Thursday, June 16, 2011

Friday Night Lights 4.13: “Thanksgiving”

“I had to get out of here. If I tried to say goodbye to you, I never would have left.”

The finale of the penultimate season of “Friday Night Lights” was the only finale during the show’s run where the writers and producers were sure it would not be a series finale as well. I think that showed in some ways. There was more set-up for next season than could be found in the earlier season finales. There was less of a sense of closure because it wasn’t necessary. That said, it was still an excellent episode. I kind of wish, in a way, that I hadn’t committed to blogging all of “Friday Night Lights” season 4 here, because it would have made a great Thanksgiving Classic Recap episode, and good Thanksgiving episodes are kind of few and far between. It was kind of obvious from the episode’s title that this was a Thanksgiving episode, right? It’s a time of big change for all of our characters. Matt finally faces up to the way in which he left Dillon, Julie’s contemplating finally getting the chance to chase her dreams, Coach finally has made his team into one that can succeed, Landry is going to be going to college, Tim makes a big choice for the sake of his family, Tami asks for a new job. The list goes on and on, really. The centerpiece of it all is Thanksgiving dinner at the Taylors and the big “Clash of the Cats” game between East and West Dillon the next day.

Coach and Tami are very much the heart of this episode. Both are feeling the pressure for different reasons. Coach has the biggest game of his career coming up, and Tami has the speech of her life coming up. Tami practices the apology statement with which the school board provided her, but it just doesn’t sit right. It’s so bad that she doesn’t even want Coach to watch her practice. It’s too embarrassing. Not surprisingly, on the big day when she’s actually supposed to give the statement, she goes off script. Instead of apologizing, she says that everything she does is for the welfare of her students, and this was no exception. This isn’t good enough for the more reactionary segment of the Dillon population, especially Becky’s mom, who starts screaming hysterically at the school board that the promised an apology. Tami just hightails it out of there, knowing she probably lost her job. The school district schedules a meeting to talk about her options, and although her lawyer wants to fight whatever the school district wants to do tooth and nail, Tami’s got another idea. She wants to head up the counseling program at East Dillon, and the school board decides to allow that. After all that anguish, Tami is satisfied.

While going through all that drama, there’s also Thanksgiving dinner for Tami to think about. The Taylors are hosting quite a big shindig, with the Saracens and Rigginses invited. Then Coach has the oh so good sense to spring on Tami that Buddy Garrity wants to join them for Thanksgiving too. And he’s bringing a turkey. And a deep fryer. To say Tami is less than thrilled is an understatement. Two turkeys is kind of crazy, but Coach doesn’t offer to tell Buddy not to bring one. Complicating things further is the fact that Matt is back in town to visit his grandmother for the holiday. Julie runs into him unexpectedly when she stops by the Saracen house to see if Grandma Saracen needs a ride to Thanksgiving. They have a really awkward grocery shopping trip together. Julie, rightfully, has still not gotten over the way Matt left Dillon. Landry hasn’t either, come to think of it, which is kind of hilarious. Landry won’t even really talk to Matt the first time he shows up at his door. Matt mutters that Landry is “like a girl” as he leaves.

Thanksgiving dinner itself was a really beautiful scene. The Taylor dining room is packed, with poor Matt and Julie at the “kids’ table. They’re cool with it, though, because it means they get more cranberry sauce. Tami is still peeved about Buddy making a second turkey, and when Grandma Saracen starts raving about how juicy Buddy’s fried turkey is, Tami goes into hilarious overdrive trying to sell everybody on her own turkey. Billy makes the mood more serious when he gives a big toast thanking all his family and friends for their support. He’s nearly in tears because he thinks that pretty soon, he’ll be in jail and separated for all of them, most importantly his newborn son. I thought this scene really encapsulated everything a good Thanksgiving episode of television should be. There’s holiday related humor and humorous true-to-life interactions between characters that really care about each other a great deal. There’s also heart and depth of emotion which comes from Billy’s predicament. I should have known “Friday Night Lights” would succeed at achieving this balance!

There’s also a much more informal Thanksgiving dinner between Vince and his mom at the rehab facility. They’re sharing some barbecue from Ray’s, and Vince’s mom is trying to convince Vince that he’s going to succeed in the big game the next day. Jess arrives to join them and brings a pecan pie. She broke up with Landry earlier in the episode due to her feelings for Vince, which is part of the reason Landry was rather cold to Matt. I know we’re supposed to think Jess is where she belongs with people who need her, but I have to be a little sad. I think Vince has a good heart, but he’s been too unpredictable in a dangerous way. Landry was good for Jess and treated her like a queen. Ah well. I wasn’t really all that invested in that particular triangle, anyway. Although I will say that Landry/Jess was certainly better than Landry/Tyra. I never did really believe in Landry/Tyra, and its connection to the murder plot that will not be spoken of again from season 2 doesn’t do it any favors.

The day after Thanksgiving is time for some football (guess they don’t do Black Friday shopping in Texas). The big game against the Panthers means so much to Coach because of all the pain connected with his leaving the Panthers. Everything is riding on this game for him emotionally. The game itself is rather silly, as “Friday Night Lights” football games generally are. I was glad to see a good solid chunk of an episode devoted to football, though. I get that “Friday Night Lights” is about more than football, but I think that ever since the Panthers won State in season 1, the show has embraced the “more” a little too much. I love the small town dynamics and the characters, but I think that what made the show special in the first season is that all that was told through the lens of football, the town obsession. Anyway, some highlights of the game included two two-point conversions, Luke getting to play a little bit (and being awesome) before taking another bad hit to the hip, Vince acquitting himself well, and Landry kicking a 46 yard field goal to win the game. The end of the game was my real problem. Landry is supposed to be a mediocre kicker to begin with, and NFL players don’t even make 46 yard field goals reliably unless they’re David Aikers.

The end of the episode gives us a good sense of where all these characters are headed. Matt and Julie spend some time at the lake, and Julie tells Matt she can’t go to Chicago because she needs to find her own dreams. Matt ends up taking Landry to Chicago instead, which I thought was sweet, although Matt doesn’t seem especially happy about it. The biggest event is that Tim decides to take all the responsibility for the chop shop. He spends the whole episode watching Billy interact with Steven, and Becky gives him a lecture about how she’s disappointed in him, and Tim decides to do something about it. There are no witnesses to connect Billy to the chop shop, only Tim, which is how Tim gets away with it. Billy is tearful when he realizes what his brother is willing to sacrifice for him, but they both know it’s the right decision. It’s a shame that Billy’s foolishness has led to Tim’s life being shattered, but I suppose those are the cards life deals sometimes, and “Friday Night Lights” has never shied away from showing all of life’s ups and downs.

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