In the first episode of the fifth season of Friday Night Lights, the school year at East Dillon begins with surprises, goodbyes, and victories. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Friday Night Lights.
EVERYTHING IS ALREADY TOO MUCH.
East Dillon High
There’s not as jarring a change between seasons as there has been in the past. “Expectations” may start over nine months after “Thanksgiving,” but the transitions here feel more natural than ever. Which isn’t to suggest that Friday Night Lights has lost its steam or that things aren’t surprising! This premiere just feels right, especially since Coach Taylor is approaching the upcoming season in a much different context. Tami is now at East Dillon, which is TERRIBLY EXCITING, but that doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. No, you can already see the conflicts that the Taylors are going to face.
Coach Taylor has a lot of pressure to perform well in his second year as a coach of the Lions, and I love that the context of this season is so drastically different here. After the Lions’ win against Panthers, they now have the hope of winning. These players have become more comfortable with one another, and that helps them play more cohesively. They’re not perfect, and I think the first half of their game against the Croft Cowboys is a good example of their weaknesses. And I like that the writers aren’t making them some sort of super team, either. No, they still have a lot of room to grow as players.
On top of that, they’ve got a new coach! (Billy Riggins, who is SO GODDAMN AWKWARD that he makes Stan look completely normal. Actually, that’s a bit unfair. Stan’s gotten used to being a coach, and he was once just as messy as Billy. Still, I couldn’t help but laugh at the looks that Stan gave Billy when Billy was trying to be motivational. What a goof ball.) Then Buddy Garrity looks towards the future, hoping to recruit an East Dillon basketball player Hastings Ruckle. That’s kind of a mess in and of itself, which isn’t helped by Ruckle’s attitude toward football. Which he is entitled to have! Thankfully, this isn’t like when the Dillon Panthers recruited Luke; it’s more of an issue of Hastings playing both basketball and football at the same time. Plus, he’s got that whole “free spirit” thing going on? Yeah, I can already tell that that’s going to be a problem. Part of playing football involves teamwork, which is what Eric tells Hastings at one point. I don’t think the kid gets it, though, and I can foresee a lot of clashing when he decides he wants to be a “free spirit” amidst the organization of football. That’s going to be zero fun.
Still, the Lions do come together to pull off one hell of a comeback at the end of “Expectations.” It’s a neat use of the title, too, since the Lions were working against the expectations of the entire town. A victory in the first game? That’s a big fucking deal, y’all. Oh god, CAN MY PREDICTION COME TRUE? I would love if the Lions went all the way to state. I WANT IT MORE THAN MOST THINGS.
Meanwhile, Tami’s first week at East Dillon is… hell, I’ll just use the word that Levi and Tami do: It’s discouraging. The writers deftly deconstruct the white savior trope here by keeping Tami grounded in the reality of what life is like at East Dillon High. I think it’s an effective way to demonstrate how privilege works because Tami is clearly a good, moral person, who has the best of intentions, and who wants nothing more than to improve conditions at her new school. However, her own expectations for how to run the school are based solely on her experience of running West Dillon High. She doesn’t understand the lack of resources. She doesn’t understand the underlying issues behind the problems she observes in the school’s records, not because she’s a terrible counselor or because she’s not smart. She just doesn’t have the experience of working in this kind of environment!
I’m glad that Levi was used more in this episode, especially since he acts as a foil to Tami’s sense of entitlement. Tami has to adjust to not having resources, to counseling people whom have nothing in common with her, and to accept that she might not be able to fix things by herself. This is going to be a humbling experience for her, as this episode proves all by itself, but Levi encourages her not to let this inspire her to give up. No, I think Levi believes in Tami, despite that she may be misguided, and I’m excited to see where this season takes her.
