In the seventh episode of the first season of Friday Night Lights, my heart is going to explode from feelings. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Friday Night Lights.
HOW? HOW IS THIS SHOW SO CONSISTENTLY INTENSE? Lord, y’all. Anyway, like The West Wing, it’s hard to keep track of the myriad of plots in a single episode unless I separate this review by character, so I think I’ll largely stick with that when I need to. Onwards!
Oh, HOLY CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. I am in awe of what this show has done with Tim in a single fucking episode. As it turns out, it took Lyla heaping piles of scorn onto Tim for his public drunkenness for him to finally (and what appears to be seriously) stop drinking. And I don’t necessarily feel a boatload of sympathy for him or Lyla at this point, especially since they’ve betrayed their best friend. At the same time, I don’t hate either of them. I’m drawn to Tim because I was once a high school alcoholic. My experience wasn’t precisely the same as Tim’s, as I hid my addiction from nearly all of my friends. It wasn’t something I was open about like Tim is in this show. That being said, I do share this experience with him in a lot of ways. I needed a moment like the one Lyla gives him here in order for me to suddenly snap out of it. (Unfortunately for me, that incident was me blacking out for two days that I’ll never remember, and the unsettling nature of it was the wake up sign I needed.)
Tim’s transformation is awe-inspiring. And I’ll get to how it’s paralleled with Smash’s development in a bit, but it was fascinating to me to see how quickly he became serious about his game. Even his brother is completely shocked that he actually stuck with staying sober. As he devotes himself to preparing for the next game, he risks alienating the people around him. God, how I understand that. Again, giving up drinking at the tender age of eighteen is not an easy thing to do if you’re trying to have a social life. It was even more jarring once I got to college. Do you know how perplexed my classmates were once they heard I’d willingly stopped drinking before college? Trust me, I’d tell them, I drank enough in three years to last a lifetime. But even in terms of physicality, Tim discovers something through his dedication: He’s kind of good. Like, once Coach Taylor gives him a chance to make up for Smash’s distracted playing, he proves to be extremely good. For me, it’s exciting to watch this because it looks like Tim’s finally gaining some self esteem. While his brother does elaborate to Tyra about what happened to their family, I don’t have any definitive reason why Tim drinks or why he’s so apathetic all the time. (Though that doesn’t ignore the importance of Billy’s confession to Tyra!) Regardless, Tim feels good about himself for what seems like the first time in the show. And that’s good.
TOO BAD THIS ISN’T GOING TO END WELL BECAUSE
Lord, it can’t end well! It just can’t! Jason is now suspicious of what’s going on between his best friend and his girlfriend, and this makes for some painfully awkward interactions between Lyla and Jason. I have about zero sympathy for people who cheat (as I mentioned before) because I’ve been cheated on. It’s a very unique form of betrayal, and it fucking hurts. So watching Lyla lie so openly to Jason when he gently prods her for information is visceral to me. That scene in the pool is terrifying to me. It’s brilliantly acted by Minka Kelly and Scott Porter, dripping with subtext and hidden fears. You can see both of them convey that sense that the truth is just barely hiding below the surface. The same thing happens at the end of the episode when Tim gives the game-winning football to his best friend. Jason takes Herc’s advice and looks his best friend in the eye, and it doesn’t help. Both characters know the truth is just out of reach, and it is hard to watch.
Amidst this, Jason also has to cope with what his role is within the framework of Dillon’s social strata. Herc (who I just realized was in an episode of Breaking Bad along with Jesse Plemons, who plays Landry) advises Jason not to become a “mascot,” to be an object of good luck and exploitation for people who won’t ever understand what he’s going through. In the end, Jason chooses to make an appearance at the homecoming game. We’re never given his ultimate motivation. Did he do it for himself? Did he do it to make his father proud? Regardless, seeing him on that field was like a punch in my heart, y’all. You could tell he missed it terribly.
There are a lot of great moments in this episode, but my absolute favorite comes from Tami Taylor’s line about what Lucas Mize’s problem is: He was a high school football hero. Her absolutely stunning commentary is presented almost as an aside, as if there are more important things going on. Like, when she just casually explained the entire problem with the culture around hero worship in sports, I had to take a moment to breathe. The thing is, it’s entirely within Tami’s characterization. We’ve seen multiple times when she interacts with her husband or as a counselor that she’s able to distill problems down to their core issues. It’s like she’s doing nothing more than blinking. That’s how easy it is for her, and I’m so enamored with Tami.
