This episode had a very he-cessionary cast, with the men all falling apart in some way, out of work or about to lose work, failing each other and their ladies. Tim went about "protecting" Becky in the worst possible way, storming into the Landing Strip and getting into a fight with one of her clients, and then getting her fired. Ornette fell apart, in all the expected ways, as you described, Emily. And Eric behaved like a selfish husband, failing to support Tami's ambitions because he needed someone to make him dinner.
Of these plotlines, some were more believable than others. Ornette's disintegration was, as Emily pointed out, shameful. Throughout the season they have flirted with a more subtle and seductive role for Ornette, having him waver between conciliatory and bullying. But now they just moved him into central ghetto casting—drunk, thief, and wife-abuser, whining for a "damned beer." This would count as a bit of realism except that the writers haven't earned it. They gave up on the nuances of Ornette and just put him into freefall.
The Tim plotline, on the other hand, worked quite well. "You're different. You know that," Mindy tells him, and we believe that he is. Kitsch's acting range is narrow. Still, he has managed to shave the sweetness off his brooding and move it more toward menacing. He definitely had me wondering about what went down in prison. And I think the writers would be wise if they never answered the question of why Tim has turned out so bitter: Maybe he resents Billy, maybe he loves Becky, maybe he was crushed by his time in the cell. But better for us not to have to go through the scene where he breaks down. Just let it all simmer inside that silver, beer-soaked trailer.
Tami and Jess meanwhile duke it out for heroine of the episode. Tami faces her ambitions with so much baggage—self-doubt, a baby, and years of expectations that she will make dinner, drive to the airport, and be there for every game. Jess on the other hand just asks for what she wants, in that faux-innocent way you described, Emily. I'm glad Tami got the job despite her handicaps, but one thing I am wondering: What exactly is her education philosophy? She actually wants this supposedly small liberal arts college to go through 18,000 applications with no artificial testing cut-off at all? For all those "great kids" with low test scores but great ambitions who get overlooked? Like who? Epyck?
And did you catch that implied dig at Eric, by the way? The school official who came to offer Tami the job had to rush home because "two kids need tucking in." Now that's a good man!
As for the pregame prayer: I loved it! We have absolutely seen this kind of prayer before, and often, in the first season when FNL was much deeper inside Dillon. Eric would routinely invoke one of these God help these young men rise to heights of excellence and kick some ass prayers because there isn't a football team in Texas (except maybe the Austin teams) that doesn't invoke one of those prayers before every game. In this episode it was all of a piece with the clean shenanigans on the front lawn and the word "STATE" on the white board and "Spirit in the Sky." The team is back, and it gave me chills, I must admit.