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Posted at 09:51 PM ET, 07/15/2011

‘Friday Night Lights,’ the final farewell: A champion finale in ‘Always’


Texas forever? “Always.” (BILL RECORDS/NBC)

It’s over, y’all. For good this time.

And what a final “Friday Night Lights” farewell we got in the episode entitled “Always”:one with a surprise marriage proposal, an 11th hour Taylor reconciliation, a brilliantly handled big game moment at state, a montage that easily coaxed tear drops from even the most stubborn, cynical ducts and a heartfelt, hopeful goodbye to the wonderful, salt-of-the-earth people of Dillon, Tex. It was, on the whole, as lovely an ending as a fan could hope for. If anyone wonders why “Friday Night Lights” earned an Emmy nomination this week for best drama, this episode explained it all.

“Five years is something that you have to pay attention to,” Eric told Tami at the beginning of the episode, referring to his potential contract as coach of the Dillon Panther superteam. But really, that comment was a nod to the number of seasons “Friday Night Lights” managed to stay on the air, despite all odds against it .It was an underdog show that ended with the triumph of an underdog team, the East Dillon Lions, in a way that echoed the entire ”Friday Night Lights” philosophy: in life, ultimately all you can do is throw as hard and strong as you can, and then pray.

While the finale contained some major developments (Matt Saracen proposed!), it was the little things that made every moment so resonant and real, including every gorgeously rendered detail in that closing montage.

I’ll discuss that montage, as well as the resolution of three other key plot strands, in the recap — featuring polls, photos and the finale cry-o-meter rating — that follows.

The Julie Taylor/Matt Saracen engagement


(BILL RECORDS/NBC)

When Matt Saracen got down on one knee at the Alamo Freeze and proposed to Julie Taylor, I’ll admit it: I was skeptical about this engagement. First of all, the former QB1 didn’t even tell Julie he was coming home for Christmas, which is generally not what a guy does when he wants to make major life plans with someone after not seeing her for half a semester. Also, Julie’s behavior this season has not exactly screamed “ready for marriage.” (Need I refer to the Chevy Aveo/mailbox incident again? Fine. Consider it mentioned.)

And, as Eric noted when Saracen asked for his blessing, they are indeed pretty young to take such a step. (Thank God Landry — whose advice Matt naturally sought before talking to his future father-in-law — didn’t suggest that his buddy wear a Member’s Only jacket to that meeting.)

Coach Taylor’s response — “The answer to your question is going to be no today, it’s going to be no tomorrow and it’ll probably be no until the sun burns out. Is that clear?” — left no room for confusion on his position. And despite the harshness of his reaction, I was mostly on Coach’s side here.

And then something happened: Julie showed Tami her engagement ring and said the words, “It’s his grandma’s.” Tami put her hand to her mouth. She got verklempt. And immediately it was clear: this is going to happen. Tami Taylor could feel it, even if she hadn’t accepted it yet

During that uncomfortable dinner, when Matt and Julie sat across from Tami and Eric like younger mirror images of the model married couple, Julie pointed out that her parents were just as young as she and Matt when they got hitched. And she called them her “inspiration,” a nice word to hear out of her mouth after all those moments of classic Julie Taylor sass.

That’s when I got onboard with the Saracen/Taylor union. Because I flashed back to season three, and the episode where Tami drove Julie halfway to San Antonio to get a tattoo removed before stopping the car to chat. Tami told her daughter she’d been a “wild child” when she was younger, that she’d almost dropped out of high school.

“So what happened?” Julie asked.

“What happened was, your dad happened,” Tami replied.

What happened to Julie Taylor was, Matt Saracen happened. While I believe every young woman should be independent and capable of existing happily without a partner, there are some people who need their other half, who can only thrive if they have their Constant, if I may use a “Lost” metaphor in a “Friday Night Lights” recap.

So as out of left field — from the other end zone? ---as this marriage may have seemed from a plot development perspective, something about it felt right, like a continuation of the Tami/Eric legacy. But what do you think? Weigh in via this poll.

The Tim Riggins Situation


(BILL RECORDS/NBC)

Question: what makes Tim Riggins hotter? Answer: carrying a baby.

