Sunday, August 8, 2010

Friday Night Lights 4.03: "In the Skin of a Lion"

“Taylor, you wasn’t even supposed to take this job. You aren’t supposed to be here. See, you’re the only one that didn’t get the joke.”
-Principal Levi Burnwell

“In the Skin of a Lion” saw Coach reach what was probably the lowest point of his life to date. The Taylor marriage is rock solid, but that doesn’t mean Eric Taylor is perfect. He still screws up from time to time, and boy did he ever in this episode. This episode took the fish out of water theme from the first two episodes this season and deepened it. Our characters have all been ensconced in their new situations for long enough to get themselves into trouble, and they most certainly do so. I think that’s part of what I love about “Friday Night Lights” in general. The show can take familiar tropes and plot points and just go in depth and explore them with such painfully realistic characters. It’s really a beautiful thing to see.

The episode begins with Coach trying a rather odd way to raise money to replace the Lions uniforms that he had the kids burn in the last episode. Coach has his players pushing a car around East Dillon, asking the community for donations. The guys are actually pretty into it, which is nice to see after all Coach had to go through to get them to stick with the team last week. They do make some money, but unfortunately, it’s not nearly enough. Coach begs the new school principal for money, but the principal isn’t having it. Not only does he mock Coach for forfeiting the first game, he threatens to disband the program and tells Coach that the offer to work at East Dillon was never meant to be serious in the first place. Coach just looks on flabbergasted, not quite sure what to do with that information.

Coach meets with the Under Armour rep (yeah for a Baltimore company getting a shout-out!), who is more than a little upset that Coach can’t come up with the money. He and Coach go way back, though, in fact he credits Coach with getting him started in his career. Because of their history, he’s willing to work with Coach, but he still has to bring something back to Baltimore to make the deal happen. The Under Armour higher-ups need East Dillon to fork over $5000. Coach manages to bargain him down to $3000 in advance and $2000 upon delivery, but the Lions don’t even have $3000. Coach then makes probably the worst decision he’s ever made (that we’ve seen, at least). He writes a personal check for $3000 to cover the cost of the uniforms. Just this on its own wouldn’t be so bad, but he lies to Tami about it too. When she notices a check missing from the checkbook, he tells her he used it for dry cleaning, and it was $45.

Coach spends much of the episode trying to figure out how to do more fundraising, considering he and Tami don’t actually have $3000 in their account. He tries going door to door to local businesses to try and get their support, but half of them didn’t even realize there was an East Dillon team and those that did realize didn’t care. Coach also asks for help from Buddy Garrity, but Buddy’s dealing with his own issues and doesn’t feel like he should be helping the Lions at this point. At the latest Boosters meeting, McCoy and his goons confronted Buddy about how they think he’s the one who told Coach about the mailbox they use to establish residency for star players like Luke. By the end of the episode, however, Buddy has had it with the Boosters. He’s at a Boosters function at the McCoy house, and the guys start talking trash about the Taylors. That’s the last straw for Buddy, and he quits the Boosters, after ranting about how he was a Panther before all of them and he put that mailbox in himself years ago. He also admits that he’s the one who tipped Coach off to the mailbox. Considering how much of Buddy’s identity was wrapped up in the Panthers, I’m very interested to see how this is going to play out in the coming weeks.

Elsewhere in Dillon, Matt’s internship is going as well as ever, which is to say that it’s still pretty awful. Richard wants Matt to drive him 200 miles to pick up some new scrap metal to work with. Matt has to give up a pizza delivery shift to do this, which makes him even more unhappy. Most of the trip doesn’t go especially well, with Richard and Matt sniping each other as they generally do. On the way home, they stop at a bar, and Richard has a genuine moment for once. He basically tells Matt that to be an artist, you usually end up having to sacrifice everything else in your life. Later in the episode, Julie is waiting in the car while Matt drops something off at Richard’s, and she gets bored. She starts snooping around, and she runs into a surly as ever Richard who tells her she’s dragging Matt down. I guess we can now see just where Matt and Julie’s relationship is headed, although it’s sad, considering what they went through to find their way back to each other. Matt shoots it down when Julie tells him what Richard said, but it’s obvious that it still worries Julie.

When Coach isn’t dealing with financial woes, he’s trying to get his players to gel together as a team. Luke and Vince seems especially at odds with one another. Luke for some reason is convinced that Coach isn’t using him to his full potential because he caused trouble for Tami over at West Dillon. Coach is a reasonable guy, so of course this isn’t the case. Luke asks Tim Riggins, who is helping out with the Lions here and there when not working at Riggins Rigs, to be a sort of intermediary between himself and Coach. When Tim tells Coach about Luke’s concerns, Coach pulls one of his classic moves and goes to visit Luke at Luke’s home, which happens to be on a farm. Coach tells Luke that he’s willing to give Luke a bigger role on the team if Luke starts acting like a leader. Luke takes Coach’s words to heart and is the star of the Lions’ next game, where they actually manage to score a touchdown and don’t have to forfeit. I love how scoring a touchdown is a victory for these guys- it’s all about baby steps.

By the end of the episode coach has somewhat resolved the financial issues, too. Tami is furious when a drunken Coach tells her the truth about the check, but they’re Eric and Tami, so they manage to behave like decent humans and work through it by the end of the episode. Coach says that the Under Armour guy has agreed to go easy with him on that $3000 check, so presumably, that combined with improved performance of the team should put Coach in a much better place. He promises Tami that he’ll never, ever pull a stunt like that again. I hope he’s telling the truth, but the Lions still aren’t completely out of the woods yet, so we’ll have to see what happens.

There are some other little stories playing out in this episode, too. Coach wants Landry to work on punting, and he has a terrible time of it until Jess and her brother stop by the field one day while Landry is practicing. Jess coaches Landry a bit, and his punting improves tremendously. She tells Landry that her dad used to play football, but he thinks it’s a waste of time now. The other small side plot of this episode is that July is unhappy with church. Part of that unhappiness could be the judgmental snooty folks who make up their congregation, who clearly are talking about Tami behind her back thanks to the Luke transfer to East Dillon incident. Tami frets about Julie souring on church here and there throughout the episode, and by the end, Tami explains to Julie that she wants Julie to have something to believe in when she’s not around anymore. Julie agrees to return to church the next week. While it was a thoughtful and non-patronizing look at the role of religion in people’s lives (something sorely needed in entertainment these days), this felt kind of extraneous and not really necessary. I think Friday Night Lights is in danger of trying to juggle too much. The talent of the folks who create the show has salvaged it despite these tendencies so far, but that might not last forever.

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