Fittingly, I'm writing this from Nashville, on my way out to western Texas for a few weeks; this episode was like a teaser for that landscape and world. I loved this episode—with coach Taylor creakily trying to set the ship aright; Landry smitten all over again (not a very protected guy, that one); and Vince's stern internal debates, his self-containment, and also his desire to play. But like you, Hanna, I also puzzled over the Tami/Luke showdown. I believed at first that we were supposed to think she had to turn him in—but the show skips over that, as if not wanting to get embroiled in bureaucratic details. I found myself wishing there were another half beat between Tami and Eric. Instead, she seems to just jump onto her husband's bandwagon. (Could you be totally surprised people booed her at the pep rally?) The scene between Tami and Luke in the rain was just awfully sad—that kid is a good actor, and when he apologizes to her for lying (Principal Taylor, "I'm sorry for lyin' to you"), I got pretty weepy. Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.
Except Luke does seem to be losing something—his chance to be part of the town's main cultural experience, one he's looked forward to for years. You can work hard and still not get what you want. From a cool, critical distance, I find myself hoping his journey on the new team is a bit jagged, not too soft-focus, because his arc is one that I think mimics a lot of Americans' experience right now. Seems like he's part of the show's reckoning with the grim realities of a recession. From the emotional distance of my couch, however, I want Luke to succeed. He seems like a good kid.
In a way, the whole episode was about failing to pause to think things over. Eric is forced to piece the team back together after his forfeit of the game has left it "broken all to hell." Here I felt a little of the same narrative catch: Are we meant to think that Eric didn't explain to his team, in a postgame talk, "You guys did a great job, and I don't want to quit on you, but this is dangerous, and we'll pick up the thread next week?" Or did he say that, but it just didn't matter? I wanted a clearer picture of this.
If the episode registered as rushed here and there, the small moments, at least, were exquisitely handled: Eric's irritability with Matt and Julie about getting the newspaper—and their desire to please him and keep him from pain—was sharply drawn. He goes to the door and sees Tami pulling up the nasty signs in their yard, and we can hear the little grunts in her throat. It's amazing. Then, too, there's the way that they begin spitting the word "babe" at each other when they're squabbling. … Their marriage seems deeply real—and emulatable. Certainly, I admire Tami's efforts not to take herself too seriously; after she gets booed, she's shaken, but when Eric comes home, she just says, "I got booed. But I've got white wine, so there's that."
Hanna, to your subplots, I add one more: Julie and Matt will have some creaky moments if they keep driving around in that Panthers Pizza car. (J.D. may or may not play a role in it.) Of those you mention, by far my least favorite thread is Matt as struggling artist locking horns with eccentric Richard Sherman. This hasn't risen out of the register of cliché for me. Does the art teacher, leaning over Matt in class to tell him about the internship, really have to say, "You have what every artist needs. … You have pluck." (I think I feel sick to my stomach.) Please, FNL, let's have less of this and more about what it is like to make things (and why Matt wants to do it). This story line could be a strong counterpoint to the football. But I go back to my old point: more process.
I'm not as convinced as you that Riggins' return home amounts to character abuse. It is awfully convenient, since Taylor Kitsch is viewer catnip. (He's so HOT!!! a grown friend texted me the other day.) But can't you just see Tim—who never did want to go to college—blowing on out of a lecture on Homer, getting in that truck, and letting the wind run through his long … OK. Enough of that. Suffice to say, I buy it. I think, too, that the show is right that Texas is full of places people miss a lot when they leave—so much that they never can quite bring themselves to leave.
On Buddy, Hanna, we are in agreement. Bring on the Buddy. I hope he breaks ranks. But this brings me to one funny point: It's strange to see all the pro-Panther scenes in the faint light of corruption now. When the kids are cheering for state, I felt a small revulsion—but if Taylor had been there, instead of Joe McCoy, I might have felt a leap of joy. (Then again, Taylor never seemed to rile them up in quite that way—he probably would've shushed them.) It reminds me of all the social psychology experiments—such as the Stanford prison experiment—about how quickly we begin to identify with a group and demonize the other. So I was glad that we learned that Eric had known about that empty lot. It complicated the good team-bad team narrative in more than one way. He got Luke, and we got a tiny bit disillusioned.