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.
Let me have a brief fanboy moment: That was awesome! That was the best FNL episode ever, better than the Mud Bowl, better than winning State, better than losing State, better than Smash trying out at Texas A&M!
Hanna, I like the way you frame the episode as being about Coach's lack of control. I would modify that and say that it is also about the tension between rationality and irrationality that defines football (and therefore also defines life, as FNL has taught me that football is life). Eric's rational methods—his insistence that cool, collected play will win the day—is tested and fails in Kingdom. Season after season, game after game, Eric attempts to hold back the essential violence of football, but violence will out. The irrational joy of knocking the snot out of a rival proves a more powerful force than Eric's reason. In this episode we're repeatedly shown men acting irrationally—Billy ordering full-contact drills when he's supposed to hold a walk-through; Coach Traub screaming in the middle of Eric's pep talk; the team wrecking the hotel; the boys getting drunk and branded; even scummy little Derek failing to keep his firing-offense affair with Julie a secret. FNL has the courage to recognize that this irrationality isn't intrinsically bad. Eric's restraint isn't a good game plan, and it certainly isn't any fun.
I'm meandering, so let me approach this problem from another direction. Both of you revel in the road-trip sweetness of the episode—and don't get me wrong, I liked that plenty—but you skirt what seems to me the most unusual and compelling theme of this week, which is the fearsome power of young men in groups.
What are the Lions, finally unleashed in the second half? They are marauders, young men filled with blood and lust. Lust is the right word, even though it is fully homoerotic. Both Hastings and Vince make droit du seigneur pregame plans to conquer their women—Jess for Vince, the cheerleader for Hastings—yet both ultimately ditch those plans for man-time. They sacrifice sex—guaranteed steamy teen sex!—for their band of brothers. Think of that, ladies: You were teenage girls once, and know the pawing, hormonal excesses of teenage boys. Imagine just how alluring that male camaraderie is if it can yank Vince from a panting Jess, and away to the celebration. And what a celebration it is! The weird hippie conclave that Hastings brings them to, with its moonshine and fire, is fully primal, a perfect match for their Viking glory.
Meanwhile, Eric sits and gets sulkily drunk around the card table. Older and a father, he fears and does not quite understand the violence and fury that was unleashed in his boys. He wishes it away, or believes he can harness it with well-placed words and a three-step drop. But these are young bulls, high on testosterone, and even as they did right on the field today, they will do wrong tomorrow, because that is the way of young men in mobs. This is the first time that FNL has successfully captured the frightening quality of young men, and I hope it doesn't shy away from it during the remainder of the season.
Football is enthralling because it eternally quivers between violence and reason. On FNL, that violence has always been masked—one way the show does this is by focusing only on offensive players, not on the defenders who tackle and spear—while the camaraderie has been celebrated. In real life, on real football teams, the violence and camaraderie intertwine, sometimes for glory (as in this week), but often in seamier ways. Why is it that we always hear of football players—sometimes in packs—raping or shooting or brawling? The fury that wins victory on the field doesn't adapt well to domestic life.
This is my team. I ride with the team.
David Plotz is the Editor of Slate. He's the author of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank and Good Book. He appears on Slate's Political Gabfest.