It’s a familiar drill by now for American TV shows set in high schools: By the third or fourth season, when the producers can no longer pretend those aren’t gray hairs on the heads of their attractive cast of pretend teenagers, there’s only one solution — time to relocate the show to college! Be it the “California University” of 90210 or SUNY–Meatpacking District in Gossip Girl, every program eventually follows its leads as they grow and leave. Except Friday Night Lights: It’s a show about those who get left behind.
Last week’s Farewell to Backup Arms extravaganza was called “Stay,” but that name could easily be used for this episode, particularly in regard to our abandoned blondes, Julie and Landry. Julie’s situation is the most distressing: Matt is gone, leaving after one last Heartless Bastards show in Austin, and he hasn’t even had the decency to call from — where is he, anyway? Chicago? Hanging out in L.A. with Dane Cook? Regardless, he has called Grandma, who gets a nice moment here. But all of this has left Julie bereft, confused and Full! Of! Energy! While the hour begins with her waking, ashen, in her gray bedroom (under a Liars poster, no less! Does Pitchfork need interns in West Texas?) Julie doesn’t stay still for long, hiding her grief by signing up for every extracurricular on offer at East Dillon and insisting, quite loudly and incorrectly, that none of this has anything at all to do with the departure of her boyfriend.
Heck, she even signs Landry up for a dubious club called “Academic Smackdown,” which we guess is like Mathletes for better-rounded people. Landry — Landry! — is afraid there will be “losers” in the club, but in fact, Jess is in it! She claims she does “Smackdown” every year, which is quite a feat considering East Dillon has only been open for two months or so, but why quibble?
Julie acts out her grief by becoming an insane person, basically, running her fellow Smackdowners ragged in advance of their big weekend match over at West Dillon. “He knows nothing about World War II!” she screams, forcing Landry to give her a time-out over by the library cards. “It’s not about Matt!” she yells (which is Juliespeak for “it’s about Matt!”). Later, in her car, Julie plays a mix CD made for her by Matt called “Tunes for My Girl,” which consists of schmaltzy Grey’s Anatomy piano rock. Jeez, QB2 — we thought you were supposed to be an artist! We guess “My Awesome Mix Tape #6” was already taken. At the Academic Smackdown Julie volunteers to answer a question about “mid-century author Thomas Wolfe,” which leads to her sobbing out very It’s-About-Matt titles like “Look Homeward Angel” and “You Can’t Go Home Again” before running offstage. What mid-episode plot point was so creaky it woke up all the cats in our neighborhood? This one.
But it’s worth it for what follows, as Tami swoops in and saves the day, comforting the almost equally-excellent Aimee Teegarden by telling her that her life will, indeed, go on. Speaking of Tami, she finally gets to enjoy her job as principal of West Dillon — at least for a little while. With Joe McCoy and the Jerk Patrol out of sight, and the attention turned from football, we learned that under Tami’s stewardship, the school has won a prestigious “Blue Ribbon” award (which is a real thing!) from the state. And who should return just in time to celebrate? It’s pasty-faced Glenn, the doughy vice-principal-ish dude who was maybe a little too involved with Mrs. Coach last season. Glenn, all virtuous, suggests a night out for the school administrators. This seems like a great idea, especially since his notion of a good time is karaoke and tequila shots. Of course you know where this is going, as a delightful party is ruined by Pasty Glenn attempting to plant one on Mrs. Coach as they wait for cabs. Oh, Glenn! Oh, no you didn’t!
But Tami (pictured here) shrugs it off, even confronting Ol’ Pasty the very next day, forgiving him and shaming him at the same time. His response? Saying that he “mouthraped” her. GLENN! Maybe sit the next couple plays out, huh, champ? We think we speak for everyone on planet Earth when we say we hope this plot goes nowhere and serves no purpose other than once again showing that Tami Taylor is the most together and competent person who has ever lived (or, in the case of fictional television shows like this one, not lived).
