Hanna, you pulled out the line that was threaded through this powerful episode: "And he didn't want to be a dad." Matt says it about his father, but there are other collapsing and AWOL parents in evidence here: Vince's mother, Becky's father—and her mother, too. These characters form a series of anti-examples: Look at all the ways there are to screw up raising the kids you were put on earth to take care of.
Meghan, I want to hear about what you make of Matt's grieving. For me, it was a huge relief when Matt's male community came through for him in that great scene on the football field you talked about, Hanna. He tells Tim, Billy, and Landry how he feels in a way that he doesn't let himself do with Julie. I think Matt had to open his father's casket and see the mangled face because he got so little of the living man. Maybe it was the wrong choice in the end, and the weird prankish element of the boys' trip to the funeral home didn't bode well. But if your strongest memory of your father dates from a trip to the supermarket when you were 6, well, maybe you need a new image of him, however gruesome and haunting. Matt needed to jolt himself out of dulled anger and frustration, which was all his dad's stiff Christmas video could possibly elicit.
Eric and Tami, meanwhile, climbed back onto the pedestals they fell from over the last few weeks. They are the parents who do want to raise their kids. They have energy left over for the show's lost boys, too. Julie sees this and appreciates how good she has it. "She's pretty much built for crisis," she says of her mother, after that fabulous scene in which Tami saves Matt from a funeral bill he can't pay. Matt warns Julie that someday, she'll lose her parents, too. Julie goes to Eric for reassurance, which he gives her. "I'm not going anywhere," he says, a line I've said to my own kids. It's a false promise in the sense that none of us know whether we get to keep it. But in the moment, it has all the right emotions behind it, and also, if you pour yourself into your kids, like the Taylors are trying to do, then maybe you don't leave them as bereft when you're gone.
One more thought about Julie and Matt: How can she ever leave him now? This is a conundrum of young love: The high school or college romance that's not necessarily meant to last but is beset by a true calamity makes one person lean hard on the other. We want Julie to come through for Matt. But is she supposed to cross all those faraway colleges off her list now? She's always been the one with the easier life and the better prospects. Does she stay with him because she wants to or because he needs her?
Meanwhile, Luke looks like he's at the beginning of the road to independence. He goes for the crazy Wildcat play that Vince calls in the game's opening football scene. He stands up to J.D. He buys Becky her beer and gets her to come along to the carwash. Maybe he can replace Tim in her affections.
And let's not forget to give Riggins credit for resisting Becky's kiss. He is officially a lowlife no longer. Did his refusal help to set up Lyla's return, do you think? Or do we just get the one glimpse of her at the funeral, where she flitted by so elusively? Besides, now Jess is the new cheerleader in town. Though I wondered about that—doesn't she seem like the kind of girl who'd play her own sport?