Buddy is back! That's the big news this episode. In a deeply satisfying—and, I thought, largely credible—scene, he forswears the Panthers and goes over to the Lions—reuniting with his pal, our hero, Eric Taylor. In the key moment, at a booster party (not long after he hears Joe McCoy making cruel fun of Eric's forfeit), he turns on Joe: "You have been a cancer to me, you've been a cancer to my friends, and you've been a cancer to this team. And just one more thing I want to say: Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose."
Well, what more could you ask for? Buddy is one of my favorite characters on the show because he is the most like a particular brand of Texan—something about his combination of bluster, pushiness, and honor. And the episode built smoothly to this crescendo, in part by not sentimentalizing Buddy's choice: Earlier, he meets with Coach Taylor, who's trying to wring some money out of him and the boosters, and says that he just can't help him. Defending himself, evasively, Buddy says something like, "[The boosters] think I'm the one who told you about the mailbox address." Eric looks at him. "Buddy, you are the one who told me about the mailbox." "Yes," Buddy says. "But I have to unknow that right now. … They probably got my phone tapped." This is classic FNL—strong writing, strong characterization, a little bit of local twang. Buddy may invoke "Clear eyes, full hearts"— and we love it when he does—but he's also a bit of a snake-oil salesman.
Hanna, another subplot to add to your list: the tension between Tami and Eric, which continues to grow. The fight they have over Eric writing a check to Under Armour (Hello, Product Placement!) is astonishingly real, with matters escalating swiftly out of hand, partly because Tami goes (understandably?) to the Anger Place quickly, saying "Don't raise your voice." Eric wasn't really shouting at her, but this is how fights happen: One person's anxiety infects the other.
Here's my one complaint about this season, which I love so far: This is a show about community and place, but it's very much about male community. I couldn't go so far as to say it's a show about male subjectivity, but it almost is. With the loss of Tyra this season, we see women together even less than in the past. When we do, it's Julie and her mom. The other women are all satellites to the men—Becky with Tim (Emily, I agree she's a great character, bringing an off-kilter, poignant humor to her scenes), Jess to Landry, etc. This is a small complaint, and perhaps an unfair one, like asking someone to write a book different from the one they're writing. But nonetheless. I wonder what our readers think about this issue.
Perhaps the show is going to invert this focus a bit—but I suspect first it will intensify it. I can't tell what direction this Richard Sherman/Matt Saracen plot will go, but it seems to be setting us up for Matt getting the hell out of Dodge. Sherman is being set up as a kind of gritty guru (I keep waiting for him to say "Wax on, Wax off"). First, a drunk Sherman spots Julie—looking especially dewy and made-up—while Matt is dropping something off; he rudely says, "Oh, so you're the ball-and-chain that keeps dragging him down. … I think I married you about 20 years ago, babes." You can see the shock register physically in Julie (poor Julie). Later Richard and Matt have a mano-a-mano talk about art. I found it much more persuasive than the last one. Richard tells a core truth about art: You have to be a bit selfish to make it. To be an artist, he says, is to "spend your life trying to express some quiet dark corner deep, deep inside you." As he puts it, the world is rushing by, and you have to "put aside God, love, life" in order to follow this "craving." It's pretty true—though of course his version of it is way more extreme than many artists'. But while I do want Matt to get out of Dillon, I don't want him to grow up to be Richard.
So much more to discuss. The pageant! Becky's dresses! What do you make of the unfolding, uncomfortable story line with Tim and Becky? The tension building between Vince and Luke? Eric's misjudging of the tone he needs to take with these kids? One thing FNL does well is demonstrate how continuous life and work are—so when Eric gets angry at Tami, he reacts the next day by reaching out to Luke. Hanna, I have to say, I think they're using Riggins well in this plot line: Without Riggins, Eric would be, believably, I think, going off the deep end. But Tim keeps pulling him back.