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Posted at 12:20 PM ET, 06/25/2011

‘Friday Night Lights,’ the final farewell: ‘Don’t Go’

“Friday Night Lights” already came to a close on DirecTV and on DVD. But the final episodes of the Dillon, Tex., drama are now airing on NBC. And that means it’s time to bid the final-for-real farewells by assessing each installment shortly after it airs on the Peacock network every Friday at 8 p.m. EST. Why? Because “Clear eyes. Full hearts. Must blog.” Or, um, something like that.


Look who’s back: Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch). (Bill Records - BILL RECORDS/NBC)

Tim Riggins is out of jail! Tim Riggins is out of jail!

Oh, but wait. He’s depressed. And kind of bitter.

That’s just one of several sad and/or poignant developments in “Don’t Go,” the tenth episode of the final season of “Friday Night Lights.” That’s right, we’re in the home stretch, with only three more NBC episodes to go in our beloved Dillon, Tex., saga that technically already ended a few months ago on DirecTV.

And the home stretch means it’s time for the plotlines to start tugging our heart strings and making loyal viewers a little emotional as they prepare for the end. (Or the end-end since, again, the series previously wrapped on DirecTV and is also on DVD, where you can zip through episodes on a timeline of your choosing. But I digress.)  

Given the aforementioned sad/poignancy effect, let’s recap this episode by running down the most touching moments in this week’s “FNL” hour. And yes, several of them stem from that parole hearing for Tim Riggins.

Episode 9 recap: “Gut Check”

Episode 8 recap: “Fracture”

Episode 7 recap: “Perfect Record”

Buddy Garrity insists on a tribute to Eric Taylor

At the beginning of this episode, Buddy saw a crate of oranges and immediately declared, “This is bad.” The proprietor of the best bar in town knows that fresh Florida fruit means one thing: that the athletic department at Shane State is trying to woo Eric into coaching their football team. And no man can resist palm trees and full control of a Division I squad.

Which led us to touching/poignant scene No. 1: Buddy’s goofy yet sweet insistence to Levi, principal of East Dillon, that the fall sports banquet must be turned into a mini-tribute to Eric, a scene that demonstrated Buddy’s lack of understanding of the word “impromptu” (not surprising; the man also once thought “Jumbotron” was two words) and the sharing of a core truth about life: “A man can’t leave,” Buddy told Levi, “if you erect a statue of him in his honor.” That is a fact, by the way. If the Washington Nationals had only realized this, manager Jim Riggleman might not have stepped down so abruptly.

Tim Riggins requesting that Billy not speak at his parole hearing.

Oh, Timmy Riggins, even in your white jail jumpsuit and that melancholy countenance, you are still a sight for sore FNL eyes. Tim’s reemergence led to the most wrenching scene in this episode: the moment when he requested that poor Billy — the guy who clearly was too nervous to string three words together — not speak on his behalf during his parole hearing. “How badly can he mess it up anyway?” asked Eddie, Tim’s attorney. (You know, you just don’t meet enough lawyers named Eddie these days.) “You’d be surprised,” Tim muttered in response, a line that was funny given the many mishaps of the Riggins brothers, but also a crusher because it revealed the depths of Tim’s resentment and the chasm that’s widened between two siblings who used to be so close, they once invested in a Texas longhorn steer at an auction. Cut to the blatantly wounded expression on Billy’s face and good lord, who else wanted to just hug the Riggins boys and tell them everything would be okay?

Tami Taylor railing against test scores

Perhaps to make up for the disappointment regarding the Epyck debacle, Levi asked Tami to speak on a panel about the college admissions process. Naturally, she spoke from the heart about the overemphasis test scores and how important it is to talk to kids about their needs — that’s right, every single student in Texas, a suggestion made the traditional white male on the panel look like he wanted to smack Tami over the head with an SAT prep book. Honestly, everything Tami said was pretty oversimplified, easy-to-agree with stuff, but it still led to a round of applause and a rash of “hey, that lady is brilliant” head nodding. When Tami Taylor turns on the awesome and throws in a couple of y’alls for good measure, no one is immune to her charms.


Tami (Connie Britton) and Eric (Kyle Chandler), pondering their options. (Bill Records - BILL RECORDS/NBC)

Eric Taylor saving the parole hearing day

As expected, Billy kind of botched his remarks, going off his talking points and babbling about how much little Stevie needs to know his uncle. Fortunately Coach Taylor was also there to speak on Tim’s behalf, noting his many fine qualities and, in the process, again reminding us that he has been an unparalleled molder of man for the past four-plus seasons. “That mistake does not represent the man who is sitting in front of you, I can guarantee you that,” Eric told the board. “He is a good young man. That’s how I know him.” Oh yeah. Eyes were welling up with salt water at that point.

