In the ninth episode of the fourth season of Friday Night Lights, Eric’s work to make a local park safer is met with criticism, while Tami misses her husband in the process. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Friday Night Lights.
I seriously adore this show, and “The Lights in Carroll Park” is a fine example why this show matters. The writers treat these subjects with care, finesse, and respect, and there aren’t many shows I’ve ever seen that are so layered and meaty.
Eric’s attempts to clean up Carroll Park take up the bulk of this episode, but Tami’s emotional distance from her husband, both because of the incident with Glen and because of their chaotic schedules. Granted, Glen’s appearance at East Dillon complicated matters, but notice how Eric doesn’t treat the event as some monumental, relationship-ending catastrophe. It’s not. He trusts his wife and knows she wouldn’t willingly kiss Glen. Instead, it’s Joe McCoy’s revelation that his wife is seeking a divorce that eats away at Tami. As Eric is forced to take a raincheck on their much-needed date, she’s left wondering what she and her husband are going to have to do to give each other the time and attention they require. I don’t think she is considering divorce here at all, so let me just state that so that it doesn’t seem like I’m heading in that direction. I’m not! She’s just surprised that the McCoys are splitting up. (I brought this up in the video, but this revelation helps explain J.D.’s behavior as well. Perhaps he’s imitating the worst of his father not only because he’s allowed to do as he pleases as the Panthers’ quarterback, but because he’s resenting the split.)
At heart, however, Eric and Tami love and adore one another, and I think they both know that any temporary distance or isolation comes with the jobs they have. Y’all, that final scene by the lake is just so sweet. I love the Taylors so much!
I AM SO INTO JULIE’S STORYLINE THIS SEASON. The fact that this show can make drama out of the subtleties of getting over a lost love is brilliant to me, and I also can’t believe that Aimee Teegarden wasn’t nominated for her performance of the emotionally vulnerable but resilient Julie Taylor. There’s something so striking and real about what we see here, as Julie finds a way to move beyond Matt, not just through Ryan, but in building a home for someone else. I remember the first time I experienced a truly broken heart, and one of my close friends told me that the only thing that heals a heart is time. There is no easy fix. And seriously, they were right. It’s time. Distance. Space. I had temporary fixes or solutions at hand. Food. Music. Working out. Burying myself in work. But these weren’t ever long-lasting. I simply woke up one day, months upon months after being unceremoniously dumped and left alone, and I felt like I could live again. Julie’s own journey has been gradual as well, and she has that moment in the driveway when speaking to her mother where she can see light at the end of the tunnel again. And I liked that she recognized that Ryan wasn’t a way for her to find the sort of lifelong happiness she might want; instead, she found joy in affection of the moment, and that was awesome.
I just have waterfalls of feelings for Julie Taylor.
AND I HAVE SO MANY FEELINGS ABOUT VINCE THAT IT HURTS TO THINK ABOUT HIM. Look, I was arrested (rather publicly, I might add) about five years ago, and there is an inherent shame and fear that comes with what that arrest can do to a person in life. I, too, have balked and hesitated at the part of job applications that ask whether or not you’ve been arrested. Yes, I have, but how the hell am I supposed to explain that to a prospective employer in just two ruled lines of paper? How do I condense one of the most traumatic and deeply unfair experiences of my life into thirty words? Granted, I don’t have a record like Vince does, but he’s haunted by his past. It doesn’t matter that he wants to do well. It doesn’t matter that he’s not in trouble anymore. Employers see his record, they see the color of his skin, and they connect the dots.
But it’s not just about employment. No, Vince is haunted by his past in numerous ways, and we watch him struggle to make a new life while the ghost of what once was comes back to taunt him. You can see that in his hesitation to ask Coach Taylor for some help with a job. And once he does get one, Big M doesn’t treat him like any old employee. (I also don’t want to ignore that Big M does a beautiful thing for Vince, though, but I think it should be mentioned that this is still a complicated situation for Vince.) His desire for a relationship with Jess is deflected because of who he once was. And even when he’s doing everything right, his old gang of friends still comes around to tease him about switching sides, about being on the wrong team. (Both figuratively outside of Ray’s Barbecue, and then literally on the football field at Carroll Park.)
At one point, he tells Big M that all he wants to do is put food on his table, to have some money to keep his family together, and it’s a way of conveying this simple desire for some normalcy. Amidst this, he’s also got to deal with the fact that Jess has rather definitively chosen Landry, too, even if there is some residual chemistry left between the two of them. So I loved that Vince’s decision to move on (at least for the time being) was symbolized by the lights in Carroll Park turning on. It’s as if in that moment, a light goes on within Vince. Is he going to fight Landry, or is he going to accept his own past and move beyond it?
