Friday Night Lights, Season 5

This Was the Best Episode of FNL Ever
Talking television.
Dec. 2 2010 1:58 PM

Friday Night Lights, Season 5


Michael B. Jordan as Vince Howard.
Michael B. Jordan (left) as Vince Howard in Friday Night Lights

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!

David Plotz David Plotz

David Plotz is Slate's editor at large. He's the author of The Genius Factory and Good Book.

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.


Like Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.