In the twelfth episode of the fourth season of Friday Night Lights, everything hurts. I’m serious, this made me feel PHYSICAL PAIN. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Friday Night Lights.
I am just so drained after that experience. Never in the history of this show have I seen so much defeat. I am devastated by the final scene because it really shows how much “Laboring” is about these characters being at their absolute worst. This feels like their lowest point, and I just want to hug them all at once.
I don’t even know how to talk about this right now.
I’ll start this off by saying that while Friday Night Lights has done wonders with Vince, Jess, and the entire East Dillon cast, there’s something that’s done it better. Yes, let me recommend The Wire YET AGAIN, because if Vince’s heartbreaking and suspenseful performance in “Laboring” resonated with you, go shirk all your responsibilities and watch The Wire. It will be the best decision you’ve ever made. Also, it’ll ruin your life, but I’ve already said that.
I said at the end of the video commission for this episode that this was one of the most difficult episodes of the show to watch, and I mean that. I care a lot about Vince, and yet it’s impossible to ignore that he’s doing something terrible here. Royce is asking him to murder something. Now, Vince has made a lot of poor choices in the past, choices dictated by his surroundings as much as they’re also influenced by his own ego and his own sense of duty to his mother. Vince knows that he owes Royce for the money that allowed him to put his mother into rehab, and it’s that familial duty that informs his actions.
It is then Jess that we become, whose eyes we see this story through. I’ve always suspected that Jess cared for Vince, even if she resented his macho act or his less-than-desirable behavior. Here, though, she reveals that she cannot cope with the idea that Vince will throw his life away (perhaps literally) just for revenge. As she begs him to stay behind, I found myself wishing the exact same thing. But he was a man possessed by this misguided sense of necessity. However, it wasn’t until Royce spelled out what Vince was going to have to do that he realized that he needed to reject this. I recalled that Vince had largely been able to avoid any real responsibility when working with Royce. He didn’t beat the man who owed Royce money, and he later remained in the car when Calvin died. But now, there was no way out of this. He was going to be complicit in murder or he was going to pull the trigger himself.
So he gets out of the car. And I fully believe that he was willing to die under that underpass rather than kill someone. It’s a horrifying scene to watch because I also believed that Royce would kill Vince. It would be a bold move by the writers, but it’s not like they haven’t been willing to do things that upset the narrative before. Hell, this whole season has been about taking the Dillon Panthers away from Coach Taylor, and I expected that to last the entirety of the show.
But I’m glad Vince is alive, and I know he’s got a frightening journey ahead of him. Royce is going to come after him. Who is that going to put at risk? Still, I’m thankful that Vince is here and that he’s with Jess. I think there’s a deliberate parallel between their last scene in “Laboring” and the Taylors. They sit against the outside of Vince’s apartment, and they look so defeated.
Ugh, my babies.
There’s a brilliant comment from Tami Taylor in this episode that summarizes what these two struggle with: Both of them aren’t playing on a fair field anymore. That literal and figurative field is what causing them so much distress and worry. I mean, you can tell how torn up Eric is by all of this in that first practice scene with Luke. He lashes out at Luke, but then immediately apologizes for doing so. He knows Luke is a good kid who was trying to do right by his team, and he shouldn’t face the brunt of Eric’s anger.
Tami’s stress manifests in a sort of sadness that Julie picks up on quite easily. But then the phone calls start coming in. Then there’s the protest when Tami tries to leave school. People tell Tami she’s going to hell. They tell her she’s a baby killer. It’s a disturbing side of Dillon that we see, sure, but haven’t we seen it manifest in other ways? In this episode alone, we hear folks calling in to the local sports radio station to vomit their racist and classist bullshit on air regarding East Dillon. So it’s not surprising to me at all that a small town in Texas would rally so cruelly around something THAT DIDN’T EVEN HAPPEN AS THEY IMAGINE IT DID. I think this is a great example of how making a political or social issue out of real human experience can be disastrous for the people involved. None of the people calling Tami or protesting at her school can think of her as a human being, as a counselor who followed protocol, as a principal who did what she was supposed to. No, they’ve reduced her to a baby killer, and that’s it. But the same could be said of how Eric is treated, too. People reduce the Panther/Lions game to a vicious war, which means that Eric is an enemy. It means that the Lions are to be destroyed. After everything that happened at East Dillon, it’s specifically why Eric tells the state negotiator not to condescend to them about this just being a game. If that’s the case, then people wouldn’t have destroyed the East Dillon football field.
(And seriously, can I just take a moment to rage about that? Fine, the East Dillon team pulled off a brilliant but non-damaging prank on the other team. I expected some retaliation because that’s what comes from this culture. But when a school is already at the bottom of the barrel in terms of resources and money, I find it especially heinous that middle class/rich kids from the other side of town will destroy what little East Dillon has. I can’t ignore the class and race issues at work here because they seems so obvious. My god, I hate the Dillon Panthers and their boosters and Joe McCoy and Wade and I can’t believe this show made me hate the Dillon Panthers. Bravo, writers.)
There’s a lot going on here with the Taylors, but there always is. It’s the nature of their lives and their jobs. However, this is the first time the two of them have come together after a long day and look like they’ve been beaten. Tami’s going to make a statement, conceding this imaginary fault of hers, in order to keep her job. The home game at East Dillon will now be at West Dillon. Both of them lost their battles at the same time. You know Julie is aware that things are not all right, and it’s so fucking devastating to see Tami and Eric sit on that couch, in a daze of confusion and disappointment, and know that they can’t win this battle. They lost. And they lost horribly.
Perhaps the Rigginses lost worst of all.
You know, I could deal with the development in “Laboring” regarding the Riggins much better if I hadn’t had to sit through this whole episode to get to it. “Laboring” is full of the most beautiful kind of hope, something we’ve seen in the stories of Smash Williams, Tyra Collette, Jason Street, Lyla Garrity, and now, Tim and Billy Riggins. Tim has his land. He’s found his purpose in life. Billy’s found his, too, and that comes from his son, Steven Hannabal Riggins. I made a comment during this episode that I had never seen Billy so still and focused as he was when he was staring at his newborn son. It’s the truth! And it’s a beautiful thing to watch.
That is why the end of “Laboring” hurts so much. We are given SO MUCH HOPE and SO MUCH HAPPINESS, and then the police show up, and both Riggins brothers are detained, and why the fuck would you do that to me? I mean, look, this is an upsetting episode already. If you took out the Riggins’ storyline, I’d still be a mess of emotions. BUT NO. YOU TOOK MY WATERFALL OF FEELINGS FOR TIM RIGGINS AND YOU LIT IT ON FIRE.
I’ll have more to say about this when I am not gut-wrenchingly upset.
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