Friday Night Lights, Season 5
How do you look out for someone? That's the theme that snuck up on me this week: Tami takes on Epic and her cigarettes; Becky rescues Luke from a drunken brawl; Mindy and Billy navigate taking in Becky; Vince wipes away Jess' vomit, gets his mom a job, and showers her with his stack of college recruitment letters.
Some of these interventions seem bound for partial success and others for instructive failure. Tami will get through to Epic, who by the end of the episode had already flounced into her counselor's cinderblock office for a meeting. But Vince won't be able to save his mother, because FNL is merciless about the consequences when parents fail their kids. "Where do you want to live?" he asked. "I'm gonna take care of you." But even though his mom is looking like a Vassar grad again, he can't, right?
The tensions in last week's opener are multiplying, even if it's mostly looking to be a season of low stakes. The Lions' state ranking and Tami's afterschool tutoring program are worthy but not life-critical goals. Vince's college career scores higher (so does Tim's re-entry from prison). Maybe the larger, riveting crisis is about to erupt, or maybe the writers decided they didn't need one because it's not what they do best.
David, you suggested that Eric and Tami's marriage would be tested this season, but right now it looks rock solid. I loved their scene in Julie's bedroom-turned-office, especially when Tami refused to kiss her dear husband while they're sitting on "our daughter's bed," a line that was flirty and coy in a way we should all bottle for our own marriages. Before that, Tami used Eric as a sounding board so he could give her own advice, or rather Levi's, back to her: Yes, she has to go drink with the teachers. It's a good sign that they have a happy hour, to which Levi is also invited. Tami is impatient with the niceties and struggling to break into the group in a way that's parallel to Julie's social uncertainty in her first days of college. It was endearing to see the two of them at a loss. They can't really help each other, either, as Tami's one-bar cell phone call to Julie in a moment of sexile shows. The Taylor women need to forge the female friendships they've long been lacking. Instead, Julie's otherwise-occupied roommate is sending her into the arms of her teaching assistant, who seems like a decent guy. I wasn't sure what to think here. In theory, I tried to register disapproval, but it all seemed pretty innocent. Does the show mean to signal that there's nothing wrong with T.A.s dating their students? Or is this relationship being set up as necessarily flawed, because it has to die so that Matt can reappear? I'm with Landry: I miss that guy.
Meanwhile, Jess strikes a blow for feminists everywhere by fighting the rally girl tradition (porn or cookies, take your pick). I'm all for Jess' interest in going over Vince's plays rather than wearing his jersey, but I'm not sure why Maura had to be played for utter bitchiness. When she threatened Jess that she was two weeks from snaring Vince, I felt like I'd fallen through a trap door into a Gossip Girl episode. One of the virtues of FNL is that its teenagers aren't cartoons. If girls are going to pull each others' hair in the bathroom, shouldn't there be more on the line than a pair of misplaced panties? Give us a rivalry we can believe in or leave out the whole tired story line.
What were we supposed to make of the shot of Maura as a drinking fiend, practically passed out and being held up like a puppet by a couple of nameless guys? I hope not that she was getting what she deserved. In an episode that was all about people going out on a limb for each other, no one came to her aid, and that wasn't as troubling as it should have been. I was similarly unsettled by the apparent injustice of Luke's suspension. That was a tough hit last week, even if it was technically clean. But the show directed us to focus only on the evidence that the conspiracy against the Lions does in fact exist. Am I overreading, or did the episode give the back of the hand to all the legitimate uproar over head injuries? What happened to that quarterback, anyway?
More pressingly, would you want your daughter to go out with a guy who traded his pig for her? Insert swine/swain pun here. Luke has invented a new test for smitten devotion.
Emily Bazelon is a Slate senior editor and writes about law, family, and kids. Her forthcoming book, Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Empathy and Character. Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook or Twitter.