This episode is all about daddy's little girls: Julie, Lyla, and J.D. "I just feel like it's different now … like I'm not daddy's little girl anymore," Julie says to Lyla after she's had sex with Matt. And, worse, been caught lying in bed afterward by her own father, complete with telltale crooning singer-songwriter on in the background. "Yeah," Lyla says, knowingly, though she doesn't spell out just what she knows. She's further down the path than her younger schoolmate. Unlike Julie, she's a daddy's little girl who really no longer has her daddy; she had to pick Buddy up from jail after he beat an associate to a pulp at the Landing Strip and caused an alleged $30,000 worth of damage. ("It's not even worth that much," Buddy complains.) Now Lyla's not just having sex with Riggins. She's shacked up with him, playing house in a home that has a poster of a bikini-clad girl bearing beer tacked to the wall. (By the way, I love that the scene between Lyla and Julie takes place as the two girls brush their teeth together in the Taylors' bathroom: soulful confession, scrunch-scrunch-scrunch. That brought me back.)
Then, of course, there's J.D., a girl in boy's clothing. (According to the show's gender lexicon, at least.) He goes to a party, where a perfectly coiffed redhead—more Gossip Girl than rally girl, I thought—asks him whether he wants an "appletini." "I don't drink," he stutters in response; she flirtatiously responds, "Well how about some milk? That could be your thing. A young … wholesome … milk-drinking … quarterback." Never has milk sounded so dirty. Madison (that's her name) is a sure thing, or so we're meant to think. All too soon, though, J.D. is breaking things off with her because—surprise, surprise—his father told him to. But he makes the crucial mistake of breaking up with her outside the team bus with the whole team watching. Riggins collars him. And, finally, the show explicitly deals with something I mentioned a while back, something that Joe McCoy just doesn't seem to get: As quarterback, J.D. is supposed to inspire and motivate his teammates. And there's no way he's going to seem like a leader to them when he's being dad-whipped. As Riggins puts it, "You know what's good before a game? Gettin' laid. A lot." J.D. says that's not going to be happening. And Riggins goes for the jugular: "How do you expect any of these guys to man up for you if you can't do that on your own? … You know you're a leader right? Start acting like one."
The sexual politics aren't very progressive, I guess, but on the other hand you could say that the idea of finding your own path, away from your parents and into your life, is the leitmotif of the episode and the girls actually do a better job of it. Both Lyla and Julie face a similar dilemma to J.D.'s: They have to choose whether to bow to their parents' wishes or be themselves. And they "man up" more than J.D. does: Lyla gets in Buddy's face when he calls her a "spoiled little brat" for running away from him to Riggins. Julie prickles when her mom says, "Your dad told me what happened at Matt's," but then she figures out how to get what she really needs. The truth is, she wants to talk to her mom about sex; she just doesn't want to be talked to like a child while the conversation takes place.
I thought this episode really captured that treacherous ground where parents and adolescents get stuck in a quagmire neither really wants to be in. Tami's face when she's asking Julie about birth control is a mess of supportive sympathy and heartbreak. She finally tells Julie what she really feels, not judgmentally, but humanly: "I wanted you to wait … because I wanted to protect you." And Julie says, "I didn't want to disappoint you." This was the best conversation about teen sex I've ever seen on TV, for sure. (And I think we wouldn't have seen one like this on the first season of the show, which was more male-oriented.) Do you two agree? Or did you have different feelings about this episode?
There's so much more to touch on—Matt and Coach Taylor, Landry and Tyra (and the wonderful Giving Tree sermon). But let me end with a question. Don't the writers kinda lay it on thick when Eric gets ejected from the game and Wade has to take over? Within about 30 seconds, the announcer is praising Wade's "inspired play calling" and then, after one touchdown, lauding him as "a bright and shining star on the Dylan football horizon." Tension between Wade and Eric (and, more to the point, Joe McCoy and Eric) has only been rising. Is this thick impasto of writerly praise foreshadowing of things to come? We're almost at the season's close, after all.