Okay, I’m really into them as a couple, and now I like Vince even more since he provides moral support for Jess while her father is off opening three new franchises of Ray’s. There are a lot of absent parents in Friday Night Lights, and yet it’s one of the tropes/themes that never really feels repetitive. Andre lashes out at Jess whenever she tries to act as the adult of the household, and we see how difficult it is for her to get him to obey her at all. I think it’s an unfair position to put a teenager in, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of how Matt’s parents left him alone to take care of Lorraine. Here, though, Vince makes a good point. Despite that Andre’s father is going to return, absence is absence. He’s still gone, and Andre still resents it. Who wouldn’t??? It was bad enough that Big M rarely came to the kids’ football games, and now he’s not around at all?
Vince is resilient here, and it’s so fascinating to see how much he’s grown since the first episode of season four. He’s able to be a leader for his team, and then he acts as a father figure for Andre in a way that isn’t condescending. I HAVE A TON OF VINCE HOWARD FEELINGS, Y’ALL.
EVERYTHING IS BRUTALLY UNFAIR. I really can’t imagine anything more surreal than the scene of Billy visiting Tim while he’s in prison. Tim Riggins is in prison. TIM IS IN PRISON. oh my god IT IS REALLY HAPPENING. It’s so hard to watch because you can tell that Tim has just given up. Granted, he’s got three months left in his sentence, but what the hell is he going to do once he’s out? I can’t even imagine at this point. At least Billy is avoiding getting into another disastrous scheme. He’s learned from his mistakes, and it’s a big reason why he seeks out Eric’s help in becoming a coach. (I’m curious, though. Is Riggins Rigs doing well, or was it shut down?) It’s kind of adorable. As is his coaching. As is his kindness towards Becky. Billy is so adorable.
But let’s talk about Becky and her role in the Riggins’ family life. My heart aches for Becky and the life she’s been thrown into. I know that her mom is off trying to support the family, and I get that money is a powerful motivator for parents to do things that seem strange or hurtful to others. But Becky is literally left behind here, and she’s forced to spend time with her father’s other family. It’s awkward. It’s unfair. And now her own house isn’t even hers anymore. What’s she supposed to do? She takes Tim’s promise to heart, and she enters another home that isn’t hers, either. Trust me, as someone who once lived on couches for years, who never had a home of his own, it’s a humiliating and alienating thing to experience. So, naturally, I’m going to empathize with what Becky’s going through. My hope is that there’s something good up ahead for Becky, because this girl can’t seem to catch a break.
While there’s no absolute confirmation in “Expectations,” I am now worried that Landry and Julie have said their goodbyes to Friday Night Lights. Landry has a particularly poignant conversation with Julie after Crucifictorius’s final show about how he expected his last day in Dillon to be epic, and my god, I understand what he means. For me, I needed to escape the oppressive environment that I lived in while in Riverside, so I looked forward to the day when I could leave that city behind. But that feeling only manifested in the final summer I was in town. You have to understand, I got outed right around graduation. Thankfully, the rumors didn’t ruin my graduation ceremony itself, but they spread like wildfire a few days later. Before this happened, I thought I had friends. I thought I’d have parties, I thought I’d have people wishing me well as I ventured to Long Beach for college. I didn’t have any of that. No, my friend Jason drove me to college in his parents’ minivan, and I soon lost contact with nearly all of the people I grew up with. They wanted nothing to do with me. But you know what? I appreciate the plainness of the goodbyes. They few people who mattered wished me well, and here, the stark realism of how Julie and Landry leave Dillon hit me hard because I recognized it as my own. Life isn’t always a spectacle, and for as many times as Friday Night Lights deals with the dramatic twists and turns of this small town, I’m mostly struck by the quiet, subtle moments.
Landry is off to Rice. Julie is going to a place? I don’t think they said where she was going to college once. Regardless, she’s leaving her home, and you can already see the vacancy that’ll remain without her. It hurts. I’ll miss the petty arguments and the ping pong and the laughter and I really don’t want Julie Taylor to leave this show. I CAN’T DO THIS WITHOUT HER. But I suppose that I have let go of her eventually, despite that I WANT NONE OF IT.
My heart. This is how the season starts? This isn’t fair at all.
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