There is something about the way Eric/Kyle Chandler says the words “good young man” that evokes the image of purple mountain’s majesty, the sight of amber waves of grain and, if I can mix patriotic song metaphors, the sound of letting freedom ring. Eric Taylor makes everyone around him want to stand up straight, salute and say the pledge of allegiance, complete with the phrase “under God.” There was no chance the parole board would deny Tim Riggins after that. (I won’t go on too much about this, but the moment afterward, when Tim asked Coach if he had received his letters and Eric apologized for not visiting more ... oh man. Saying goodbye to these fictional TV characters is going to be so hard.

And then Buddy Garrity stood up...

The look on Tim’s face when Buddy started talking, reminding a board member that he recently sold her a Chevy Tahoe, entered a realm beyond priceless. It was a look that clearly conveyed the thought, “Oh my God, I am going to be stuck in jail forever and it’s going to be because of Lyla’s jackwad of a dad, the same guy who thinks strip malls make good investments. ”

But then Buddy continued, speaking earnestly about how Tim used to date his daughter and is part of his family (here’s where the real crying began), about how he will make sure that Tim never screws up again, about how he’ll hire Tim the second he walks out of jail. (Tim looked appreciative and bemused — “Oh good. A new kind of prison.”) “This kid right here has got more heart than almost any person I know,” Buddy said, later closing with the catchphrase of a line, “It’s time for you to let Tim Riggins come home.” Levi was wrong. Buddy Garrity knows exactly what impromptu means. And he proved that everyone on Earth needs a jackwad like him on his or her side.

The evocation of “Clear eyes, full hearts...”

At the beginning of the spots banquet, Buddy made sure to work the baby angle, giving Gracie Belle an East Dillon T-shirt and attempting to teach her the Daddy-patented phrase “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” This will not be the last time we hear that phrase this season.

The tribute to Coach Taylor

As orchestrated by Buddy, all the Lions stood up and said nice words about their coach, words intended to convince him it’s better to live in Dillon than to move to the Sunshine State to have his own pool in his backyard and, improbably, free reign over a college program despite the fact that he’s only a coach at a less-than-stellar public high school. (Side note: if you were on the basketball, cross country or women’s volleyball teams at this banquet, you totally got short shrift.)

The most poignant remarks came from Luke Cafferty, who earlier in this episode accepted the fact that he won’t score a football scholarship and is already planning for days of training pigs and rocking on the front porch of a farm house with Becky by his side. “Some of the best days of my life have been playing for you, Coach,” Luke said, in a way that made it clear that he knew those days are almost done. Tear.

Vince begs Coach to stay

Vince finally screwed his head back on properly in this episode, prompted, to be fair, by the fact that Oklahoma Tech turned him down. He promised to work his way back into Eric’s good graces, then showed up at the Taylors’ front door — as everyone, eventually, is wont to do — and made a personal plea to his mentor, asking him not to take that Shane State gig and noting that he’d either be in “jail or a ditch somewhere” if it weren’t for the coach. “Don’t go,” he begged, giving the episode its name. A little heavy-handed? Yes. But the beginning of this final farewell is destined to tug a little too hard on the heart strings from time to time.

Fun fact: Right before Eric walked out the door, he grabbed his hat from Gracie Belle. Inside it, the letters KMC, written in black Sharpie marker ink, can clearly be seen. Those letters stand for Kyle Marshall Chandler.

Sad Tim goes home

The celebration at the Riggins household was joyous, as long as you didn't focus on the guy everyone was celebrating. Released from jail, Tim looked utterly lost in his own kitchen, unclear where he fit in to this world where Billy has a baby and an assistant coaching job Tim once held. Enter Becky, whose heart still clearly beats for No. 33, and freedom started to look more complicated than three more episodes may be able to sort out.

Coach announces his plans to stay in Dillon

In the middle of an interview with a reporter before heading to a game, Eric spontaneously announced his plans to remain in Dillon despite the fact that his wife had just told him 20 episodic minutes prior to focus on state and then make a decision about the future. You know what it’s called when you make a spontaneous life decision while talking to a journalist, without consulting your wife first? Impromptu.

The Final Season Cry-o-meter Rating for “Don’t Go,” on a scale of 1 to 10: 8. The tributes to Eric were touching, but the parole hearing for the beloved Tim Riggins was a double-Kleenex moment.

The Tim Riggins Hotness Scale Rating for “Don’t Go,” on a scale of 1 to 10: Finally, this rating shoots up from 0 to 7 with the return of Tim. Why no 10? Well, Tim just seems so sad. Also, he needed a good shampooing after his time in the pokey.

Julie Taylor Irritation Spectrum Rating for “Don’t Go” on a scale of 1 to 10: 1. No Julie this week, but residual annoyance due to permanent Derek Bishop distaste still pumps up the rating to 1.

By  |  12:20 PM ET, 06/25/2011

Tags:  Friday Night Lights

 
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