Emily, the current I saw running though all the plot twists you describe is the different ways men and women make decisions. In this episode, the two key women—Tami and Tyra—are focused on relationships, pursuing conversation and connection above all else. Meanwhile, the men—Jason, Matt, Eric—go for hard results. In the end, the women don't exactly get what they want, while the men do.
Tami keeps pestering Eric to have a "conversation" with her about the house. "We are having a conversation!" Eric answers. By which he means she asked and he told her "No!" But she keeps it up, waking him in the middle of the night. "OK, can I turn the light off?" My favorite moment is when they are all sitting around the dinner table with Matt. Julie is haranguing Eric about making Matt wide receiver. Tami is haranguing him about the house. Finally, he gets sick of it. "All right, let's go," he says to Matt, who has just proposed they run 10 plays outside to test him. If he gets them all, Eric has to think about making him wide receiver. The boys skip out of all the talk and solve their problems with cold, hard stats and football.
Now, you can reasonably argue that Eric was right about that house. Maybe they couldn't afford it. But the point is how quickly Tami caved during the second visit. She blinked once then said, "I don't need this house" and declared her life full enough with Jules and Gracie Bell and her husband. It's as if all along, all she wanted was for Eric to hear her out and walk through the process with her, and that was all.
Meghan, you've outlined this dynamic before: A man is having a hard time, and then one of the show's tough women describes how much it means that he is taking care of her. The result is that she creates a safe space for his emotions—the "show's distinctive brand of male sentimentality," you called it. A version of that happens here. Tami is suddenly called back to her responsibility as wife and mother, and that soothes her, and him. In Tami's case, she doesn't sacrifice much. She still does have a great family and a pretty decent house. But Tyra is doing the same thing, no? She, too, is opting to take care of Cash, who has convinced her what a tough time he has alone on the road. But in her case it's fatal. Maybe Tami was telling Tyra one lesson but showing her another. This is why the validating of the wifely duties on FNL always grates on me.
Now as for male sentimentality, this episode wins the prize.
Here we have the mother of all crying scenes. Tim Riggins' lovable mug, usually adored by the camera, is in this episode contorted into a blotchy mess as he watches his friend finally get his lady. He is sad and happy all at once, but mostly he is mush. Yet his male sentimentality is acceptable because he has, throughout the episode, acted in a manly, honorable way. Tim is what you want in a wife. He doesn't wake up Jason in the middle of the night. He doesn't want conversation; in fact, he mostly speaks in three-word sentences. But what he does do is deliver concrete solutions: Go to Paul Stuart. Leave Paul Stuart. Buy two suits, two shirts, two ties. Get Wendell to sign with the agent. Now go get your girl. And, unlike Tyra, Jason doesn't have to choose between the girl and his future; he gets them both.
As for whether I liked the New York diversion: It's always good when characters get pushed into a new location. The famous Sopranos Pine Barren episode, when Christopher and Paulie go to the woods to kill the Russian, set the bar really high on this kind of plot twist. The New York diversion wasn't that good, but it did take on the question of Life after Dillon. And at least they didn't just drop Street.