In the sixth episode of the fourth season of Friday Night Lights, numerous characters deal with the possibility that their loved ones may leave them, while the East Dillon Lions prepare for a particularly difficult game. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Friday Night Lights.
I’ve run out of ways to say that I love this show.
East Dillon vs McNulty
There are a lot of important stories in “Stay,” so while I usually save the most emotionally heavy shit for last, I actually don’t want to imply that the East Dillon game played in this episode isn’t as significant as the other plots. This whole episode is remarkably powerful, which is saying a lot since it comes after “The Son.” But the game is the only plot about people coming together and staying together, and for that, it sits apart from the main narrative in a poetic affirmation of the title.
It has been absolutely fantastic to meet the East Dillon characters and already chart their growth as people. Friday Night Lights has a lot of things going for it, but my obsession with character development is constantly given nourishment by the writers. Here, Vince and Luke realize the power in them teaming up, in acting as leaders, in putting aside their previous irritation with one another, and in playing to win. Even their growth as athletes is realistic. Both players make amateur mistakes, so it’s not like they instantly become perfect. That’s the challenge Coach Taylor’s always had. These guys may have individual qualities that are spectacular, but they still haven’t quite figured out how to play as a full team.
One of my favorite scenes in “Stay” is at Stan’s work because we get to see Vince and Luke getting along. They do what they can to watch the McNulty tapes, and I adore the portrayal of what people who are poor or lower class have to do that other folks take for granted. That’s why J.D. and his cronies pick on the two of them, and I’m actually surprised one of them didn’t call Luke or Vince “ghetto,” one of the favorite words of racists and classist jerks. Of course, J.D. does go straight for one of the most tired racial stereotypes: Black people steal! Hahaha, fuck you, J.D. Bless Stan, though, who comes through to defend his players and give the whole scene a new context: HE HELPED THEM OUT THE WHOLE TIME. IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL. Can we please have a Stan-centric plot line soon? Thanks.
The game itself is a big deal because the entire city of Dillon expected a slaughter. McNulty averaged 53 points a game, and yet, the East Dillon Lions only allowed them to make 14 points in the whole game. No one else was able to do this. So even though they lost, this was a way for the team to earn some respect.
Vince’s mother also had a brief appearance in this episode, and I was very thankful that it was an actual speaking role that didn’t involve her just being high. I think it’s important to portray her as a full character instead of a one-note stereotype, you know? She does love Vince and wants to support him. It doesn’t erase the fact that she is an addict, but it lifts her up from being a potential problematic disaster, you know?
All three of the other main plots in “Stay” deal with people leaving, and it’sâ€¦ it is so brutal. The show’s deliberate honesty about the complications at work here is refreshing, for the record, because I never felt like this existed purely to wring my emotions out of me. Granted, this whole show exists to ruin my life, but that is an essay/dissertation for another day.
It was only at the end of “Stay” that I realized how intertwined Julie, Matt, and Tami’s stories were, which is a writing feat I must applaud because how. All three characters are terrified of where they belong and where their loved ones belong. One of Julie’s primary motivations in disobeying her mother was to show Matt that he should stick around, as well as alleviating her own guilt about why Matt stayed in Dillon. Initially, it was just adorable to watch them be so cute, but the truth was that all their insecurities and uncertainties were bubbling below the surface. Once Matt finds out that Julie didn’t tell her parents where they were going, the dam breaks.
And when it does, holy shit, it’s so intense. It seemed like these two could not go five minutes without saying something awkward or disconcerting. But the reality is that both of them are so confused about their role in Dillon and in each other’s life. Should Matt have left town? Should Julie stay? Should she go off to college? Does anyone deserve to feel guilt over this? The most confusing part of all of this is that there’s no one to blame. There is no easy solution whatsoever, and that only causes more and more doubt to creep into their minds.
Amidst this, Tami panics over her daughter’s disobeyal. (My word processor is telling me that isn’t a word, BUT IT’S A FUCKING WORD. I AM UPSET WITH YOUR DISOBEYAL.) At no point did I think Tami was being unreasonable about her freak out, either! Impractical? Sure. Driving down to Austin to find her daughter in a massive crowd isâ€¦ well, it’s destined for failure. However, at heart, Tami’s fears are rooted in the inevitable. Eventually, Julie is going to leave. She’ll be away from her mother for weeks, months, and maybe even years at a time. Yes, what Julie did here is disrespectful, and I won’t ignore that. God, that scene where Eric wakes up to Tami crying is so fucking painful to watch, y’all!
Tami and Julie have a strong relationship, though, even if things are a bit precarious at times. Tami had every right to be furious when Julie walked into their home, but I thought it was a sign that Tami will always be a mother to Julie when she chose to comfort her daughter instead of lecturing her. Tami’s good with that, and she always has been. She knows when to delay her own needs so she can help others. That doesn’t mean her needs aren’t important! Rather, she prioritizes others over herself. Her daughter is lashing out in confusion because of the world she’s facing, and so she offers Julie the love and support she needs.
I think that Friday Night Lights addresses these issues with a lot of care. This period in a teenager’s life is immensely difficult, and the looming threat of adulthood is something most of us have to fate. As similar as Lyla’s story is to some of the themes brought up between Matt, Julie, and Tami, the writers ultimately don’t tread the same ground. Lyla is shocked by the emotions she experiences upon returning to Dillon, and she vocalizes this to Becky, of all people. Like Matt and Julie’s issues, there’s no one to blame here, and there’s no easy answer for Tim and Lyla. Tim wants a simple life in Dillon, and Lyla craves something more complex from college. Neither of these are a bad choice! So what do these two people do when they want such categorically different things from life? Is it fair to ask the other person to compromise or to allow yourself to compromise? I don’t think this is a case of one person falling out of love because clearly, these two adore one another’s presence.
I like that it’s through Becky’s eyes that we experience some of this because her character is caught in this world of desperate hope and bitter self-worth. She is bursting with love and emotion, but has nowhere to focus that energy. Her mother isn’t around. Her father abandoned the family years ago. Tim has refused her advances, and she drove Luke away. Her talk with Lyla just made me sad. She wants to be loved and adored so badly, and it kills her to see others attain what seems so horribly unattainable for her. Of course, appearances aren’t everything. Lyla leaves Dillon for her own life. She can’t stay for Tim despite how much she loves him.
Oh, right, that thing. WHERE THE HELL IS MATT GOING? WHAT IS HE DOING???
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