February 2nd, 2011
Friday Night Light has never really been interested in the challenge of coming home. The vast majority of its story arcs are about the idea of moving beyond Dillon, Texas, of taking that next step towards the rest of your life. Despite the fact that the series opened with Jason Street and Tim Riggins sitting over a fire swearing that they were ‘Texas Forever,’ the show has to some degree indicated that one must leave before they truly find themselves.
Tim Riggins would be the one exception, really. While Jason Street has returned to Dillon, it was only as a successful sports agent who could comfortably connect with his former hometown from a privileged position. By comparison, Tim Riggins has twice returned to Dillon with no sense of direction, and considering that the last time resulted in an illegal chop shop resulting in an extended jail sentence there is plenty of evidence to indicate that it’s not easy to try to reintegrate into society.
“Texas Whatever” brings the notion of coming home to the forefront more than perhaps ever before, pulling together two people who are having to deal with the question of what being from Dillon, Texas, means to the rest of their lives. And while the conclusion of the series is obviously concerned with the idea of saying goodbye to Dillon, understanding what it means to “go home again” seems just as important to closing off this particular chapter in the life of a small Texas town.
Buddy Garrity can go home again: as soon as it is clear that the Panthers organization is likely to be the one left standing, the Panthers organization offers him his seat at the head of the table. Buddy needs football, and Buddy – despite his love for the Lions – has enough fond memories of his own time as a Panther to feel as though he would be home there.
What “Texas Whatever” has to deal with is that it isn’t so easy for Eric Taylor. While it would only be logical that he take over the Panthers now that everyone who stood in his way at the end of Season Three has mysteriously disappeared, what does it mean to return to the Panthers? Putting aside for the moment that continuing on with the team would be more or less denying Tami her opportunity to take a huge leap forward in her own career, Eric would still be balancing his commitment to his players (and Vince in particular) with the baggage left behind by his ouster. We were asked, as an audience, to hate the Panthers for what they did to Eric, and so the notion of him returning to the blue and gold just feels wrong. It’s meant to feel wrong, which is why the “no-brainer” decision seems anything but. Yes, the offer is tempting (or, rather, it will be when it comes in an official capacity following the meeting at episode’s end), but can the past two seasons simply be reset?
That’s an oversimplification of what this means, but it’s the challenge facing any return. It’s most apparent in Tim Riggins, still struggling to adapt to life after prison and where exactly he fits into these old routines. Watching Taylor Kitsch just absolutely lose himself into Tim’s depressive state has been legitimately heart-breaking, as he simply doesn’t know where to start. When he “came home” in Season Four, he had a plan: work with Billy at Riggins’ Rigs, ???, Profit. And yet the plan he had when he went to prison didn’t go as he imagined it, perhaps because he built up expectations over time that were simply infeasible. We’ve seen all season that Billy and Mindy have turned into a fairly remarkable little family, with Stevie and Becky both tremendously well-cared for in an unorthodox but nonetheless loving environment, but Riggins can’t see that. He had an idea of what he was supposed to return to, and that it doesn’t match up with reality makes him want to run away to Alaska and never look back.
“Texas Whatever” gives Tim Riggins a companion of sorts in his journey home, another set of eyes to see Dillon for what it truly represents. We haven’t seen Tyra Colette in a long time, last gestured towards during Landry’s early romantic advances towards Jess last season. While we understand that her absence is the result of Adrianne Palicki’s acting career, it does seem strange that we wouldn’t have seen her: her nephew was born, there were holidays, and she’s going to school in Austin which would make weekend trips a possibility. However, I quite like the reasoning the show offers, suggesting that she has resisted coming back because she felt she needed to stay away. Just as Matt Saracen needed to escape to Chicago, she needed to remain in Austin, and yet this particular trip back to Dillon finds the two finding that they continue to share a bond both to the town they’re from and to one another.
Without speaking to the finale, I was skeptical of their pairing here: it seemed too fast, like two returning characters just happening to pair up for the sake of convenience rather than out of emotion. Ultimately, though, I came around thanks to the idea that this was almost like nostalgia: it was picking up where they started when the series began, returning to old tension from a more mature perspective. While prison seemed to break Tim’s spirit, doing so might have given him the perspective he needed to re-assess his life. Regardless of what he does after this point, it may be better that he comes out of prison with infinite questions than if he had emerged with a certain path. It leaves him open to Dillon, and to the people around him, and perhaps gives him what he needs in order to find his path going forward.
This is an emotional episode of television: we feel for the players who are struggling with the weight of knowing that their team will no longer exist, we grimace at the tension between the two characters whose relationship has always been the stable rock by which all other relationships are judged, and we get just as swept up in the melodrama of Tim and Tyra’s “return” as the characters do. To an extent, we’re “coming home” to the show’s core message, as every character seems to be dealing with shifting definitions of what it means to be from, live in, or play football in Dillon, Texas. The town becomes very much the center of this episode, a moving target with an uncertain future and a great deal of influence on the characters we care about.
And yet perhaps the most emotional homecoming comes at the episode’s conclusion, as Matt Saracen steps into his Grandmother’s home to discover that things have changed. His grandmother is still there, but she isn’t there: she doesn’t realize his father is no longer alive, and her reaction tells us a great deal of information about how much her memory has faded since we lost saw the character. It’s a moment that emphasizes the challenge of saying goodbye: eventually, you’ll always have to return, and you’ll always discover that things have changed or things haven’t changed or that there is something that you missed which you might never be able to get back.
It’s a question that almost every character seems to be asking his or herself, and a question which will be incredibly important as decisions are made in next week’s finale.
- Anyone else spend some time thinking “What about Lyla and Landry?”
- I didn’t talk much about Tami and Eric above because I can’t bring myself to do it. It’s like seeing your own parents fight, and dwelling on it just makes me more anxious.
- I didn’t talk much about Luke and Becky, meanwhile, because the final two episodes are blurring together and I forget what happens in each one.
- The show rushed its way into “Jess wants to be a Coach” storyline something fierce, but it resonates for me: her knowledge of football has always been a character trait, and picking up on her summer helping Vince was smart even if it seemed to come a bit late in the season.
- Closest I came to crying in “Texas Whatever?” Grandma Saracen. By a mile.