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Posted at 11:26 PM ET, 07/01/2011

‘Friday Night Lights,’ the final farewell: When unbelievable things happen to good Texas people


The Riggins boys, enjoying a beer but not each other’s company. (BILL RECORDS/NBC)

Friday Night Lights” has often done a wonderfully respectable job of representing what real American life looks, sounds and feels like: what married people say to each other when they’re pondering difficult decisions, how teens handle the confusing blossoming of their sexuality and the way former used car salesman can surprisingly and awkwardly step up to the plate at parole board hearings.

But this week’s episode, “The March,” was filled with implausible moments, moments that, arguably, the writers needed to create in order to get their narrative ducks in a row for the finale that airs in two weeks. (Or rather, re-finale, since “Friday Night Lights” already ended on DirecTV and DVD). And actually, some of the hard-to-believe plot developments resulted in satisfying television. (Oh, Tami Taylor, even though it makes zero sense, I was so happy to see that Braemore job offer slide across that dinner table into your hands.) Others, however necessary from a story perspective, were head scratchers of the highest order.

Let’s examine the moments from this week’s episode that elicited the loudest “Reallys?”

Episode 10 recap: “Don’t Go”

Episode 9 recap: “Gut Check”

Episode 8 recap: “Fracture”

The East Dillon football team could be eliminated.

Levi, the always blunt and beleaguered East Dillon High principal, announced to his staff that school system budget cuts might necessitate some unprecedented pruning, potentially of staff and programs. And one key program that will take a major hit? Football. Specifically, as Levi told Eric during that late-night phone call, East Dillon and West Dillon will have to share a team next year. Which means one team will get the axe.

Based on what I know about Texas high school football — not to mention what we’ve all learned about Dillon from watching this show — there is no way this would ever happen. Just two seasons ago, Dillon Principal Tami Taylor couldn’t get the money she needed for vital school programs and teachers because the football community desperately needed a Jumbotron. I understand that money is even tighter now, but given the town’s obsession with fullbacks and field goals, the board would be more likely to sell every book in the school library, abolish calculus and trigonometry from the curriculum and require all faculty to pay an hourly parking fee than to eliminate one of their precious football teams, especially when one of them is heading to the state championship.

From a narrative perspective, however, this development does allow the ‘ol East Dillon/West Dillon rivalry to resurface, thereby bringing the series back to its Panther-related roots. Clear eyes, full hearts, but absolutely no common-sense narrative logic whatsoever.

Vince’s dad and the drugs/drinking

It was pretty obvious that the positive relationship between Vince and his dad had to unravel at some point. But Ornette “O” Howard has gone from being overzealous, unscrupulous and occasionally violent to suddenly being a drunkard who has resumed his drug-dealing ways. The transition felt a little abrupt.

At the same time, it also feels like it’s taken a long time for him to reach a stand-off with Vince’s mom, the former addict. Would he really have waited this long to bring a six-pack of beer to the house? And would he really not get why that’s inappropriate?

Tim Riggins and the ever-vacant trailer

The storyline between the Riggins brothers — the same one that caused Tim to get thrown out of the Landing Strip, punch his brother in the parking lot and point out that Billy reneged on their agreement (“I screw up my life, you fix yours’.”) — was the most realistic narrative thread in this week’s episode.

I hate seeing Tim Riggins drained of any lust for life. I much prefer Tim Riggins, Religious Radio Show Prank Caller.

But it makes sense that Tim feels the way he does. He gave up everything for his brother, he altered the course of his own life, and Billy is still knocking back beers and watching the mother of his son take off her clothes for money. As a result, Tim is all brooding and bitter to the point of being almost James Dean-ish; let’s call him the Rebel With a Job Changing Buddy Garrity’s Kegs. (By the way, nice Smash Williams reference on the TV at Buddy’s Bar.)

As heartbreaking as it was to watch him walk out the Riggins house, backpack and case of beer in hand, while a tearful Mindy begged him not to go, it’s easy to get where Tim Riggins is coming from.

What I didn’t quite get is where he went — specifically, the trailer outside the Sproles residence. Did Becky’s dad and good ‘ol Doreen not hear him break into the place? Was it left exactly as it was for the entire time Tim was in jail? And how awesome would it have been if Tim had burst into the trailer only to find that Santiago had moved in during his absence? So many questions.

Tami Taylor, college recruitee

Still, the most unbelievable development of the night was, arguably, Tami Taylor getting a job offer from Braemore College.

It’s crazy enough that Tami, a high school guidance counselor at a school that doesn’t exactly crank out overwhelming numbers of high achievers, would be invited to interview for assistant director of admissions at a university solely because she thinks test scores are overemphasized. But it pushes the extreme boundaries of career-pursuing credibility to think that the president of the college would offer her the job of director of admissions, on the spot, after what appeared to be a tough job interview. Even Tami herself couldn’t believe it, reminding her potential employers multiple times that she’s just a guidance counselor at a little school in Texas. (Bless Connie Britton and her aw shucksy “y’all” attitude, which sold the job-offer-over-dinner scene emotionally even when it was short on believability.)

Naturally, this sets up a scenario where Tami and Eric are going to be at odds. Because Coach Eric “Sensitive to Women’s Needs” Taylor is all about supporting female ambition, except when it impacts his relationship with his wife. Sure, he wants Tami to succeed and find fulfillment, as long as she’s always waiting for him after every game and makes dinner for him and Gracie Belle.

Last point: I loved the contradictions that emerged in Eric this week, how he could be so insensitive (and clueless about that insensitivity) to his wife, but simultaneously so supportive of Jess’s desire to become a football coach.

And by the way, that ambition wasn’t implausible. No, there technically isn’t a Natalie Watson, D.C. high school football coach, for Jess to look to as a role model. But there sure is a Natalie Randolph coaching football at D.C.’s Coolidge High. She’s not just believable, she's as real as it gets.

Now the episode by the numbers and the best quote poll:.

The Final Season Cry-o-meter Rating for “The March,” on a scale of 1 to 10: 6. This was a less weepy episode than last week’s. But the tears in Mindy’s eyes got to me..

The Tim Riggins Hotness Scale Rating for “The March,” on a scale of 1 to 10: Giving him an 8 this week. All the alienated latent resentment is still sad. But it’s also kind of hot.

Julie Taylor Irritation Spectrum Rating for “The March” on a scale of 1 to 10: 0. Again, no Julie this week. As a result all that Derek Bishop bitterness is starting to fade, at least for me...

By  |  11:26 PM ET, 07/01/2011

Tags:  Friday Night Lights

 
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