the show to let one of its most heroic characters come off as kind of a selfish jerk. The two awkward, teary, halting, and screaming phone calls with Julie rang true for any of us who have ever experienced the withering of a young love because of distance (or the burning desire to become a hand painter). This might not be the coda we wanted for Matt and Julie, but it makes sense. He needs to be out of Dillon, and she needs to abandon college to build houses for low-income families. (Wait, what? This is one possibly bad decision we’ll save for next week.)

Decision No. 2: When a scantily dressed 15-year-old who has already tried to mouth-rape you on numerous occasions invites you to watch Thelma and Louise on her mom’s bed, the only correct response is: Pass the popcorn!

In fairness to Tim Riggins, he had already spurned Becky’s mother in righteous fashion and he did try to avoid this particular lady trap. But Becky pulled the “I don’t want to be alone” card and Tim is nothing if not a softy. Also, let’s be clear that nothing happened. But it was still pretty foolish, especially when even soulful, Canadian Tim Riggins had to know that Cheryl would be feeling a little jumpy and hurt after being shut out of the trailer (SEX METAPHOR ALERT). Tim’s reaction to Cheryl’s screaming barrage of insults and invective after she discovers Tim and Becky together not doing anything on her bed was revealing, though. Other than a mumbled, “I never touched your daughter,” Tim just takes the abuse. The reason? Because, on some level, he thinks she’s right. We’re already seeing the guilt in his eyes over how he was able to afford his new property. (Side note: Just how lucrative is running a chop shop in West Texas supposed to be, anyhow? That was a very thick envelope of ill-gotten cash that Tim passed to the realtor!) And for all his shirtless bluster, Tim Riggins is deeply insecure.

All told, we’re not sure where 33’s story is headed just now. He’s got his land. And his (final?) visit from Becky was incredibly sweet and well-earned. But we’re fearful of a courtesy call from Vince’s violent new friends (or the cops) before this season ends. Can the Riggins boys really just bury some cars and walk away? Plus, there’s the hard truth that Tim’s not going to be a regular next year. So color us a little worried. Let’s just hope that wherever Tim ends up, Skeeter will at least be allowed weekend visits.

Decision No. 3: You are a jug-headed field-goal kicker dork who has somehow landed the school’s hottest cheerleader/mathlete. Therefore, the best time — nay, the only time — to kiss her is when her ex-something QB/bad-boy/heartthrob is within walking distance.

Okay, this isn’t so much of a decision as an overused plot trope the writers seem addicted to. But really: How many times does Vince need to watch Jess and Landry canoodle? We get the point! Kiss kiss, Landry! Glower glower, Vince! Be indecisive, Jess! Now work it out amongst yourselves.

Decision No. 4: Since you’re already going to the school on the wrong side of the tracks and have impregnated a 15-year-old, why not just run the table and become a pill-popping, injury-ignoring, hilbilly heroin junkie?

Oh, Luke. Has anyone so polite ever fallen so far, so fast? Surprising as it was to see him canvassing Carroll Park in search of Oxys, it really was in keeping with the character we’ve come to know and, well, mostly like. Luke is a pleaser, always striving to avoid disappointing anyone, be they his super-religious parents, his Coach, or even Becky. If pills can help stave off the inevitable, then so be it, no matter how purple his body is or how crazy the words “Dear Lord, please let me get some drugs before Friday” sound coming out of his mouth. (Seriously, that’s a prayer we haven’t heard since we quit Andy Dick’s church.) When it all comes to a head on the football field, we were almost relieved that his seriously worsening injury was discovered. (We were also happy to see Tinker, our favorite friendly dude, confront Luke for his dishonesty. “You should have told me,” he says, a little disappointed. I mean, if the guy helps you build a cattle fence, the least he can hope for is a little confidence in return, you know?)

The most surprising turn of events this week also sprang from Luke’s behavior: His mother’s quixotic quest to avenge her unborn grandchild. We have to say, we didn’t see this one coming. And it was a doozy of a twist. As usual, there were no real villains (although the hardheaded pro-life school-board lady came close): Tami did follow protocol. Her supervisor had her back. She was acquitted. But Luke’s mom doesn’t mess around and the late-night phone call from the local press asking Tami about her behavior does not bode well for Supermom. Is this all part of a long play to get Tami out of West Dillon and into East Dillon? We can only hope so. Because the alternative is nothing good.

Decision No. 5: Paying for your mother’s rehab via a life of crime.

We have nothing snarky or funny to say here. This one is just the pits: In exchange for the $4,000 he needed to check his mother into rehab, Vince is rolling with a bad crew, beating up welchers with a tire iron, and generally making us cover our eyes with fear and worry every time he’s on the screen. As if the tender scene between Jess and Regina at rehab wasn’t enough — and kudos to Friday Night Lights for, once again, choosing to show such an unexpected-yet-welcome digressive moment — we have to witness Vince as unwilling wheelman in some sort of robbery gone wrong. The result: the shooting death of his friend Calvin. And at the end of the episode, Vince — always the warrior, always the grown-up — is crouched on Jess’s curb, shaking with shock and fear, sobbing for his lost friend and his lost chances.

“Your focus has to be on today,” Coach Taylor tells his team earlier in the episode, in reference to the looming showdown with the Panthers. But how can it be? These characters have too much hurt wrapped up in yesterdays. It actually serves as a neat summation for the true success of this brilliant show: For one week in Dillon, football is suddenly the least important thing in the world.

More Recaps:
Alan Sepinwall passes along a very astute reader comment that mines the unexplored, non-Jess-related parallels between Landry and Vince. Worth reading.
While over at EW, Ken Tucker wasn't thrilled with this collection of his "least-favorite" subplots he does admit to a desire to listen to Buddy Garrity's radio show every day. Us too!
At AV Club, Keith Phipps is "unsettled" by Coach preferring to get another drink with Buddy rather than head home to his wife. Once again: us too!

Photo: Courtesy of DirecTV