Real talk, people: With this dizzyingly great fourth episode of the season, it’s time to step up and call Friday Night Lights what it is: the Best Show (Almost) on (Network) TV. Mad Men and Breaking Bad are gone till 2010, Lost is still months away. And don’t even get us started on Glee. Nothing currently on the air comes close to matching our friends in Dillon, Texas — we’re talking emotional honesty, character depth, acting prowess, and Tim Riggins in a dress store. Wait, what?
This week opens with Tami continuing to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous Texans for her role in sending Luke Cafferty over to her husband’s team at East Dillon. It seems as if even talk radio has turned against her, which is truly something, because talk radio is usually so fair-minded and even-handed! Also, Julie is hard at work on
getting the hell out of Dillon finishing her college applications. Over snacks, she explains to Matt that she’s applying to Brown, Mount Holyoke, Berkeley, etc. Man alive, Julie! What’s your safety? The Sorbonne? But Matt is too preoccupied to make this exact joke because he’s finally realizing what we’ve already realized: It’s nice and all that he stayed around for Julie instead of going to the Art Institute of Chicago, but she has no intention of doing the same for him. If the wheels for Matt’s departure weren’t already turning thanks to the truth bomb dropped by Beatnik Mr. Miyagi last episode, then they are now. But jeez, Jules — you couldn’t even consider Northwestern?
On the East Dillon practice field, tensions are still running high between Luke and Vince. After a tumultuous practice, Luke discovers that his wallet has been stolen, and he accuses Vince, who — quelle surprise — flexes those outrageous jaw muscles of his. Coach has had about enough of this nonsense: He tries to force the boys to get along through the magic of having them run up and down stairs for half an hour. “Dadgum!” Coach exclaims in frustration. “Dadgum”? Now we know who’s been borrowing Billy Riggins’s Larry the Cable Guy DVDs!
Speaking of Billy Riggins: He promised Tim that they could go hunting but forgot to tell the STILL pregnant Mindy about it. This leads to Tim (a) showing up to breakfast brandishing two gigantic shotguns, and (b) getting disappointed, yet again, when Billy chooses an ultrasound over a weekend of beers and heavy ordnance. But if there’s one thing television has taught us, it’s this: If there’s a gun in Tim Riggins’ hands in the first act, chances are he will get Matt Saracen to go hunting with him eventually. And he does! The two share a great moment in the pizza parlor and then make plans to drive out to the brush and kill stuff over the weekend. Bros!
Then it’s back to the hallways of East Dillon, where Landry flirts with the increasingly spunky and delightful Jess, who wants a ride to a party. “You have a car!” she announces before turning to Devin and adding “he hit me with it.” There’s a nice little Tyra callback, where Landry suggests that he’s not so into revisiting his previous life as a chew toy for impossibly tall and skinny teenage minxes, but Jess puts a stop to his fears: He is also invited to the party! Bravo, Landry!
But flash! Now we are with Becky, the not-all-that-interesting aspiring beauty queen who gains acceptance into one of Dillon’s no doubt dozens of prestigious competitions. Her mom is super psyched and makes a plan to take Becky out the next day to buy gowns and the like. Man, doesn’t it look like a blast to have a mother who is exactly the same age as you? Think of all the fun you could have! Sleepovers, painting each other’s nails, appearing on 20/20 because your relationship is a medical impossibility … G.T.s! But then again, maybe not: Because redhead Mom is flighty, she blows off the shopping date, leaving Becky crushed. But not for long, because out in the backyard she has her Fairy GodRiggins who manfully steps in and takes her to the dress store. Let me repeat: Tim Riggins. In a dress store. Tim Riggins in a dress store! Has Tim ever looked more miserable then he does here, in what looks like the runoff room from the tackiest episode of Project Runway ever? (Other than that time he had to walk the red carpet at the Wolverine premiere and pretend it was a good movie, that is.) But Tim is sweet and heroic and cheers Becky up. That sound you heard was every single woman we know cooing “awwww.”
You know who could use a pep talk from Tim? Tami Taylor, that’s who! Not only are the radio jackals calling for her head, people are spray painting things like “Panther Hater” on her car. Even worse, the superintendent scolds her for what she did with Luke by basically revoking West Dillon’s renovation funds. That’s what you get for doing the right thing, Tami! No library for you!
