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

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

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.

Advertisement

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

Like Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Technocracy
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual-reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.