Mark Watches ‘Friday Night Lights’: S05E09 – Gut Check

In the ninth episode of the fifth season of Friday Night Lights, there are a million difficult decisions made in this episode, and everything hurts. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Friday Night Lights.

This episode should be entitled, “Rude and Unfair,” because that’s what this was: RUDE and UNFAIR.


I’m still not certain that I’m totally onboard with where the writers have taken Julie’s story, but I admit that I’m happy that the ending of “Gut Check” takes her character in the direction that she needs to go. I also don’t want to ignore the lovely spectacle that is MATT SARACEN, either, because what we do see between him and Julie is so WONDERFUL.

Well, sort of.

It’s hard not to want Julie and Matt back together after his surprise appearance at the end of “Fracture.” Hell, Matt himself pretty much confirms that he wants Julie in his life as much as she’ll allow it. However, he recognizes that as much as he desires his old girlfriend, matters are far more complicated than that. And it’s not about judging Julie’s predicament, either. He made it clear that he’s there to support her. But to what extent? How far is too far? When does supporting become enabling? Matt’s able to see that Julie’s life was essentially paused in Chicago, that she was yet again giving in to her own sense of denial. She was avoiding her problems and – as Matt put it – using him as a safety net. Was it hard for her to hear this? Of course. The way she leaves Matt’s place (later that day??? I wasn’t sure of the time) was incredibly awkward. She wasn’t happy at all!

I was worried that the writers were going for the romance trope of having Matt chase after Julie and telling her to stay. That would have undone all of the character development over the course of the episode. Instead, he offers her comfort before she leaves, telling her that they’ll figure it out. And that was much more in-line with these characters and the story we’d been told. So… yeah, what is Julie going to do? Stay at Burleson? I DON’T EVEN KNOW.


Okay, holy awkward: Becky waitressing at the Landing Strip. I kind of see where the writers were going with this? It gave Becky a reason to confront Luke about their relationship and the fact that he wants to hide it from his parents. (WHICH IS UNDERSTANDABLE.) And it also allows Becky to get close enough to Mindy so that she will admit that she’s pregnant again. (!!!!!! holy shit oH GODS !!!!!!) But… it’s not really necessary? Certainly there was another way they could do this without putting a minor in a strip club that way? I think it was the fact that the act had virtually no repercussions at all that bothered me.

Anyway, Mindy. She’s having another child! Well, maybe? She didn’t seem to be into the idea at all, given that she knew they couldn’t afford it. Perhaps Billy convinced her otherwise? Yes? I don’t know, this felt like it was kind of abandoned as well, though it’s entirely possible that both plots I’ve brought up will be continued in episode ten. It’s happened plenty of times before!

What was most exciting, though, was to see how Becky influenced Luke to stand up to his parents. After the disaster at the end of season four, I’m kind of surprised that I didn’t see this coming. (But then I’m not surprised because this always happens to me.) I get why Luke wouldn’t want his parents to know that he was seeing Becky again! But I also understand AS A QUEER PERSON how important it is to feel like the person you like or love is proud to be with you. It was incredibly easy to empathize with Becky! So you better believe I’m happy that Luke found the courage to stand up to his parents. UGH IT’S SO ADORABLE.


I can’t. I can’t do this.

I think the depressing and upsetting turn that Epyck’s story takes would have been bad enough in and of itself. I don’t doubt that at all. Tami and Epyck have both tried so hard to change the course of Epyck’s life. But I was heartbroken precisely because of how “Gut Check” showed us that Epyck wasn’t like we thought she was. Yes, she asked Tami for help with her upcoming history test. That was a huge bit of character development! I WAS SO PROUD.

But that scene where she comes to Tami’s house to get help? And Gracie Bell comes out and we see how good Epyck is with kids? Y’ALL. Y’ALL. YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME. It’s such an intentional way to break the stereotype that surrounds Epyck’s character. She is not a brutish, unemotional person because of her issues. No, she certainly has the capacity for kindness and joy, and I think that’s why Tami is so shocked by this display from Epyck. Now Tami knows that this young girl before her has a beauty within her that the rest of the world refuses to see.

