In the thirteenth and final episode of the fifth season of Friday Night Lights, the end is here. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish Friday Night Lights.
This? This gives me hope.
I find that as much as I do speak openly about my life, I have certain things that I keep to myself. I’ve made references often about my current relationship, but aside from posting ridiculous conversations that we have on my Tumblr, I’ve never really talked openly about Johnny. Watching “Always,” I couldn’t help but think about my own relationship because it’s the first time I’ve ever felt like… well, he could be the one, as cheesy as that sound. It’s no surprise that I not only ship Tami/Eric like the Titanic, but I’ve found that I look to them as a model for what I want my partnership to be. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that this show has revolved around the Taylors. There were a lot of other stories told, but I believe most of them were through the eyes of Coach Taylor or Tami Taylor.
We’ve seen how, over five years, the students at Dillon and East Dillon were drawn to one of the two Taylors (or both of them!) in their time of need. This isn’t the first time that I’ve said something like this, but I really do believe that the Taylors occupy the moral center of this fictional universe. Which doesn’t mean they’re perfect! Both of them are flawed, certainly, but there’s a reason that these two remain as constants over the course of all five seasons.
They are a sign of hope.
I’m convinced that this is one of the main reasons why I was so torn up by the cliffhanger in “Texas Whatever” and by Coach Taylor’s behavior in this episode. At the very end of Friday Night Lights, the writers explore the one thing we’ve never seen in the entire series: the possible dissolution of the one relationship that is the core of the show. There was never a credible threat to the Taylors’ marriage, but that’s because Tami had so often compromised in their history as a couple. (Which, for the record, is something that I’m very thankful the show brought up so prominently, but I’ll get to that more in a second.) So, as the story set up over the course of this season comes to its conclusion here, we learn just why the Taylors have such a strong relationship: At the end of the day, they’re willing to compromise.
Of course, that’s not the case for the first thirty minutes of “Always.” No, this is Eric Taylor at his most stubborn, his most unsympathetic, and his most frayed. The imminent closure of the football program he built up from nothing has left him more stressed than he’s ever been, and it’s why he flat-out refuses to listen to his wife’s desire to move on from Dillon, Texas. In one sense, it’s a sacrilege. This is the world of Texas Forever. This is the world of football, of small and massive victories, of booster clubs, of barbecues, and it’s how Eric has formed his own identity. Even when he entertained the notion of coaching college ball, he never truly could leave Dillon behind. And when he’s about to be offered the chance to coach a super team with the funds and attention that he craves, how can he turn that down to move to Philadelphia?
Unbeknownst to Eric, though, is the fact that his relationship with Tami is built on more than his own career. The shocking part of Matt and Julie’s development isn’t the marriage proposal; it’s the fact that it acts as character development for the Eric and Tami. That scene at the restaurant is the distillation of this show’s major thematic core. People look up to the Taylors’ marriage. Julie believes that she can make things work with Matt because her parents demonstrated that it’s entirely possible to work through hardships. As I said, we’ve seen a major number of the characters turn to the Taylors for help, and it’s here that Eric is forced to realize exactly what he’s been doing to Tami. Yes, he doesn’t act on it immediately, and y’all, everything was SO UNCOMFORTABLE leading up to that moment in the mall prior to state. How could Eric not see that his entire monologue about the importance of compromise was ironically (and tragically) relevant? How could he not recognize that this is what caused Tami to leave the table in the midst of an emotional breakdown?
There are a lot of huge moments in this finale (many of which I’ll address in the next section), but I think I’ll always go right back to that scene with Santa Claus, where Eric boyishly introduces himself to Old Saint Nick, then turns to his wife, and asks if she’ll take him with her to Philadelphia. He uses a deliberate choice of words here; it’s not about giving his wife permission. No, he almost sounds as if he’s begging to have permission to come along, and it was the most tear-inducing surprise in the entire hour.
And it gave me hope. My boyfriend and I have had a couple slight disagreements, but we both approach our relationship with an inherent desire to understand one another. I can’t even count how many times I have told him that I hope our partnership meets the standard set by the Taylors, and it’s stopped being a silly, funny thing to say. I mean it. I mean it because this was one of the healthiest and most empowering portrayals of a marriage that I’ve ever seen. I want this. It’s what I aspire to be, and there’s no shame here in admitting that. Coach Taylor was finally able to compromise and give his wife her dream. Oh my god, they moved to Philadelphia. Tami is Dean of Admissions, and the final glimpses we get of her show us an exuberant and joyous woman. Coach is back doing precisely what he’s best at: coaching high school football. Inspiring young men to respect the game. Taking what he’s given and making the very best out of it.
I couldn’t ask for a better end for these two. I can’t even imagine one. Which means I’m going to miss it all the more, yes, but that’s the sign of a great television show, you know?
Series finales are always tough things to review because it’s not just a matter of whether or not I enjoyed the episode. There’s a scope to them that I don’t want to ignore. This is it. This is the end of a story. Does it tie up all the loose ends? Do I feel satisfied? Does it respect the past? Even then, it’s difficult to capture everything I feel. (Though I’m hoping that the commission video attached to this will give y’all a great sense of my emotional state during “Always.” I may have cried harder at the end of Fringe for that video, but I’ve never cried so much over the course of an hour as I do here. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.)
With few exceptions, “Always” does what I needed it to do: It gave me closure. There is a definitive feel that this is finally over, even if these characters’ stories could have continued on. But that’s part of the charm of “Always”: We get a sense for the future, of what these lives hold.