Back onboard the Matt-and-Julie Road to Breakupville Express, the couple is playing Scrabble, which allows us to hear mumbly Matt use the word “vernacular.” But soon the lovebirds quit talking about the game and move on to more normal teenage things, like going to gay bars and exploring the moral ambiguity of hunting. Youth. Julie knows they are really talking about her (wildly ambitious) college applications, but it’s no use: Matt goes hunting with Tim, and Julie accompanies Devin to “a gay place.” No, silly, not New York City! Some bar on the outskirts of town! Under terrible lighting (gay!) and with Britney Spears rocking on the jukebox (gayer!), Julie pours her heart out to Devin (gayest!), but Devin is too busy flirting with Texas Parker Posey at the other end of the bar. Then, who should Julie see playing pool but Coach Yells-a-Lot from East Dillon. This is great! Easily the best WTF outing since Rawls in The Wire.
Then there’s Jess and her Party Crew, who roll into Landry’s car like a delightful hurricane, making fun of his music (but he was playing Crucifictorious!) and his shirt (they have a point) and rubbing his head for luck like he was a leprechaun. At the party, Vince and Jess exchange words, suggesting there’s a history between them, but Jess bats him away by claiming she has a boyfriend and then suggestively freaking Landry (Landry!). Even Crazy Eyes is impressed that she would go for that “Opie-looking dude.”
Coach, meanwhile, isn’t being very attentive to his wife’s radio- and library-based problems, and is instead trying to reach out to East Dillon alums and the community at large to help support his floundering team. His first stop is Jess’s dad Virgil’s BBQ place. Virgil, it turns out, used to the be the star quarterback of
The Practice East Dillon but now hates football and only likes brisket. Sounds like our grandmother!
Despite her troubles, Tami cooks a delicious steak dinner for various East Dillon elders, including a Deacon who isn’t so much into dinner as he into giving a civic lesson on what the hell happened to his side of town. It’s awkward for Coach, but actually kind of great: The show isn’t shying away from all of the racial and social implications of dropping the saintly, functional Taylors on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks. But you know who can cheer up even a dour Deacon with a pretty good point about urban decay? Buddy Garrity, that’s who! Buddy shows up and charms the pants off of everyone and is basically his old smiling self again, which is wonderful. Just keep him away from the Landing Strip!
Post-dinner, things are super snuggly at Chez Taylor until the phone rings: it’s the police! It seems Luke Cafferty was joy riding through town in the evil Escalade of JD McCoy, who, incidentally, is now rocking frosted tips. (Frosted tips — seriously! Why not also get an eye patch and a Fu Manchu moustache, or better yet, just get the word VILLAIN tattooed on your smarmy forehead?) The four white kids in the Escalade pull over and jump Vince, who was just enjoying a taco by the side of the road. Punches — real punches — are thrown, and JD and his posse drive away just in time to see Vince and Luke pulled apart by the cops. Coach comes to their aid and tells them the way it’s going to be: Luke is going to take all the blame so that Vince doesn’t have to go to juvie. He then drops them by the side of the road. Tough love! In example #759 why this show is brilliant, there isn’t any tidy emotional resolution here. Vince merely says thanks. And gives Luke his wallet back. Bravo, ambiguity! Plus, FNL hasn’t dealt with teammates who actively hated each other since Matt and Smash’s mild dislike melted faster than a delicious treat from the Alamo Freeze back in season one.
What else? Matt is terrible at hunting and gets his rifle confiscated. Then he and Tim have a beery heart-to-heart about being left behind by their lady loves. “Texas Forever,” Matt says, but Riggins’s eyes give it away: He’s heard those words before from a former Dillon QB, one who is currently wheeling around a sports agency in
A Gay Place New York City. Matt is moving on, people. Prepare yourselves.
But all ends well, right? Virgil agrees to host the pep rally and it’s a huge success. Even Landry is inspired, inspired enough to straight make out with Jess. It’s super hot, but luckily someone throws on a Jose Gonzalez song to cool them off.
But all doesn’t end well, uh, after all. In one of the most horrifying, shocking, and moving endings the show has ever pulled off, we see soldiers arriving at the Saracen household to deliver stunning news to Matt’s mom and dear Grandma. And finally Matt — poor, sweet, clueless Matt — shows up at the Taylors, maybe to break up with Julie, but instead finds her in tears, almost unable to deliver the news: His father has been killed in Iraq. Our jaws are on the floor. Our hearts are in our throats. And our hands are applauding the best episode yet in the sterling fourth season of the official Best Show on TV.
Alan Sepinwall raises a lot of good questions about this episode’s actually-really-confusing-if-you-think-about-it timeline.
At the AV Club, Keith Phipps writes very well about Dillon, East Dillon, and Daniel Johnston.
At EW.com, Ken Tucker is feeling “impatient” with Luke and Vince’s adversarial relationship.