In the third episode of the fifth season of Friday Night Lights, I actually disagree with Tami Taylor, and then I cry a lot. So this is both surprising and totally in line with every other review for the show that I’ve done. Intrigued? Then it’s time for me to watch Friday Night Lights.
Is it weird that I’m excited about this? I actually get to openly criticize a writing choice. I adore this show, and it’s easily going to be one of my favorite shows of all time. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect or that we can’t critically engage with it. I analyze the things I love because I love them, and I find it more satisfying to do this with what I’m enjoying. (Not all the time, though. I have also begun to appreciate the simple joy of sitting down and finishing a book in one sitting or marathoning a show. It’s so weird to do that. WHAT HAS MY LIFE BECOME?) Anyway, let’s do this!
OH MY GOD IT’S PAM. PAM. I admit to being surprised by the writer’s decision to re-introduce her at this point, but I’m also interested to see where this goes. I think that Buddy’s arc over the course of the five seasons of Friday Night Lights has been an examination of his selfishness and his ego. He started off on the show as a brash and showy car salesman, and I used to hate him for just appearing on the screen. But it took the loss of his marriage, his family, and the Dillon Panthers for him to appreciate how difficult life has been for other people. While he still can be irritating, it’s nowhere near as grating as it once was, and that’s partially because of how he’s been humbled by the events in his life.
However, when Pam calls with news that Buddy, Jr.’s rebellion is a lot more than she can handle, Buddy immediately swims in resentment. In one sense, I understand that his anger comes from feeling like he’s being taken advantage of. But I’m thankful that Eric is there to remind Buddy that this isn’t about him. Buddy Jr. is still his son, and Pam clearly knows that Buddy, Jr. needs his father. That doesn’t mean that Pam is a horrible mother, and it doesn’t mean that Buddy can’t wish he was still married. No, Pam clearly cares about her son and is able to recognize that she’s at her wits end. She needs help, and I’m happy that the writers aren’t portraying this as if she’s a bad parent. And Buddy even realizes that he can help while he’s 1,500 miles away! There is something he can do, and he sacrifices the comfort he may have living alone so that he can take care of his son.
I swear, I never thought there’d come a day when I would be really excited about Buddy Garrity plot lines. What has this show done to me?
Okay, are the writing team just obsessed with exploring inappropriate relationships on this show??? Why are we always getting different variations of this? Ugh, I was tentatively excited with Julie’s journey this season, but oh my god, no! I am already so protective of Julie as it is, and now we’ve got this creepy, gross, and inappropriate dude going after her and no. And you know what? I don’t even understand how a character like Julie would have sex with a married man. Like, the more I think about the relationship she just got out of and her emotional state while at college, it makes less and less sense. Why would she start a relationship with someone that she can easily recognize as being a GIANT FUCKING PROBLEM? Julie is a remarkably perceptive character, and it’s something I’ve spoken about time and time again. Soâ€¦ suddenly she’s not? Just because she’s lonely, she has a one night stand with a married man?
At the very least, Derek voices why this is so wrong: He is a teacher. She is a student. It should never have happened. There’s a power dynamic here that makes me very uncomfortable, and I picked up on it when Derek gave Julie a C-. Yeah, that whole scene was skeevy as fuck, and I knew this would be a disaster.
Ugh, can we not do this? No thank you.
I’m actually shocked that the writers so horribly missed the mark here in addressing Maura and the rest of the football team. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Tami Taylor, you are wrong. I don’t find it to be immoral to address alcohol consumption because clearly this sort of information/education is missing. (Though the presentation itself was boring, lacked any nuance, and was condescending, so I wasn’t surprised that no one paid attention.) And I’m glad that Eric took the video seriously enough to actually kick off two players off the team PERMANENTLY. He refuses to allow these assholes to make fun of what happened to Maura!
But here’s where I have a problem. This show has consistently understood power dynamics, the general idea of oppression and marginalization, and how to create empathy for a varied cast of characters. And in this episode, Tami Taylor does not ever criticize the boys in that video for taking advantage of Maura. As someone who was once alcoholic, I get that there is a point where a person must address their own responsibility and their own choices, but the video featured men treating Maura like a puppet. WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE FOR THIS. OH MY GOD. Taking advantage of people who cannot consent is a billion times worse!!! AND THIS IS SOMETHING TAMI WOULD HAVE ABSOLUTELY PICKED UP ON. Instead, she makes it all about Maura’s drinking. Maura’s choice to get drunk deserved attention, yes, but holy fucking hell, this was so victim-blamey and gross and no and no and NO AND NO NO NO NO NO NO NO.
