Friday Night Lights, Season 5
Slate originally published its TV Club on the final season of Friday Night Lights during its run on DirecTV. We're reprinting the entries to coincide with the series' run on NBC.
Road trip! This episode was thick with nostalgia. I'm ready to get on a bus, cheer for bad rhymes, scandalize hotel guests, and follow the Lions every other step of the way. (At least up to the branding. Whatever happened to tattoos?) This team trip to Kingdom, Texas, was all high jinks over headaches. I loved the bookends: the hotel sign when the Loins pulled in and when they departed. Hey Kingdom, How About That Second Coming?—nice. Now we know that Buddy Jr. is his father's son. Even if, as Buddy says, he's terrible on the field.
The scene I keep coming back to is the one of the guys talking from balcony to balcony as Eric listens in. They were so utterly boyish, with Tinker's distinction between pig and pork, Huckleberry's wistfulness about all the moving around he did as a kid, Vince's stout faith in his coach. I had such faith in their innocence that I didn't even have to worry that Eric would hear something he shouldn't. Vince's decision to ditch Jess for the guys had the same sweetness to it. We didn't have to worry about them having sex (suddenly I realized they probably haven't yet). Vince's team really did need its quarterback. And Jess got to assert her own will by locking him out.
What is the show doing with all these sweet touches? Putting on a sepia lens for its older viewers, like us, 20 or 30 years on from high school and more than willing to remember only the good parts? Setting up the narrative arc for a fall soon to come, in the form of the recruiting scandal you perfectly predicted, David, starring the grinning, loping Ornette Howard? Starting a long, slow goodbye to its characters in this final season? Not that I wondered about any of this while I was watching. I was too busy flashing back to the random intimate encounters that broke up my own junior and senior years. I don't want to go all Breakfast Club here, but isn't it true that the accidental community of high school shoots out sparks of connection that are much rarer in adulthood?
Maybe that's what the scene with Tami and her bug-eyed teacher fan Laurel was about. Maybe the subtext was that the adult women couldn't connect because they're too old. Tami has to live vicariously through Julie. The scene was played for humor like the ones in the hotel, but the sepia tones were gone. We're laughing at our current and future selves instead of pining after our teenage ones. At least Eric spiced things up with his drawling query to Tami (and Laurel): "What are y'all wearing?" The Taylor marriage comes to the rescue once more.
We especially needed that moment in light of Julie's college train wreck. Why did the writers pick this story line to break up the road trip scenes? In other episodes this season, the subplots have commented on one another in a way that adds meaning to each, like the father-son pairings you mentioned last week, Hanna. I'm not sure how Julie and Derek's misbegotten romance was filling that role, unless the lesson is that college sucks. When Allison the shrieking shrew showed up to slut shame Julie, I felt like I'd dropped into another TV show, as I did earlier this season. Which makes me all the more suspicious of this storyline. Maybe its only real point is to get Julie home to Tami.
But won't she have to leave again? Does Julie need to go on her own road trip, to Chicago? Never mind my insistence last season that Julie and Matt were all about the teenage present and didn't need to turn into the future Mr. and Mrs. Coach. Now that I've had a dose of Derek, I'm ready to go back to first love. Another request for an upcoming episode: Can we please check in again with Tim? Also, are the Lions going undefeated this year or saving a big defeat for the end?
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.