I think Vince is finally moving forward.
Clearly, this plotline is going to continue into the next episode, but as it stands, I’m pleased that the writers have treated Becky’s character with the respect she deserves. This is an emotionally draining experience for her, not only because of how afraid she is, but because she soon realizes how thin her support system is. She can’t talk to her parents. She doesn’t have very many close friends who she can open up to. Even when she talks with Luke, she is terse and frightened with him. And it’s not like Luke treats her awful. While he does suggest that Becky pause and think about what she wants to do, he also doesn’t pressure her not to have an abortion. Like so many stories on Friday Night Lights, this is deeply complicated, and thus, the character portrayal we get is just as layered.
And then we’ve got Tim. Tim Riggins, who thinks that the kiss he had with Becky a few days prior is what’s keeping her away from him. Oh god, he’s such a lovable goofball sometimes, and you can see how truly hard he’s trying to set things right. He really does want to remain friends with Becky, complications and all, and he’s willing to do anything to keep her in his life in a way that isn’t awkward. Of course, being Tim, he sometimes misses the forest for the trees. (I say sometimes only because Tim can be surprisingly astute and perceptive, and I don’t want to ignore that.) Becky’s emotional breakdown in Tim’s arms is a huge scene, one where we finally see Becky get some form of catharsis, but one without an answer. You know, I’m thinking back on that scene, and all that comes to mind is how great of a friend Tami Taylor would be in this situation. If there’s any character on this show who possesses the right amount of empathy and wisdom, it’s her.
So what the hell is she going to do? I really hope we continue to get a nuanced and respectful view of abortion from this show, and I admit that I’ve been so pleased with how this show has dealt with a variety of issues that I’m not that worried that the writers will fuck it up. We’ll just have to see.
The Lights in Carroll Park
In the opening scene, where Coach Taylor visits Carroll Park and is witness to the sort of tomfoolery and violence that is a staple in East Dillon, I was quietly cringing. One of my biggest worries that I’ve had for any American television show that does try to portray communities of people of color seemed to be playing out before my eyes. While I must admit that there has been an abnormally large cast of color on this show, this was one of the first depictions of an entire community on the screen, and it was in an extremely negative light. I’ve brought this up before, but if your only use of people of color is in portraying them as inherently violent and criminal, even if it suits a later plotline, you’re stepping into problematic territory.
And yet, the writers, through Big M and Elden, are quick to turn the spotlight on themselves, to point out just how creepy and inappropriate Coach Taylor and Buddy Garrity’s actions might be perceived. I was kind of in shock that a show was so openly addressing the white savior trope, to outright state that what the white characters were doing was messy as hell. And both Elden and Big M respect that Coach Taylor does care, which is clear from how willing they are to join him in an effort to get the lights turned on in Carroll Park. But it’s more than just turning on lights; both characters insist that the problems with East Dillon cannot be fixed with showy displays of good intentions. Elden even calls out Eric on his obvious sense of white guilt! I LIVE AND BREATH FOR THIS, OH MY GOD.
What we end up getting from this show is reminiscent of the community fundraiser/block party scene from earlier in the season. The people of East Dillon, even the people deemed most undesirable and hopeless by the other side of town, come together under the auspices of the game of football. And that is what I love about what happens here. I ultimately don’t care about the lights coming on because that’s not the point. (With one exception, of course: It gave us the scene where Big M laughed heartily at Eric’s terrible fence jumping skills. Bless this episode.) Coach Taylor, Elden, Buddy Garrity, and Big M helped validate the forgotten people of East Dillon. They invited them to be a part of the community, to be a part of the town, and they did so without conditions. They could dress as they wanted, they could talk as they wanted, and they could be themselves. That is the kind of anti-racism, anti-violence, and pro-community work that I want to see more of. It lacked the distinct condescension that could have arisen without the help of Elden and Big M. This could have been a cautionary tale of pseudo-imperialist logic and white savior fantasies. Instead, East Dillon feels a little bit more like a community, and that’s fantastic.
I mentioned this in the video commission, but seeing Michael B. Jordan and Lawrence Gilliard Jr. in this episode just made me want to re-watch all of The Wire. If you liked this episode’s foray into race, violence, and isolation (but crave something more realistic, gritty, and, at times, cynical), you need to watch The Wire. Spoiler alert: It is one of the most life-ruining shows ever, not only because it can be so grim and heartbreaking. It is so fucking good that it will set a new bar for drama on television, and hardly anything will ever beat it.
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