The positive: It is nice to see Tami care so much, and it’s one of her more redeeming features. Even if the writers fuck up here, that doesn’t cast her in the worst light ever. She cares about Maura, she cares about Jess, and she takes this situation seriously. Eric cares, too, and while he’s more vicious than usual with his players, he’s also just as affectionate, particularly with Vince. Ugh, that scene with the college letters? It’s too much to deal with. But I think that Eric’s attempt to discipline the team is affection in one sense because that’s how he shows that he cares. He wants them to go to state (and both games we see in this episode suggest that this is now possible!!!), but I think he’s finally seeing his efforts to improve this team come to fruition, you know?
There are so many ways this story could have gone wrong or been laced with stereotypes, and because of the stupendous cast and nuanced writing, “The Right Hand of the Father” becomes one of the more memorable episodes of this show. (Which is why the weird writing choices for Tami and Julie are all the more bewildering. Y’all got this so right with Vince!) That moment where Regina quietly reveals that Vince’s father is being let out of prison is one of the biggest emotional punches we’ve ever gotten, and it’s not even the most dramatic moment in the episode. Everything we’ve seen in this season has normalized the idea that Vince and his mother are making their family work. Vince helped his mom get a job, she’s out of rehab, and while they’re certainly not rich or successful, they make this shit work. They are so ridiculously close and dependent on one another that the shock of Regina’s revelation instantly tears them apart. Someone else is being added to the equation.
Well, that’s reductive. It’s not that just any old person will be in their lives. No, it’s the very man who tore them apart in the first place, who made so many terrible decisions, who drove Regina to addiction, who left Vince alone, confused, and desperate. The writers are particularly empathetic with Vince’s characterization here, often choosing the more uncomfortable route for their writing instead of resolving Vince’s conflict with his father just so everyone can feel good. Because seriously, how is Vince supposed to forgive his father?
It doesn’t help that it takes a few days for Ornette Howard to put aside his pride and his ego and accept that his son isn’t going to welcome him with open arms. (Oh god, I just realized that there’s a parallel between Ornette and Buddy’s epiphanies regarding their sons. h e l p.) I do wish that we’d seen more of Regina’s motivations, but we get an idea that she just desires the stability of a family again. She begs Vince to forgive Ornette for her. Not for himself, but for the sake of a family. Granted, Vince rejects this, and it’s one of a few moments where I appreciated the writers not making this easy for the audience. In one sense, while I sympathized with what Regina wanted, I also understood that Vince had to take care of his own disappointment and anger. Truthfully, he didn’t have anyone to talk to who might understand why he was upset. That doesn’t mean his mother or Jess are bad friends. On the contrary, both of them try to get Vince to open up more, but it’s Coach Taylor who ends up being on the receiving end of Vince’s cathartic breakdown.
I think that’s partially because of the stress as much as it is Vince’s respect for Eric, though. Vince focuses on the people in his life asking him to be better without telling him how or without acknowledging how painful it is for him to do so. I’m thankful that Eric recognized that in that moment, Vince didn’t need a lecture. He just needed stability, he needed validation, and he needed someone to have some faith in him. (PS: SO MANY TEARS. How does Michael B. Jordan act??? HOW DOES HE DO THIS?)
After a particularly amazing game, Vince finally confronts his father, and it’s a raw, haunting conversation. Again, it would have been very easy to have Vince hug his father, invite him to stay, and then everything would be nice. Instead, Ornette apologizes, and he leaves. There are so many underlying issues of masculinity and ego at work here, and seeing these two men tear up at one another and express a very intimate type of emotional affection for one another was enough to make me cry. These men are broken by their choices and their environment, and they are so desperate to be healed. Perhaps this is that first step towards healing. Vince doesn’t invite his father to stay, and Ornette doesn’t force himself onto Vince. But maybe this is how Ornette can find a place in the lives of his son and his wife. They have to take one step at a time.
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