Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Night Lights 4.12: "Laboring"

“Alright, little man. Keep your guard up. Stay angry.”

In the penultimate episode of season 4 of “Friday Night Lights,” things just seem to go from bad to worse. It makes for a lot of really emotional scenes that are expertly played by the fantastic cast, but it’s rather difficult to watch. I’ve “lived” with these folks for almost four full seasons now, and it’s hard to see all of them hurting to this extent. “Friday Night Lights” has never really been an easy show to watch, but it’s always been rewarding in the depth of emotion it can evoke. What keeps the characters from completely falling apart with all of the tough things that are happening is family. The Rigginses experience great joy and tragedy in 45 minutes, and somehow they’ll stick together through all of it despite all their dysfunction. The Taylors are the same, maybe even more so. Tami and Coach are both going through severe downturns professionally, and Julie has gotten yet another crazy idea that they have to manage, too. I suppose a teenage daughter wanting to do crazy things with her life that her parents don’t approve of us pretty par for the course in life, though. What did really surprise me was how Coach handled this one. I think it showed just how run down he was by his own problems.

The episode opens with a big argument taking place at the Lions’ field. The big game between the Panthers and the Lions is coming up, and the Panthers staff are being asses about it. They’re pointing out every divot or bit of mud on the field, trying their best to get the game moved to their own home field, or at least neutral territory. Luckily the conference director is actually sane, and with Coach’s assurances that the field will be in playable condition by Friday, he decides that the game will absolutely be at the Lions’ field. Things never stay easy for the Taylors for long, though. Julie tells Tami (predictably) that she wants to do Habitat for Humanity long term. They already have offered her an assignment in New Orleans. Tami shuts that down pretty quickly, though. Things then have to take a turn from bad to worse, of course. There’s an absolutely amazing scene of the Taylors at breakfast. Coach has been sitting at the table reading the paper when Tami walks in, and he doesn’t look happy. He shows her the paper, and the front page is a story about her situation with Becky. Within seconds, Tami answers a very angry phone call accusing her of being a baby killer and such. Coach doesn’t say a word in the entire scene, but the look on his face says everything. He is not a happy man at all.

The Lions boys put a lot of work into rehabbing their field. They get the divots filled in and the goal posts freshly painted. Then Landry has an idea for a little something extra. At night, he takes a bunch of the guys over to Hermann Field to have a little fun with the Panthers. They stick hundreds of toothpicks into the turf. Needless to say, the Panthers don’t have an especially easy time repairing that one. Apparently it takes two hours of practice for the boys to get rid of all the toothpicks. I love how Coach handles this when he finds out about it. He’s already in a rather surly mood because some West Dillon kids vandalized his car, so he’s quite diabolical here. He has Landry continually try to kick 40 yard field goals while the rest of the kids have to do a tiring looking running drill. The other guys can’t stop running until Landry finally makes the field goal. The Panthers can’t let the toothpick incident be the end of it, though. A couple of the guys hold what looks almost like a monster truck rally on the Lions’ freshly rehabbed field. The field is all torn up and muddy again after they’re done with it, even worse than it was before.

The Sheriff’s office and Panthers football staff all promise to get to the bottom of the field vandalism, but it’s blatantly obvious that those promises are just for show. There is no intention of making this right at all. Tami tries to mediate between Coach and Wade Aikman, the West Dillon coach, but of course that goes nowhere. Near the end of the episode, there’s a big, angry meeting at a restaurant between all the staff on both sides, and the upshot of it, with the conference director’s approval, is that the game is going to be held at Hermann Field. Coach is absolutely livid at this outcome, because this was supposed to be a Lions home game, and the Panthers have now stolen it. He arrives home completely frustrated and spent, and when the phone rings for what seems like the hundredth time that week, he smashes it before sitting on the couch with Tami and seething for a while.

