In the eighth episode of the fourth season of Friday Night Lights, Tim copes with the uncertainty of his future; Luke’s injury is worse than he thought; and Julie and Tami head to Boston for a college interview. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Friday Night Lights.
Oh, how I have missed writing about this show.
I have a lot of feelings about “Toilet Bowl,” so I’m warning you in advance that I shall spew them forth to you. But I also feel that the Friday Night Lights fandom is one that explicitly accepts all feels about everyone because it’s the only way to cope with what this show does to us. Right?
Anyway, I have complicated thoughts about college, and lord, this episode hits so many brilliant marks that I can relate to. On the surface, there’s not much that’s the same between the trip that Julie takes to Boston University and my own experience. During my last two years of high school, I was estranged from my parents, living on my own and supporting myself. I had to pay for all my applications. (At this point, I can’t quite recall how many schools I applied for, but I think it was around 9 of them. It was a ton of money to do so, but, like Julie, I was so desperate to escape Riverside, California that I found ways to make the money and apply to all of my dream schools.) My parents were not part of my decision at all, except in the sense that the fact that they weren’t paying for my college affected where I ultimately chose to go. I did travel to Cal State Long Beach, to Stanford, to UCLA, to Berkeley, and USC. And I remember having the very same reaction as Julie does here: I don’t belong.
Of course, Julie’s emotional state in “Toilet Bowl” is a lot more complicated than that, and I think Aimee Teegarden is brilliant in her portrayal of all the layers she experiences. Obviously, she doesn’t feel at home in Boston. She comes from a small Texas town, and Boston is not the same sort of place. She even vocalizes this to the college recruiter who interviews her, but it’s not precisely for the same reason. On top of this, though, she’s anxious about how quickly her life is moving on without Matt. (Where is he???) As she tells Tami, she’s worried that she’s nothing but a big mess. What I enjoyed about this portrayal and the writing is that it respects how complex this situation is for Julie. Amidst being dumped by Matt after his father dies, she’s now supposed to seek out a college to go to, and that college happens to be the one her own mother wanted to go to herself. Of course she’s going to view this in a cynical light. How else is she supposed to feel? And it’s clear that Tami is struggling to say the right thing to her daughter, to express empathy and sympathy to her while still conveying how important it is that she give her all in this interview, lest she regret it later.
That’s why Julie’s interview ends up being such a touching scene. She takes her mother’s advice while also coping with the confusing things she’s feeling. She misses Dillon. She misses its simplicity, even if that simplicity comes from feeling like she’s the exception there, too. There’s no easy answer to Julie’s problems at the end of “Toilet Bowl,” but that’s what makes this such a realistic experience as someone watching her journey. It’s a step into her future, but it’s not the end.
By the way, I LOVE JULIE AND TAMI SO MUCH.
So, as a general rule of thumb, I kind of don’t ever like love triangles. I know that’s fairly well known around here, but allow me to give two reasons:
1) They rarely, if ever, produce stories that we haven’t seen before.
2) I cannot relate to them at all because historically, I have problem attracting just one person to me romantically, let alone two at the same time.
#1 is more important to me in terms of the story because, frankly, I find love triangles to be so boring, and it doesn’t help that they’ve become so popular in modern fiction. (Which is not to ignore that they’ve always been there, of course!) However, I’m not bothered by the story we’ve seen surrounding Jess. So far, that is. This is not about a love triangle, technically speaking, since she isn’t in love with either Vince or Landry. It just so happens that both guys are interested in her. And while she’s expressed some interest in Landry, it’s also not like she’s definitively chosen him either. I sensed that there were a lot of issues at work. She appreciates Landry’s company and sense of humor, and he lacks the sort of baggage that Vince carries with him. But then we get that awkward and sweet scene where Vince’s mother invites Jess to their house, and the idea of her being with Vince suddenly seems very appealing, both to her and to me. I’m sure she’s also got to deal with the expectations her father has for her, given that she helps raise her brothers, too. Those goofy kids (who I adore every time they’re on the screen) seem to like both Vince and Landry, so that doesn’t help her.
I like this, and it’s rare for me to do so. I think the fact that the writers care so much about portraying these characters so faithfully and genuinely helps. I hope that this doesn’t end with Landry and Vince hating each other, though, you know? Plus, I really like Jess, and I just want more of her on the show.
