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‘Friday Night Lights,’ the final farewell: ‘Swerve’

“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.

The Buddy pulpit. (Sorry, that caption just could not be avoided.) (NBC)

A number of things happened in the “Friday Night Lights” episode entitled “Swerve”: Luke Cafferty verified that TMU has no interest in recruiting him, which made him get angry at Vince, drink too much and urinate on a TMU poster; Vince’s dad made a touching speech about family right after beating the heck out of Kennard, aka Vince’s seedy friend who was trying to bleed money out of QB1; and Billy and Mindy Riggins acted, in their own unique way, as effective surrogate parents to Becky and Luke.

Actually, let me just pause for a moment to say what fine form both Mindy “You’re Both Hot and You Both Need to Get Laid” Riggins and Billy “It’s a Way Cry, Mo Fo” Riggins were in this week. I, for one, have developed deep affection for both of them, especially poor, guilt-ridden, almost-a-man Billy. How can you not love a guy who mentors one of his star East Dillon players while standing on a toilet in his backyard?

But that’s all I can say about the Riggins family right now because this blog post needs to turn its focus elsewhere. Above all other FNL matters, we need to talk about Julie Taylor.

Julie still has not gone back to college. Why?

Because she’s just “tidying up a few odds and ends and stuff,” she tells Buddy Garrity at the beginning of this episode. Actually, she’s hiding from everyone she knows at school since the wife of the married toolbox she’s sleeping with announced to her entire dorm that “Julie Taylor is a slut.” But that answer doesn’t sound like an appropriate one to give right after attending Sunday services.

Naturally, Buddy, Senior sees this as an opportunity to set up Buddy Junior with Julie. Buddy, unless your son is a history T.A. who hits on young girls by sharing his Velveeta-drenched insights about life while force-feeding them frybread, it’s not going to happen.

It doesn’t matter anyway because pretty soon, our young Julie is at the wheel of her Toyota Aveo, heading back to school ... wait! Whoa! Did Julie just intentionally drive her car into a stone mailbox in an effort to: a. demonstrate that Julie is officially in the bell jar and b. remind “Friday Night Lights” viewers that the Toyota Aveo is equipped with dual airbags in the event of a crash?

Yes, I think she did. In case there’s any doubt, this gif allows all of us to relive the moment of impact, repeatedly.

That moment leads to Julie Taylor hitting bottom in myriad ways: she lies to her parents about the accidentally, blaming it on a non-existent dog who allegedly did not look both ways before crossing the street; she confesses to her mother Tami that she engaged in an adulterous relationship, and does so while eating a blizzard at the Alamo Freeze; and she gets into a physical altercation with father Eric when she squirms her way out of going back to school yet again.

Clearly we have hit a peak on the Julie Taylor Irritation Spectrum (see below). As Tami notes, the girl does not seem to understand the consequences of her choices at all, and her only plans of action seems to involve lying and/or running away from her problems. Her behavior is irresponsible, childlish and an affront to the imaginary canine community, not to mention the owners of the house at 5704, who have lost their lovely stone mailbox as a result of Julie’s misguided, gas-pedal-hitting judgment.

That said, this episode has provided us with a wonderful window into the disinctly different ways that the Taylors parent. Tami is all “we need to be compassionate,” approaching the situation with her signature mix of gently voiced empathy and motherly discipline.

Eric “Kingmaker” Taylor, on the other hand? He is ticked off and so let down by his daughter that he has no room in his heart for empathy. He can’t get past the fact that Julie knew this older man was married. Getting in the middle of someone else’s vows is an unforgivable sin in the eyes of Eric Taylor. He had no patience for such an ethical lapse when Buddy Garrity was guilty of it, and he has even less patience for it in his own flesh and blood. (By the way, I tend to fall on the Tami Taylor side of the spectrum when it comes t parenting styles. But when Eric threatened to kick the a** of the T.A. who was sleeping with his daughter, every traditionally female fiber of my being screamed: “Yes, Mr. Manly Coach Husband. Go punch him!”)

Anyway, purely from a narrative perspective, this development has given us the opportunity to watch how the Taylor family handles crises. And those moments are what make “Friday Night Lights” such a fantastic show. The tiny details — the flicker of fear in Julie’s eyes when she realizes her dad has just walked in the house; the restraint Tami quietly demonstrates when Julie makes her “promise not to freak out” right before her Derek Bishop confession — are just beautiful. Connie Britton, Kyle Chandler and Aimee Teagarden are, in a word, perfect.

But let’s close by talking about Julie. It’s so easy to loathe her in this episode, for all the reasons mentioned above. But while ruminating on ”Swerve,” I remembered a couple of moments from my transition to college that were similarly immature. No, I never crashed a Chevy Aveo into a mailbox. But I definitely ran away from difficult situations and trafficked in denial a few times. Going from high school to college is a wrenching thing; TV shows and films rarely depict just how hard it is. Instead, they show us freshmen living it up at frat parties or, when they’re aiming a little higher, struggling with their studies.

But we don’t usually see the aching sense of alienation and confusion that can occur when one leaves behind the coddled life of adolescence and starts adjusting to being an adult. I don’t like the Derek Bishop plotline at all. But I do like what it’s illustrating: that life contains some really sharp-edged transitions. And starting college can often be one of the sharpest.

When Julie peeked in on her father as he stared down at a sleeping Gracie Belle — the Taylor daughter who is too young and innocent to be a home- or carwrecker — all she could manage to squeak out was: “I didn’t mean to disappoint you.” As annoying as Julie might be, my heart broke a little bit for her.

But enough about Julie. Let’s look at this episode by the numbers.

Now, a look at “Swerve” by the numbers:

The Final Season Cry-o-meter Rating for “Swerve,” on a scale of 1 to 10: A 1, solely because of that closing moment between Julie and Eric.

The Tim Riggins Hotness Scale Rating for “Swerve,” on a scale of 1 to 10: 1. Again, no Tim Riggins, although he did call Billy. And he was alluded to in that Riggins recruitment video Billy was tearfully watching, which is enough to move the needle to 1. (In case you’re wondering, Riggins will return. Just have a few more episodes to do before he does.)

Julie Taylor Irritation Spectrum Rating for “Swerve” on a scale of 1 to 10: 10. As I noted, I do empathize with her. But that doesn’t change the fact that for those who are easily irked by Julie’s insolence, this episode was a 10.

And here’s the quote of the week poll.

When she isn’t at a movie theater or writing about movies, Jen Chaney is ... um ... probably at home, watching a movie.


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