Friday Night Lights: “Underdogs”


Living in Dillon is certainly handicap enough to make anyone an underdog. Almost as much a handicap as a show airing exclusively on DirecTV before returning to the broadcast airwaves. All underdogs can do is push, strive, and keep trying against overwhelming odds and insurmountable forces.

Would the Panthers find the hearts of champions within to beat the South Texas Titans? Would Tyra find the essay within to beat down the doors of college? Would Landry find the field before game time?

All season long we’ve been talking about JD McCoy. Is he going to take Matt’s job? Is he going to break under pressure? Is his father going to snap? We got something like resolution to those storylines tonight, though it was less than satisfying. With one episode left to this (probably final) season, it seems the writers squandered a lot of potential with the McCoys. Turning Joe into a mustache-twirling villain late in the season – confirming the suspicions of most critics – cuts a lot of the emotional heft from JD’s story. Yeah, his dad’s a bastard. Yeah, JD’s a kid who’s stuck in a rough situation. So?

A few weeks back I complained that FNL felt like it was repeating itself – not a great sign in the third season. But that’s not exactly true. When Matt and his father had problems, it was never because Henry Saracen was a villain or a cariacature. Matt’s dad didn’t know how to communicate with his son, or really any civilians, but he was a real man to whom viewers could relate and empathize. It’s bad enough the McCoy storyline has been repetitive, far worse that it’s been two-dimensional and melodramatic.

In the end, the only payoff for me was seeing Matt take back his rightful place behind center for the final half of his high school career. Please note, by the way, that when Saracen plays QB, he gives his blood to the cause. JD? No blood.

Matt is handicapped not just by Dillon, but by Lorraine. His grandmother, prickly and wonderful and slowly slipping away, anchors him to this town. She knows it, and in her talk with Julie we see that she’ll let Matt go despite the fear and heartache. Just as Julie will let him go. There will be tears the day that train heads north out of town. ((Alright, I’m just guessing. Maybe Landry’ll drive Matt to Chicago like he drove him everywhere else. Be happy I didn’t wax poetic about the mournful train whistle and the cries of Saracen’s women-folk. I could. Don’t tempt me. I’ll turn this review right back around and add that in, I swear I will.))

Earlier in the year I got all girlie and went on and one about how tough Saracen has become, how he left every ounce of himself out on the field, blood and sinew and bone. Again tonight, in what is likely the final game of football Matt Saracen will ever play, he help nothing back.

One of my favorite, underrated movies is Gattaca. If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend it as a thoughtful, cerebral science fiction film that explores interesting philosophical and ethical questions especially relevant to our age. Late in the film, Vincent, played by Ethan Hawke, beats his “genetically superior” brother in an adolescent competition to see who can swim further into the ocean. His brother nearly drowns and needs to be dragged back to shore where he asks Vincent how he did it.

You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton: I never saved anything for the swim back.

Watching Matt play football this season, that quote has come to mind often.

On other fronts…Tim’s made up his mind to hang up his cleats, or at least leave them on the field. He won’t be going to San Antonio State next year, though I can’t honestly tell you why. I suppose he feels comfortable in Dillon and likes the idea of fixing cars and drinking beer with his brother, but why he can’t do that after a few years of college, college girls, and college football is beyond me. I don’t think the writers earned that one, despite Tim’s reluctance and ambivalence all along concerning college. He’d finally seemed interested and excited about the prospect after realizing he wasn’t going to be rejected, so I’m not clear about the abandonment.

The third graduating senior with college questions is Tyra. And let me tell you, had *I* been in the car with her, I’d have been taking notes like crazy during her rant. You want to get into college as a girl with a weak GPA and so-so test scores? You write an essay about

My trashy family, about the fact that my sister’s a stripper or my mom is a high school dropout who drinks boxes of wine like it’s water. Or about the fact that I lost my virginity when I was thirteen or the fact that my poppa wasn’t around. How about that? Ooh. I know what I should write about: the fact that up until two years ago I had enough hate in my heart to start a frickin’ car.

That essay is Ivy material. Not the saccharine, Hallmark essay about Jason Street and how life isn’t fair. Nor the list of great things she wants to do. What she ended up with? Good enough for a second-tier state school. Her rant about how rough life is, how hard her environment, a passionate screed against small-town constraints and small lives? That’s Ivy material. ((Note: the screed would need to be written well and would need to segue into her reasons for fighting against that environment, a section of the essay in which Jason Street’s accident might very well play a prominent role. But she should have led with the rant.))

But who am I to complain. I’m a shipper and the kids wrote an essay that’ll get Tyra into college and then sealed it with a kiss. Oh, and Landry had his big moment in the title game when he got knocked on his ass. I mean, got up from his ass and made the big block. Big weekend for our starcrossed lovers.

Some other thoughts:

  • Oh Billy, how I’ll miss you. From walking in on Lyla to the leak in the sink to Riggins’ Rigs, you were comedy gold. Less tragic, but still gold.
  • Was anyone else surprised Lyla could find clean coffee filter to use on the toilet seat? The Riggins house strikes me as one of those places where (maybe) clean underwear might get used to filter coffee.
  • Mack was back with little fanfare. The whole Wade Aikman affair seems to have been much ado about…
  • I really have nothing to say about Tami’s call to CPS. She had to make it. That sucks. Whatevs.

What did everyone else think?