In the seventh episode of the fifth season of Friday Night Lights, Ornette and Coach Taylor clash over Vince’s future; Julie remains in denial; and Luke shouldn’t ever listen to Billy Riggins about girls, like, ever, I swear. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Friday Night Lights.
Best show? Best show.
Let’s talk about the least complicated plot in “Perfect Record” first, because otherwise, this is one complex and challenging episode to experience. (Which is a compliment, for the record.) I admit that Luke’s story is not exactly the most original thing on television. I’ve seen this plot before quite a few times in fiction, and it’s a very common trope. For the playground. Haha, it is a juvenile way of thinking, isn’t it? I like a girl SO I SHOULD IGNORE HER AND TREAT HER LIKE DIRT. She’ll totally like me because of it! Thankfully, the writers don’t take this plot so far that Luke ends up hurting Becky. That would have infuriated me. I mean, I can’t think of a worse person to take dating advice from than Billy Riggins given what we see here. Billy represents such an exaggerated form of masculine rage that – unfortunately – IS A REAL THING. That’s like HALF the guys I grew up with. They genuinely believed this garbage!
Fun story: I made the mistake of accepting a friend request a few years ago from someone I went to high school with who wasn’t ever mean to me, but wasn’t exactly the nicest person ever. He was one of the football jocks that so commonly represent most people’s perception of football culture. He was loud, brash, a womanizer, and, to a T, loved every stereotypical thing a football-loving man was supposed to love. But he wrote me a nice message! I was feeling nice! I lasted as his friend for a few days before I severed that contact because this guy, who spent all of high school being just like Billy Riggins, believing that you had to mistreat women in order to get them to like you, now posted about constantly being friendzoned by the very women who he treated terribly. I told you this story was fun! Guess who doesn’t find this funny? Men’s rights activists. Oh, it’s the best joke ever.
Oh god, it’s always hard to deal with characters you adore doing things you don’t like. While I think there’s a possibility that Julie’s story can be taken to an interesting place, this episode just feels so weird. Instead of spending any time on the culture or atmosphere at Burleson that’s keeping Julie away from college, all we see is an examination of denial and apathy. That’s not a bad thing for the show to explore, but the plot becomes less about Julie as a person and more about how others react to her. She’s a static force, almost literally so. She just sits there, acting as if everything her mother asks her to do is some big chore, and I’m not sure I understand why. She seemed so apologetic for what she’d done to stay in Dillon, so why is she suddenly so unwilling to act like her parents are doing her a favor? How does she switch over to acting entitled or annoyed?
Regardless, Julie is in denial, and her refusal to go back to school or even deal with what she did isn’t exactly the most appealing thing her character has ever done. Instead, we get to see how Tami tries her best to save her daughter’s schooling, which gives us THE MOST AWKWARD SCENE IN THE HISTORY OF AWKWARD SCENES THAT… okay, I’m gonna say it: I think the writers wasted the chance to do something huge with both Tami’s and Julie’s stories. What we see is awkward and nothing else. Tami just stares at Derek with her beautiful murder eyes, but then… nothing happens. There’s no confrontation. Derek says nothing of significance, either, and so Julie’s story goes absolutely nowhere by the end of the episode. Tami’s gotten her missed schoolwork, but what happens next? There’s practically no hint beyond Tami saying that they’ve got a week to get Julie back at Burleson, but I don’t feel like any real progress was made.
It’s weird. Everything is so weird and complicated.
But that complication of Julie’s story is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING when compared to the challenging story that the writers have crafted here in “Perfect Record.” Like I said in the review for “The Right Hand of the Father,” it’s all the more glaring when the writers miss the mark because HOLY SHIT THIS EPISODE IS OTHERWISE A FUCKING MASTERPIECE OF DIFFICULT DECISIONS. Using all the serialized development of Vince from season four, Ornette since “The Right Hand of the Father,” Jess since her introduction, Regina since hers, too, and calling back to the brilliance of Smash Williams’ journey in seasons two and three, this is a SPECTACLE. There are so many factors at work here!
At first, it’s the release of a horrible, shaming website that exposes the criminal records of the Lions players that sets things off on the wrong foot. It’s a frustrating and humiliating development because, as Vince says, it seems that no matter what these players do, they’re always “thugs” in the eyes of others. And I think that’s an unfortunately astute assessment of what happens to people who are poor or people of color or both. It’s this willful refusal to see marginalized folk as anything other than violent subhumans.
Given this, it’s why Vince reacts so strongly to the news that his father has been talking with college recruiters without consulting Coach Taylor. This is why I referenced Smash; Vince is experiencing something very similar, which is a way out. It’s a way out of his life, it’s a path to support his family, and you better believe he’s going to pursue it. The writers don’t openly discuss this because we’re meant to understand it after having experienced Smash’s story. By doing this, it’s a deliberate way for us to have empathy for Ornette and Vince, despite that we also feel FUCKING AWFUL about how complicated this is. I DON’T WANT EVERYONE TO FIGHT AND BE MAD AND CAN’T WE ALL BE FRIENDS???
Initially, Vince is resistant to what his father has done for him, but the release of his records changes his perception not just of his father, but his own future. Can he afford to risk passing up the opportunities that these recruiters are providing? Is it worth it for him to play the kind of game that’ll get him attention versus getting a win? Of course, Ornette and Eric were going to clash over this, but I was surprised that we got to see a few moments where Jess was the one expressing quiet concern. I think that it was mostly for Regina, and in that context, it made sense that we’d see her worried that Ornette moving in was a bad idea. However, Regina is so happy, and so is Vince! Still, she can tell that Ornette taking charge of of Vince’s future is cause for concern, too.
This all comes to fruition during the game against the Panthers. I think it’s a sign of just how confusing and complicated this plot is when the rivalry against the Panthers ISN’T EVEN THE MAIN CONFLICT. Sure, the Lions destroyed the Panthers, but I didn’t find myself caring about whether they’d win or lose. I was more concerned about Luke’s violent tackles or Vince’s decision to disobey Coach Taylor in order to impress the recruiter. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this is a Pyrrhic victory, at least not yet, because I haven’t seen the full ramifications of what these people have done. But oh god, this could get so much worse. It’s great that the Lions are now 7-0, but can Vince control his ego? Will Luke realize that he doesn’t have to significantly injure other players just to make plays? Y’all, Coach Taylor looks so upset at the end of this. It’s going to get worse, isn’t it? Oh, of course it’s going to.
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! NO ONE SPOILED THIS OH MY GOD OH MY GOD IT’S JASON AND HE’S MARRIED AND HE GOT PROMOTED AND IT’S TOO MUCH TO DEAL WITH AND HOLY SHIT DID HE RECOMMEND COACH TAYLOR FOR THE POSITION OF HEAD COACH FOR A COLLEGE TEAM. WHAT THE. OH FUCK. OH FUCK.
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