It makes the end so much more difficult to watch. And even I admit that I can’t parse blame or responsibility for what happened in Tami’s office. Yeah, Lauren should not have made a grab for Epyck’s bag, but Epyck’s reaction is both entirely understandable and not okay at all. In the chaos, Tami is hurt, and the narrative that forms from this places the blame solely on Epyck. That isn’t okay, and I’m sure Tami was terribly frustrated that no one was listening to her, either. But what can she do? I imagine district policy required Levi to act as he did, so what could Tami do?

I admit that from what we’ve seen, the writers focus the aftermath of the attack entirely on Tami. I hope we get more of this from Epyck’s perspective. For now, the devastation is emotional. Tami feels like she’s failed. And really, Eric is right. Tami did everything she could for Epyck! Y’all, I need the next episode right fucking now. I need to know what happens with Epyck! WAIT THERE ARE ONLY FOUR EPISODES OF FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS LEFT. What the fuck this isn’t fair.

I told you this episode was rude and unfair.

Vince/Coach Taylor

I think there are a ton of bold (and beautifully executed) writing choices in “Gut Check.” Putting the results of the game at the end of “Fracture” into the cold open, but making them a flashback, is a masterful way to add weight to the argument that Luke and Vince get into. Like I said, there are a lot of difficult decisions that are made in this episode, but Coach is faced with a whopper right from the start: Does he continue to let Vince’s ego run wild if it is to the detriment of the team?

So he makes a hard choice: He benches Vince for one practice. And ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE. Holy shit, Vince, fueled by the support of his father’s own ego, decides that his own personal future and stake in the Lions is more important than the rest of his team and his girlfriend. “Gut Check” really portrays Vince in a poor light, but you know what? It needed to happen. I love Vince as a character, but his behavior since “Perfect Record” is problematic as hell.

In particular, as much as I hate that it has to happen, I’m glad the writers had Jess finally stand up to Vince. The way he’s been treating her is awful, and all of her concerns for him are TOTALLY JUSTIFIED! He constantly complains, he ignores her, he doesn’t care about her stake in the team, and she’s become useless to him, despite that – again – SHE CONSISTENTLY GIVES HIM THE BEST ADVICE. Wait, can we just talk about the scene where Eric catches Jess crying and everything is awkward and full of feelings? oh god i can’t deal with these two.

Anyway, while Jess is busy coaching Luke (!!!! SERIOUSLY SHE’S AMAZING !!!!), Vince is busy ruining everything. So I wasn’t surprised that Coach benched Vince for the upcoming game, despite that I also knew that this probably wouldn’t end well. Luke isn’t exactly well-trained in being a quarterback, you know? But I loved that it took Vince going to his mother to sort out the problem he’d been having. And look, we’ve seen Regina ask her son to accept his father back into their lives, and I think that, largely, Ornette has been a wonderful force for Vince. At the same time, Regina is able to quietly suggest that maybe Ornette’s excitement gets the best of him, and that’s why he may have pushed Vince too far. It seemed to me that Vince understood this, since he stopped his father from confronting Coach Taylor at the game.

Oh god, what a game, y’all. POOR LUKE. And I’m sure that Eric had a few moments where he questioned whether or not it was a good idea to bench their star quarterback during the one game that would get the Lions into the playoffs. However, I think this episode was another case of Coach showing why he’s so good at his job. Instead of giving up and giving in, he finds a way to get to Luke’s best qualities. Once he hears that Luke’s head is swimming with endless plays that he can’t quite remember clearly, he asks Luke what he wants to do. It’s a genius way to get Luke to focus himself on the game instead of trying to recall details he’s not going to remember.

THE LIONS ARE IN THE PLAYOFFS!!!! I just hope that Vince finally starts working towards repairing his relationships: with his team, with Coach Taylor, and especially with Jess.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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