What else? Well, over in the satellite republic of Tim-and-Beckystan, Becky’s nogoodnik truck-driving father shows up at home for a few awkward days of attempting to buy off his daughter’s devotion with puppies. Now, last week a few commenters took us to task for being a bit harsh on Becky, and we think they may have had a point: Becky is the first actual young person we’ve focused on here. Her innocence and neediness and occasional inappropriateness are worlds away from the self-made hardscrabble types (think: Tyra, Tim, Matt) that Dillon seems to specialize in producing. So, with that in mind, we found her complete denial over her father — especially compounded with the knowledge bomb Tim drops on her about her dad’s secret other family in Seattle — to be touching, not annoying. And the scene where Tim breaks it to her is a great piece of writing, reminding us that Tim takes this personally: his father also abandoned him and tried to buy him off with stuff. “That’s what they do,” he hisses. And then Tim gets in a mud fight with Trucker Dad and buys back the puppy for Becky. He also names the puppy “Skeeter” and has a Kodak moment with some land that’s for sale. Where that’s leading, we have no idea. But we demand more Skeeter!
Coach’s arc this week was once again tied up with Vince, who must be getting sick of all of these “be a man and lead” speeches. No sooner does the former Wallace get the job of QB1 (about time!) than principal Stresscase leads some of Dillon’s Finest into the locker room and makes Eric open Vince’s locker so they can search for a gun. Nice! Way to back up your players, Coach! There’s no gun, but it takes some speechifying from Tami (“Would you have let the cops search Landry’s locker?” she asks. What would they find in there, we wonder? A pocket protector and some Pedro the Lion bootlegs?) as well as some sweet perspective from Vince’s sober-for-now Mom for the message to really sink in. Coach tells Vince to lead (again!) and the episode ends with Vince knocking on the Taylor’s door and trading a suspiciously heavy paper bag for a man-to-man handshake from Coach. Now, as to how Coach is actually going to “disappear” an illegal handgun, we don’t know, since we’re not Bubbles and this isn’t West Baltimore, but we love the way the show is allowing all of these new relationships to develop slowly and organically. Vince isn’t Smash any more than Luke is Matt or Jess is Tyra (other than her love for big-headed ol’ Landry, that is). New people, new situations. The only thing that isn’t new is how much we’re loving it. Is the season more than halfway over already?
Some stray thoughts:
• Luke’s dad is afraid of cow-rustlers! SO ARE WE!
• Of course, it seems what he should really be afraid of is swinging gates. Anyone think Luke will be able to play next week?
• We love Tinker, East Dillon’s friendly big dude, helping Luke and his dad build the fence. We also love him stealing Luke’s fries, but that seems less important. Actually, the whole seeing-Luke-busting-his-ass-for-his ball-busting-school-hating-folks thing makes us appreciate the character even more.
• The Riggins boys have very clear priorities: fast food first, then hospital. They also refuse to sell their pet cow, KitKat. We support them in this decision.
• Having Crazy Eyes show up at Billy Riggins’s stripper event/baby shower/fundraiser and offer “a business opportunity” is a surprising turn of events. Didn’t expect to see these worlds overlap, and we sincerely hope that the season doesn’t end with Billy Riggins starring as the Tiniest Inmate in Texas.
• So Landry finally gets over Tyra this episode by leaving her a voicemail at a highway rest stop. And we say: Good! Jess is fantastic, dude. She makes a mean pulled-pork sandwich, and she knows the year of the Battle of Stalingrad. Wife material!
• A final thought: we are expected to believe that Landry manages to attend both football practice and Academic Smackdown review at the same time.We know he’s just a kicker and also some kind of high-SAT-scoring genius, but this seems impossible. In fact, the struggle to wrap our heads around it led us to the creation of what we’re calling the Unified Landry Theory (ULT) which is: sometime during the Season That Shall Not Be Named (coughtwocough) Landry was cloned. Landry Prime is still a geek, the one who wisecracks with Matt, chastely drives Jess to parties, and fronts Crucifictorious. Landry 2 (or Dark Landry) is the one who joined the football team, stuck his tongue down Jess’s throat, bagged Tyra and, y’know, killed a guy. He’s able to be in two places at the same time. Think about it. You know we’re right.
Alan Sepinwall would like to see more of Vince’s hard-knock life from his own perspective, not only through Coach’s outsider eyes.
Ken Tucker, at EW.com, feels Taylor Kitsch deserve an Emmy for his pronunciation of “disgruntled redhead.”
At TV Squad, Allison Waldman appreciates how the show is all about subtlety.