Emily, I've also had a few readers e-mail and ask me that same question: Why has this turned into the old black/white fight, and where are the Latinos? I have two theories, neither entirely satisfying (and readers, we'd love to hear more of yours). The first is the existence of The Wire. That show cultivated so much acting talent that it must seem a shame to have it go to waste. The two shows are similar in their attempts to evoke, in an authentic way, a very distinct place. So it might be natural for Baltimore and Dillon to have a creative collaboration. Once we get deeper into Vince's life, I wouldn't be surprised if we see some more Wire actors imported over. Second, this show is about being all too rooted in one place. And African-Americans fit that story line better than Latinos. Even if they have been living in West Texas for three generations, Latinos are seen as immigrants, outsiders, drifters. That sustained tension is an amazing story but not necessarily one this show is interested in telling. The people in Vince's neighborhood, I bet, will have that same stuck feeling Riggins and Matt complain about. They have a parallel shared history with the West Dillon crew, from which Latinos are excluded.
You ask about the oddball pairings, Emily. In my mind, the working title for this episode was something like, "How Far Can You Really Stray?" The show was punctuated by unexpected adventures—Matt and Tim going hunting, Devin and Julie at the gay bar (predictably called Steers), Landry and Jess at a party in East Dillon. But these adventures served only to highlight how deeply rooted everyone actually is in Dillon. As Matt says to Julie, who objects to his hunting: "I live in Dillon. People in Dillon, that's what they do. They go hunting and shoot animals." Then at the pep rally, Julie pulls aside the assistant coach to say she won't tell anyone she saw him at a gay bar. "Tell anybody about what?" he says and looks at her blankly. Julie has misunderstood the Dillon rules. They were not going to share a secret about their little mutual adventure. There was no adventure. They were always right here in Dillon, at a barbeque eating ribs and praying. (The one exception might be Landry and Jess. As commenter Stehen pointed out, interracial dating is something new and probably breaks the old Dillon code.)
I loved that scene with Buddy and the crew of old Lions. As Meghan has pointed out, Buddy is the quintessential Texan, narrow in his way and brimming with honor. Eric cringed when he saw Buddy coming, no doubt because he thought Buddy might say something semi-racist and make the evening even more awkward than it already was. But Eric, too, missed something essential about West Texas. Buddy and the old Lions, even though they were rivals, share a past. They're from the same spit of land, and they know one another. Instantly everyone relaxed and laughed, and the evening was saved. Earlier, when he was distraught at the bar, Buddy had said to Eric, "You know what it's like to be a Panther and have it taken away from you." But Eric did not respond, because in fact he doesn't know. His loyalties are to football and the boys who play it, not to the Panthers. Compared with Buddy, he's the outsider.
This episode gave us several moments to ponder how the Taylors don't quite fit in. As you said Emily, they're like us: Julie's college list, her chirpy vegetarianism, Tami's chocolates. These always feel like Martian moments dropped onto this soil. At some point Tami says to Eric about the pep rally, "Hey, if it's not great, you still get to come home with us." I love this line. I plan to use it with my husband in the future. But it's also very particular to the Taylors. Their family is a portable down comforter, something you get to carry everywhere for warmth and support. For everyone else in Dillon, family and home are complicated and overwhelming forces that can drag you down. Thus, we have Becky, and the death of Matt's father, which is likely to set off God knows what.
All right, now to Tim. I must admit that Riggins is a guy who might be nice to have around if you were in pain. I loved that story he told to cheer up Becky, about how his mom never took him shopping for a pageant gown. It was a little out of place in its high irony, but shopping seems to bring that out in Riggins. (Remember last season, when he went shopping for a sports coat with Lyla and used the word schmooze?)
Emily, you ask about Virgil Merriweather's refusal to talk about his old football days. My theory is that he represents the futile attempt to close off the past. It's not possible, at least not in Dillon. And he won't succeed. My parting question involves Devin: Is she equal in awesomeness to April from NBC's Parks and Rec or not quite? Same deadpan, slightly nasal voice. Same narcotized expression masking a perfect dry wit. Same shiny but messy black hair. Same low-key but excellent wardrobe. Different love interests, of course.