I will say that this isn’t perfect. I appreciated Landry’s return, but desperately wished that he’d had more time to close off his story instead of appearing just to poke fun at Matt. I loved the parallels between Matt and Eric, especially since I should have picked up on how similar these characters were a long time ago. It’s almost as if Matt could become the next Coach Taylor in his own way. Regardless, I was pleased with how Matt and Julie’s tale ended, even if I didn’t necessarily like everything that got them to this point.
I loved that Becky and Luke also repaired their relationship (which was a neat parallel to Eric and Tami) before the end of the show, especially since I could tell that they did care about one another. Becky’s mother was back, too, which made me think that maybe we’d see Virgil again, but alas, this was not the case. As much as this show has given us these powerful and loving family units, like the Taylors, the writers have also made sure to give happiness to those people who had to pick their own families. Becky’s mother chose to come back to her daughter, and Billy and Mindy chose to keep Becky in their family. If you read my reviews for Buffy, it’s not a shocker that I love stories that validate chosen families, especially since I have such a personal stake in the issue.
But let’s talk about Jess. “Always” delivers a blow to her character that is DEVASTATING: Her father is moving the family to Dallas. And I think that in terms of her desire to coach and overcoming the bigoted barriers that stand in her way, this episode beautifully wraps up Jess’s storyline. That image of her coaching at the end of the episode made me burst into tears. I wanted it so badly! However, I felt like the writers almost addressed how this would affect her relationship with Vince, but then we get absolutely no closure for them at all, and that did bother me. Of course, I’ve invested MOST OF MY EMOTIONAL FORTUNE in this couple, so perhaps I was expecting too much from them. But what happened? Did they break up? Will I remain sad forever?
Maybe not forever, because TIM RIGGINS. TIM RIGGINS. Unlike Eric’s story, I can’t see a future for Tim outside of Texas, so I love that the writers explored the idea of finding happiness and joy without moving a character to a new place. Seriously, the images of Tim and Billy building that house are… they’re just too much. Seeing that dream come to life isn’t fair to my heart, because how can you do such a thing to me? Y’all, Tim is making his dream come true, and I am crying again. Even better? The writers didn’t disrespect the fact that Tyra had already stated that she had a dream to complete, and TIM RESPECTS THIS, TOO. Did you hear my heart explode for Tyra? YOU SHOULD HAVE.
But really, this review would be a failure if I didn’t talk about state. As varied and diverse as the stories have been on Friday Night Lights, it’s also been about football. I admit that the show has given me a renewed interest in the sport, and I might even start watching the game again after years of refusing to pay attention to it. Here, though, “Always” reminded us of the emotional stake of a game of this magnitude for the characters we’ve watched grow over the last two years. I never thought that we’d be dealing with a brand new cast this late into the show, and that injects a sense of excitement and anticipation for the state game that’s entirely different from “State” in season one. I wanted the Lions to win specifically because their journey was about overcoming two years worth of odds that would have put most teams down. But the fierce perseverance of Luke, Tinker, Vince, Hastings, and the other players is on full display here, as if they all heard Tim Riggins tell Luke to play state as if it was their last game ever. There’s a bittersweet element to it, too, since prior to the game, Vince finally apologizes to Jess for the way he’s treated her since she became a part of team. Ironically, this is the last chance she’ll have for a long time to see her boyfriend play. (I’M MAKING MYSELF CRY JUST WRITING THIS REVIEW.) On top of it, Ornette finally comes around to support his son, though I do wish there’d been some sort of acknowledgment on Vince’s part, a way for the writers to have an onscreen moment of appreciation.
Regardless, there’s one element to this finale that will forever stick in my mind: the cinematography combined with the brilliant choice to render the final scenes of the state championship in slow-motion silence. By stripping the action of its normal pace and sound, the game achieves an almost dream-like quality to it, and we are transfixed by the poetry in motion on the screen. Even more clever is the moment when Vince lobs that massive pass into the endzone, and every character turns their eyes up to the sky, and the show’s motto becomes more relevant than ever: Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose. It’s a haunting and visceral scene, and I think there wasn’t a better choice than to have Vince’s pass segue immediately into the future. Obviously, it makes the realization that they won state (from Vince’s ring) incredibly powerful, but I think it suggests something else:
Life went on.
For some of these characters, it’ll be Texas Forever, while others have moved on from a life of football. Luke is in the military; Tyra is in school; the Taylors are in Philadelphia; Julie and Matt have a life together in Chicago. Vince, Tinker, and Buddy, Jr. are all on the Dillon super team. And life went on. State wasn’t the end of it for anyone, and I found that to be the most comforting part of “Always.” It’s not just an affirmation of love, of marriage, and of football. It’s a sign that people are resilient and will always find a way to press forward, to keep living, and to keep loving.
I don’t know that I will ever miss a Mark Watches show more than Friday Night Lights.
This Saturday, I’ll post a review for the Friday Night Lights movie, and we can also host a Q&A that whole weekend! PARTY TIME FOREVER. That means that on Monday, we start a new show on Mark Watches: Supernatural. Y’all, it’s finally happening. IT’S FINALLY HAPPENING.
Thank y’all for this journey. You have introduced me to one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen. I am so proud of my Friday Night Lights reviews, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so pleased about what I’ve shared with y’all. This means the world to me, and I’m sad to think about how I won’t get to write about this universe again. Thank you.
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