Truthfully, Mize comes from a world where he was worshipped for his physical ability and his conventionally good looks. So when he returns to Dillon for the homecoming game, he slips right back into that identity that made him the entitled asshole he is in the present. You don’t see that initially in “Homecoming.” He’s charming, well-liked, and charismatic. He is the prototype for success, and it appears that it takes absolutely no energy to be who he is.
That facade begins to crack in a stunning and raw scene where Mize admits to Coach Taylor that the glamorous life he was apparently living is a lie. There is no insurance agency in Dallas. There is no job. In fact, he’s here to ask Coach Taylor for a job. Jesus, the scene is unreal. Look at the emotion in Mize’s eyes. You can see the tears brim in his eyes, bloodshot with fear about what he’s telling Coach. It speaks volumes about what his high school experience did to him, and it shows us that Mize is very much aware that he didn’t live up to the expectations of his community. That fear of his is real. It also explains why he is so irritable and brazen with his distaste for Coach Taylor when the man is unable to get him a job. He expected it! It goes right back to what Tami said: Dillon’s idolatry of Mize made him entitled. And as frightened as Mize was to admit that his life was a lie, he immediately became an asshole when Taylor couldn’t produce something he believed he deserved. I don’t know if this is the last we’ll see of Lucas Mize, but I wouldn’t be sad if he didn’t show up. Jesus, what a jerk!
Well, I kind of like Billy a lot more after this episode. Tyra clearly enjoys spending time with him, but it’s through their unofficial partnership that the two discover that they’re good at throwing parties. Like, really good. Like, able to make at least $5,000 IN A SINGLE NIGHT. Holy shit. It’s awkward, of course, that Tyra once dated Billy’s brother, but in Billy, I think Tyra sees a chance to break from the monotony of Dillon. As with episodes past, it’s clear that she doesn’t feel like she fits in with this town, so she yearns for her own identity. It feels like a form of escapism, you know? So, I think what we’re seeing here is a transformation in some way. The party she throws isn’t for other people; it’s for herself. I’m interested to see where her story goes. PS: TYRA IS GREAT.
My heart is in PIECES, y’all. Like Tami Taylor’s bit about Lucas’s entitlement, there was a very specific moment where I had to stop and take a breath because of the brilliant writing of Smash’s dialogue. Go back to that scene where Grady Hunt is at Smash’s house and Hunt asks what Smash’s plans are. While he wasn’t referring to Smash’s personal financial goal, that’s immediately where Smash goes. Smash will later spell out what this means to his mother, but I got it right then. Smash and his family live in poverty, and Smash is the only hope for his family to ever get their heads above water. I knew that coded language in a fucking heartbeat because I’ve been poor for the vast majority of my life. I know what it is like to hope that one single thing will bring you to happiness and success. I know what it’s like to meticulously plan for one outcome that will solve everything. And I know the distinct type of heartbreak that comes when you realize what a futile and naïve failure it was to ever believe that one single thing could ever eradicate how poor you are. Smash later refers to it as a “meal ticket,” and for a lot of poor people of color, that’s what it is. It’s a ticket to a life where you don’t have to know the cost of everything, to a life where you can eat out and eat whatever you want, to a life where you don’t have to count change just to make sure you can make it another week on Top Ramen and frozen vegetables, to a life where you don’t wake up in the middle of the night, covered in the sweat of anxiety of terror, worried that you won’t have a home in a month’s time.
That absolutely debilitating anxiety compounds within Smash’s head, and it’s the main reason why he’s so terribly out of sync during the homecoming game. But his own disappointment and self-hatred flares to uncontrollable levels. Knowing that he wants to give his family happiness and security, he obsesses over Grady Hunt’s “list.” It’s so unfortunate that he does what he does at the end of “Homecoming” because he was so close to taking Coach Taylor’s advice. That “list” is not the be-all and end-all to his future career. He needed to focus on that game and that game alone.
But he couldn’t. I mean, it’s disappointing because I want Smash to be happy, but I’m so thankful for the thoughtful and realistic portrayal, even if it’s ultimate point is something that breaks my heart. As you’ll see in the video, I was confused when we saw Smash in front of that gym. Was he going to work out even harder so that he could meet Grady Hunt’s arbitrary size and strength qualifications? It wasn’t until I saw the needles and the tiny vial of testosterone that I knew Smash’s choice had been made: steroids. He was going to do steroids. Smash, I can’t. Oh my god, this is not going to end well. It’s not. HELP, PLEASE DON’T RUIN EVERYTHING, dude!!!
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Mark Links Stuff
– I have been nominated for a Hugo in the Fan Writer category! If you’d like more information or to direct friends/family to vote for me, I have a very informational post about what I do that you can pass along and link folks to!
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