January 27th, 2010
Friday Night Lights is a show about convergence.
Really, all ensemble dramas end up driving towards climaxes which tend to bring various story elements together, so this may not seem overly remarkable. However, as the show heads towards the conclusion of its fourth season, the show is doing a lot to bring together stories, simplifying in some instances and complicating in others.
And while some of the tension created by this convergence is engaging, what I tend to enjoy more is the sort of indirect effects: this is the first time in a while where the show actively demonstrated the show’s central dilemma of ignoring the football in order to service the characters on a personal, non-football level, and that tension (when used, as opposed to simply created and elided) is part of the show’s tragedy.
“Injury List” is about capturing the tragedy of stories converging at the worst possible time, although the show manages to keep (most of) that convergence from seeming too convenient in the show’s late season push.
The show is very clearly, as we predicted when it began, leading up to the first altercation between the Dillon Panthers and the East Dillon Lions. For most of “Injury List,” Eric Taylor refuses to discuss the possibility of that game, knowing that they needed to focus on this week’s matchup, and that there were other things to be concerned about. However, once they lose that game, and once his star running back (or whatever position Luke is playing) goes down with a fractured hip, that game becomes a cold hard reality: before it was something they didn’t talk about because they felt it would distract them, and now it’s something that they want every possible distraction from in order to blunt the impact of the imminent ass-kicking.
And the episode is filled with distractions: just as Julie starts trying to move on with Habitat for Humanity (albeit potentially for boy reasons), Matt calls her from Chicago to tell her his life is still empty without her; just as Vince checks his mother into rehab, he’s on the hook with his gangster friends and feels so guilty about it that he can’t even go see her; just as Tim finally finds his use in life helping out Becky and her mother and buying land to start his future, Tim gets thrown out of someone’s house because of presumed sexual advances towards a young female (for the second time). It all happens at the worst possible time, at the point where these characters are trying to move on with their lives (albeit perhaps not in the best of directions in every instance) and yet they find themselves tied down to the past: Julie to Matt, Vince to his criminal upbringing, and Tim to the impression people have had of him from the very start of the show.
Ultimately, the show needs to get all of these characters past these distractions, both because it will bring their stories full circle and because, for Saracen and Riggins, this is their last hurrah. The knowledge that Matt and Tim are leaving means that there is much less clarity in their stories than with Vince: yes, Vince is traumatized after he watches his friend get gunned down in someone’s driveway, but in some ways the experience will free him and allow him to focus on his football, and we know that he needs to start a new character arc once Season 5 hits. However, the same doesn’t go for Matt and Tim, so it’s not clear how they plan on handling Julie’s personal crisis, or how Tim is going to find his way with only a little piece of Texas to keep him grounded.
I thought the episode as a whole was pretty good, as it kept most of these convergences from feeling too melodramatic. Ultimately, I felt that Tim was rushed out of his situation too quickly, and while Alicia Witt totally sold “drunk Mom who wants Riggins to be her new husband and who is jealous and paranoid when he gets even close to her daughter” I don’t necessarily know if that was the most logical way to bring this story to a close (especially since, as I note, Tim had the exact same thing happen to him when he was staying with the Taylors). However, when it comes to something like Vince, it makes more sense to have Vince traumatized by the death of others than placed in jail or injured himself, and I thought the show took a nice slow pace on Julie’s interaction with Saracen that (as per usual) felt very realistic and grounded considering the situation.
I’m always concerned when the show deals with a subject like drugs, but I thought that the tragic fall of Luke Cafferty has managed to feel pretty realistic despite a few logic gaps. First off, I refuse to believe that his parents (who were present when the accident happened, for pete’s sake) or Coach Taylor, even distracted as he is, would have not noticed his injury sooner: that Luke’s condition stayed hidden for this long is pretty much an impossibility, although one that I understand made sense in terms of maximum convergence. However, the show managed to keep Luke from falling too far into his dependence on the drugs, viewing them less as an addictive substance (although, Season 5 is around the corner) and more as a way for him to recklessly continue trying to play with the injury. Luke’s not living an easy life: getting a girl pregnant, dealing with parents’ reaction to her abortion, and handling the pain form his fractured hip are not everyday events, but Matt Lauria has managed to make Cafferty seem remarkably grounded while also noting how trying so hard to keep things normal tends to cause him greater pain in the end.
The scenes on the field were a fine example of this, as the team starts rallying around Luke as soon as Tinker reveals the truth. Sure, it’s entirely unrealistic that a team could get away with running the same play over and over again (it’s perhaps the dumbest football strategy I’ve ever heard), but it made it so it wasn’t Luke being self-destructive that revealed the truth, but instead the team bonding over the experience. Matt Lauria has yet to have his true emotional moment, which will hopefully follow in the weeks to come, but I thought they did a good job of making Luke’s deception come out in a light that helped build the team dynamic (and show they’re working better together) as opposed to just his own personal crisis.
I’m not quite as convinced, though, in terms of where they’re heading with Tami Taylor. On the one hand, Connie Britton was as amazing as she always is, and perhaps this might finally be the story that gets her some Emmy attention (“As a mother and principal struggling to protect her right to inform a pregnant teenager of all of her options, Connie Britton from Friday Night Lights”). On the other hand, I feel like the story has rushed Luke’s mother into this position too quickly, and Tami’s involvement seems to be particularly illogical (perhaps too illogical) considering that one would expect Luke’s mother would focus more of her attention on Becky’s mother considering she’s the one who took her to the appointment and all. Because we never saw Becky’s conversation with her, we don’t quite know what side of this story she has, which makes her crusade feel like a forced effort to extend the discussion of this subject within the show as opposed to an organic character response. I have no issue with the show raising the subject, and Tami’s position (that she followed state guidelines, made no suggestions either way, and simply listened to Becky as an adult) is the right one for her character to take, but Mrs. Cafferty is being forced into a one-minded crusade that feels as if it lacks any real emotional connection to the situation because it’s aimed at Tami and not Becky or her mother (with whom the emotional side of things might feel more clear).
The show is nonetheless launching towards a complex conclusion, as Julie deals with Matt’s phone call, Tami deals with the idea of her situation becoming front page news, and Eric Taylor needs to find a way to escape the shadow of the Dillon Panthers in the biggest game of the season (in which they play only the role of spoiler, since their year has been over for a while). And I like that things are converging, that the show is growing more and more complex as it goes along. And, while it might be traumatizing for Vince, Calvin’s death means that Tim and Billy might be off the hook, which means that some of my more overt concerns about criminal influences have been dealt with. However, they’re forcing a few things here, and I hope the show is able to step back from the melodrama and really dial in on the characters.
- I know that we’re heading to the point where Landry gets tragically dumped by Jess, but I’m okay for it for two reasons: one is that Adrianne Palicki is coming back next season, which gives them a chance to resolve their story, and the other is that I think the show’s done a good job of selling me on Jess and Vince as a couple. The idea that she always liked him, but always felt as if he were too screwed up to be with, resonates for me, and her growing affection as she sees him vulnerable and trying his best to succeed is believable for me.
- Matt Saracen’s apartment, while dingy and poorly furnished, is freaking huge – as a result, it is yet another unrealistic living arrangement in a major metropolitan city in the world of television.
- The Realtor’s reaction to Tim dropping of the cash was a nice bit of levity in an episode without much levity (see also: Buddy Garrity saying “El Fuego.”).