February 4, 2011

Eighteen Years And A Dozen Heartaches

The run up to Friday Night Lights' final episode has been by turns wonderful and excruciating.  The show's five seasons have not been without flaws - the only reason that murder plot didn't bring the entire thing crashing down was the sheer awesomeness of Adrianne Palicki and Jesse Plemmons, and, for that matter, the whole second season was rough.  But after that brief stumble, the writers learned from their mistakes and they fixed the problems (problems I've long suspected had a lot to do with network notes which were rendered moot when DirecTV stepped in to share the financial burden of producing the show for it's last three seasons). 

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I watch a lot of television that involves kids in high school, and I've never seen any show address the realities of those kids growing up and graduating and moving away quite as brilliantly as Friday Night Lights has.  They lost characters to college and jobs and always gave them an appropriate and dignified farewell.  They introduced new characters and took the time to develop them as they had Smash, Street, Riggins, Lyla, Julie, Tyra, Landry and Matt Saracen.  They even kept some of the original kids around town when it made sense for the characters.  They didn't suddenly erect a college down the street or relocate everyone in town to Austin or ditch the adults and follow the kids.  They continued to make a show about the town of Dillon, Texas where football is king and Coach Taylor is football. 

This final season of the show has been as good as any that have come before and the penultimate episode that aired on Wednesday was another reminder that even as we prepare to say goodbye to Dillon and the people we've come to know there, it's not about the big things it's just life in Texas. 

Tami's Philadelphia job offer and Eric's lack of support have caused a rift in the Taylor house.  After 18 years of being married to a woman who put his career first and with a family that mostly let his job lead the way, Eric isn't prepared to put his wife's happiness and her opportunities for success ahead of his own for a change.  He behaves a bit like a spoiled brat, frankly and the beautiful thing about that is that while I adore Eric and think he's a terrifically REAL husband and father, no one is perfect.  Sometimes people should be happy for someone else but instead they're petulant and selfish and thinking only about how inconvenient this is going to be for them.  Sometimes even the best people are assholes.  With this battle still raging at home, Coach is awaiting a decision from the school board about which football team will remain in Dillon next year and which will be disbanded and absorbed. 

He's not the only one who's anxious to find out.  Everyone in Dillon is on edge and ready to fight about it.  Jess and Vince take their rather calm arguments straight to the head of the school board for a scene that, naturally, made me cry as Vince spoke from the heart about how the Lions and Coach Taylor had saved his life.  In the end though, it wasn't enough.  The Panthers will be the only game in town next year.  The boosters are already wooing Buddy back and, in turn, asking him to woo Coach back as well.  (On a side note, shame no one mentioned sooner that the McCoy's had left town and taken their favored coach with them leaving Mac as head coach at West Dillon this year.)  While Coach tells Buddy that he's not interested in returning to West Dillon, even if the circumstances are such that he can put any Lion on the team he wants, he does not see this as an opportunity to follow his beautiful wife to Philadelphia.  Oh, Eric. 

Elsewhere in town, Mindy and Billy discover that they're expecting twins and the panic sets in.  Mindy is worried that Billy won't be coaching next year and they'll be unable to provide for their rapidly growing brood.  Her stress brings Tyra back to town for a visit which is good news for Tim who's holding quite a grudge against his brother and won't give Billy the chance to update Tim on the number of buns in Mindy's oven because he's too busy announcing that when his parole ends, he'll be moving to Alaska to work on the pipeline. 

If anyone can talk to Tim, it's Tyra.  Through the course of the episode the two shared several scenes and all of them conveyed with perfect ease the history and comfort these two characters have with each other.  He tells her the truth about the chop shop and why he went to prison.  He says that it was for Stevie, to give him what what neither of them ever had - a father.  It makes a kind of sense to Tyra and the two eventually end up sleeping together, a bit like old times only now they're older, wiser, and much more appreciative of each other.  I'm hopeful that these two end up together.  I believe that after everything they've been through in their lives, together and apart, it would be nice if they could make each other happy. 

Becky does a lovely job of explaining her relationship with Tim to Luke when she tells him that after a lifetime of feeling alone, he came to live in her yard and was her friend and was there for her during a very hard time in her life when no one else was so she puts him on a pedestal and she loves him but she is not in love with him.  Unfortunately, Luke lacks the grace (at his age, that's not uncommon) to accept that explanation and she leaves in a bit of a rage telling him to go to hell.  Later, he gets a similar story from Tim and feels much better.  In fact, he seems to be comfortable enough to ask for some advice from Tim on whether he should go to the rinky-dink college that's interested in giving him a football scholarship.  Tim's advice, while not necessarily what I'd tell anyone with a chance to get a degree on someone else's dime, is from the heart: play the state championship game like it's the last time you'll ever play this game you love, enjoy every second of it, and then walk away from it forever.  There is a sad beauty to that advice. 

And finally, Matt returns home to Grandma's house for a surprise Christmas visit at the end of the episode and, I dare say there was not a dry eye in the audience.  It was a joyous, touching moment when he burst through her door with a Christmas tree but so bittersweet when she asked if his dad knew he was back in town. 

There were scenes from the finale but I can't bring myself to talk about them now.  I'll save my strength and my tears for next week. 

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.

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