It’s not just the field situation that has Coach frustrated. He’s upset about what Tami is going through, too. Tami gets a late night visit from a member of the school board. He gives Tami a prepared apology statement, and he tells Tami that she’d better give that statement if she wants to keep her job. Tami doesn’t think she has anything to apologize for, so she’s not going to just instantly agree. She goes to see a lawyer, and he tells her that while she would probably have a good case if she was fired and chose to sue the school district, the legal proceedings could take years, and Tami might not even really want her job back after a long, drawn out legal battle. To top it all off, Tami can’t even get her car into the school parking lot thanks to all the anti-choice protesters. Like I said earlier, the way Coach deals with this is interesting and not at all what I expected. He tells Julie that he’ll actually consider her crazy Habitat idea if she goes easy on her mother for a little while. Julie dives right in, cooking a (vegetarian) dinner and everything. At that dinner, Tami dodges questions about what the lawyer said because she doesn’t want to have that unpleasant conversation at dinner. Of course the phone rings in the middle of it, and when Coach picks it up and hears a “Lions suck,” he yells “Go to Hell” into the phone and slams it down. I have never seen Coach this upset before. Sure he’s been angry, but this time it seems to be coming from a place of feeling defeated.

There’s happier news in the Riggins family. Becky is bringing Tim all his stuff that he left at the trailer when Tim gets a very important call from Billy. Mindy is about to have the baby, and Tim is about to be an uncle. This scene was absolutely hilarious. Billy is jumping around in his underwear while talking to Tim, and he can barely get a pair of pants on as Mindy rushes him out the door. Billy ends up getting himself kicked out of the delivery room because he’s overly caffeinated and therefore way too enthusiastic for a woman in pain to deal with. Tim figures out that the caffeine drinks are the problem and cuts Billy off, which was also very funny. Once Billy comes down a little from the caffeine high a bit, he decides he needs to “be the dad,” and he marches back into the delivery room with a vengeance. Again, very funny. The baby is a boy named Steven, and the whole family, including Uncle Tim, are smitten. Tim and Becky take a trip out to Tim’s newly purchased land, and Tim starts gushing about how happy he is and how his life is finally coming together. Of course Becky has to ruin it with an ill-timed “I love you” that Tim (rightfully) refuses to return. Also, because Tim is happy, that means things start to go downhill quick. He’s at Riggins Rigs late at night, blasting music and playing some air guitar in between fixing cars when the cops show up wanting to talk about some missing vehicles.

The final plot of the episode is all about the Vince/Jess/Landry triangle, so of course it’s seriously angsty. There’s a funeral gathering being held at Ray’s Bar-B-Q for the friend of Vince’s who was shot and killed. Vince and Jess have a heart-to-heart, and Vince stresses that he doesn’t want Jess to tell anyone what he told her about how his friend was killed. Later, Landry tries to deliver Jess a bicycle (he owes her one from when they first met) while she’s about to leave for the funeral. Landry’s a little surprised she’s going to this funeral, but he just stands there bewildered while she leaves. While working at the Bar-B-Q, the guy who is in charge of Vince’s gang stops by to give Vince the details on where the guy who killed their friend is hiding and when they’re going to get revenge. Jess is giving Landry a crowd noise iPod “playlist” to help him with football, and she notices Vince’s conversation.

Vince tells Landry to be good to Jess, because he just wants Jess to be happy. This sets off alarm bells for Jess- she knows Vince is about to do something stupid. That night, she tearfully tries to keep Vince from going with the gang leader, but it doesn’t work so well. Vince has a change of heart in the car on the way to get revenge, and the gang leader throws him out of the car. Vince returns home to find Jess sitting by his apartment door. He tells Jess he didn’t go through with it, and they sit by the door and cry and hold each other. Poor clueless Landry shows up at the Bar-B-Q to return Jess’ iPod and has to give the iPod to a waitress instead of Jess herself. The ending of the episode is an angsty montage of Vince and Jess holding each other, Tim and Billy in jail, and Tami and Eric sitting on the couch, completely fed up with Dillon.

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