Oh, the feelings I have for Tim Riggins. Seriously, even I’m surprised by how fond I’ve grown for his character over the course of this show. (Not as much as I have for Buddy Garrity, but we’ll get to that in a bit.) Like Aimee Teegarden, I’m just so enamored with how Taylor Kitsch chooses to portray his character, and there are some huge moments for him in “Toilet Bowl.” He’s also got a parallel journey to Julie, you know? Granted, he remains in Dillon, but he’s also thinking about a future without Riggins’ Rigs. After learning that Billy is running an after-hours chop shop, he confronts his brother in one of the most riveting (and frightening) scenes in the whole show. Y’all, I’ve never seen Tim so angry before, and it’s UNREAL. But Tim also understands that Billy is taking such a ridiculous risk by doing what he’s doing. What if he gets caught? Who’s going to take care of Mindy and the baby?
And so he tries to find another future. He seeks out the realtor in charge of the amazing span of land he saw driving home, but is dismayed by the cost of it. He takes pointers from Becky about how he should approach a job interview at a local electronics and appliance store. (Which is a painfully cute scene, and I say “painful” because it’s just so uncomfortable to watch Becky keep falling for Tim. No, stop it.) But what if this isn’t the life he’s meant for? What if a job in a suit and a tie isn’t who Tim Riggins is? And how can he find a future without money?
That’s actually an important aspect of Tim’s story that I wish was explored a bit more, though I’m quite satisfied that it was brought up. Having a child is expensive. It’s unreal how much it costs to have a child in the United States! Y’all, I just got health insurance for the first time in ages, and it is still so expensive to do anything. Now, there are a million places I could take this. Like, it is absurd to me that there is no price list for the service you get at hospitals, and you just have to find out how much stuff costs afterwards. I hate that there is no sense of a standard for prices. (And you better believe that there’s no coincidence between the cost of medical care and geographic region.) And I’ll take a potshot at pro-lifers just because I can: You never see pro-life folks pushing for affordable health care for low-income mothers/families so that they can afford to have their kids. (Spoiler alert: That’s because most pro-life people don’t really care about this sort of thing. No one is surprised.)
This is precisely why Billy is so ready to risk everything with his chop shop. He cannot afford the ever-growing costs of having a child. And while expenses won’t necessarily disappear once the baby is born, it’s the sheer cost of giving birth and the prenatal care that Mindy needs that scares him. He can’t keep up, and so he turns to a desperate plan to guarantee that he can provide for his wife and unborn child. (And note that the writers do show us the emotional toll this takes on Mindy, too, showing us that this is a complicated issue regardless of who it affects.) Tim ultimately concedes that perhaps this is what he’s meant to do, at least for the time being. Of course I’m worried that they’ll get caught, but I also appreciate that this show has repeatedly shown the audience how difficult it is to live in the United States if you’re lower class.
CAN YOU TELL THAT I ADORE THIS SHOW AND WHAT IT’S DONE TO ME.
The Toilet Bowl
And in the main plot that threads this episode together, we get a story that isn’t gutwrenching. Instead, both Coach Taylor and Buddy Garrity (OF ALL PEOPLE) find a way to turn a demoralizing game into a rally cry for the East Dillon Lions. We get another example of how cruel the football fans of Dillon can be towards teenagers when the game between the Lions and the Timberwolves, the two worst teams in the league, is dubbed the Toilet Bowl. I mean, this is essentially citywide bullying as far as I’m concerned. The game is broadcast on the main sports radio station, people are encouraged to call it this name, and people use this opportunity to turn Coach Taylor and his team’s work into a joke. So who can blame the players for feeling downtrodden after finding that someone’s left a toilet bowl covered in toilet paper on the field?
That’s why I love what Eric and Buddy do here. Buddy in particular is amazing, because he finally sheds away the spectre of the Dillon Panthers and supports the Lions. Even if he’s awkward in doing so, he secures a radio show that’ll let him broadcast the East Dillon Lions’ game. He gets the support of the boosters. Y’all, he does really nice things for Eric without asking for anything in return. Buddy has had a difficult, painful, and challenging journey throughout Friday Night Lights, and I must say that it’s very satisfying as a viewer.
We’ve also got Luke’s injury to worry about, which is so unfortunate because the team is finally starting to come together as a unit. It’s uncomfortable to see him seek out painkillers from the Doctor that Tim sent him to because… well, shit, it’s so easy for that to turn into a disaster, you know? What if there are complications from the medicine? What if playing through the pain makes the injury worse because Luke can’t judge how bad he’s hurt? And what happens if he’s caught? There’s a moment where Coach Taylor suspects something is wrong, but he shakes the thought off and sends Luke back into the game.
While I suspect that we’ll see more of this in the future, I’m also okay just celebrating the beauty of watching the East Dillon Lions win. It’s true that this team has come a long way, and I don’t want to discount their performance just because they played the other worst team in the district. They’re improving, and it’s just so lovely to see. Landry’s field goal is amazing. Vince’s performance is stellar, as is Luke’s. They are getting better. So I’ll take this joy while I still have it.
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