Finally, bitter Riggins turned into a happy Riggins during the finale, forgiving his brother Billy, bonding with his nephew and realizing that he belongs on an expansive piece of land in Dillon, Tex., not working on a rig in Alaska.

It was nice to see him find some closure with Becky, who told Tim she was over her crush on him. (I do believe she really loves Luke, but come on, Becky. You could see how doubly hot Tim Riggins is when he's holding an infant, couldn’t you?)

Tim even left the door open for a future with Tyra, who had some reservations about resuming a romance with Riggins. Plus, she apparently intends to pursue politics. (Choice exchange of the night — Tim: “When you say, like, politics do you mean like Sarah Palin kind of stuff?” Tyra: “No, you ass. Out of all people, really?”) Still, Tim hopefully noted that maybe one day their dreams could merge together.

And as they clinked beer bottles while sitting on the land that will eventually become Tim’s home, that seemed like a real possibility.

Eric and Tami Taylor


(BILL RECORDS/NBC)

Throughout the five seasons of “Friday Night Lights,” Eric and Tami Taylor have fought and disagreed. But the conflict in this episode over whether Tami should accept the unprecedented job offer from Braemore and move the family to Philadelphia proved to be their greatest test.

When married couples reach a crossroads, they yell. They sit through uncomfortable silences. They roll their eyes at each other. They hug through tears even when they’re furious. They don’t speak about the elephants in their rooms.

That’s what Eric and Tami did throughout this episode and it was a truer snapshot of what marriage is, via just a few brilliantly played scenes by Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler, than what we see in most entire films and long-running TV shows. Well, except for “Friday Night Lights,” of course

Yes, Eric running to find Tami at the mall and asking “Will you take me to Philadelphia with you, please?” smacked of a little of a rom-com running-through-the-airport scene. But it was the right thing to do.

Personally, I’m not sure I see Tami and Eric in Philly forever, though. They’re Texas people at heart. As Tami noted, “They can always come back.” I like to think they will someday, when Tami inevitably becomes UT’s dean of students and Eric gets an offer to coach their football team.

Impossible that he would be courted by a university of that caliber after only coaching at the high school level? Maybe. But perhaps he can follow in his wife’s footsteps.

And now, that final montage


(BILL RECORDS/NBC)

I loved every thing about the show’s final moments.

I loved that we never saw the completion of the play that won the East Dillon Lions its state championship.

I love the song they used in the montage, Delta Spirit’s “Devil Knows You’re Dead.”

I loved that Vince became QB for the Dillon Panthers, Coach Spivey, an African-American, became the coach of the once racially divided team, Billy Riggins got to be an assistant coach, Tinker landed on the team and Buddy Garrity was zooming around the field in a golf cart (suck on that, Joe McCoy), reminding everyone that “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” All was right with the world on the superteam.

I loved, even though it broke my heart, that Luke Cafferty joined the service and left his championship ring in the hands of his sweetheart Becky.

I loved that Matt and Julie found their own Chicago, together.

I loved that Jess was still working toward her coaching dream, with clipboard in hand.

I loved that Jason Street’s name remained scrawled on the locker room walls at Dillon High.

I loved that Tim and Billy Riggins were building a house together even though I have zero faith that it will actually be up to code.

I loved that Eric was molding men in the home of our Founding Fathers, but not quite ready to rely on familiar catch phrases. “Clear eyes, full hearts ... we’ll deal with that later.” Perfect.

And I loved that the last shot of this fine, fine series was of Eric and Tami Taylor on a football field, partners, always. Who the hell was watching Gracie Bell? Who cares?

Out go the lights.

The finale by the numbers:

The Tim Riggins Hotness Scale Rating for “Always,” on a scale of 1 to 10: 10. The hot sunglasses, his sunnier outlook and, of course, the sight him of carrying a baby pushed him over the top.

Julie Taylor Irritation Spectrum Rating for “Always” on a scale of 1 to 10: 0. Honestly, I loved Julie Taylor more than ever in this episode.

The Final Season Cry-o-meter Rating for “Always,” on a scale of 1 to 10: 11. I am not ashamed to say I wept like a child, not just once but during three viewings of this episode. Goodbye, “Friday Night Lights.” You will so, so be missed.

By  |  09:51 PM ET, 07/15/2011

Tags:  Friday Night Lights

 
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