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Friday Night Lights “Always” Review (5×13)

21 Apr

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*This was written several months ago, but I only just got around to posting it.

Take it all in. You’re on the largest field you’ve ever played on. You’re simultaneously in awe and living in the moment, and the crowd’s roaring as you dig your feet into the ground. You can smell the food and the sweat and the grass, and you’re ready to run. The ball’s set down and kicked, and it traces an arc in the air as you look up, seeing it spiral closer and closer and closer. Then, all background noise fades away, and it’s just you, the ball, and your team.

Jason Katims and Michael Waxman choose to write and direct, respectively, the State Championship game devoid of many of the sights and sounds we’re used to: Slammin’ Sammy isn’t giving us the play by play, we don’t see specific plays unfold until the end, and the only glimpse of the scoreboard is right before Vince launches that final pass. Instead of being taken through the game, we’re taken through these characters into the game; we see Coach disappointed, Coach proud, Luke running for a touchdown, peoples’ arms outstretched in excitement. We see the game through an intimate lens, a lens that’s taken a community and has made us feel like we’ve been a part of it our whole lives. We see the game not for what it is, by why it is, why we’ve sat down for five seasons and watched these characters’ stories unfold.

Why is that, exactly? There are a plethora of reasons, and at the end, I’ll always come back around to Coach and Mrs. Coach. Recently, their relationship has been strained as we’ve never seen before, with ambitions, responsibilities, history, and loyalty clashing, but the wonderful thing about this all is that it feels believable. Sure, you can throw in an affair plot or a divorce plot to spice things up a bit, but the thing about this relationship is that melodrama isn’t needed to craft a compelling storyline.

“Marriage requires maturity. Marriage requires two people that will listen, really listen to each other. Marriage, most of all, requires compromise.” Julie Taylor once balked at the idea of becoming her parents; she and Matt were becoming another Coach and Mrs. Coach, and she wasn’t having that. Fittingly, though, the attempt to distance herself brings her full circle, speaking from the heart as she tells her parents that they’re her inspiration (who wouldn’t want to be them, anyway?). And, in that wonderful dinner scene, Coach ends up speaking to his wife as he’s speaking to his daughter; as he passes down that piece of advice, Tami’s face becomes the focus of the shot, and when she leaves the restaurant crying, we pull back on husband and wife, seemingly so small in the grand scheme of things, yet so very real and significant.

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“Take me to Philadelphia with you, please.” It’s the ‘please’ that gets me. You get the sense that this is far from Coach merely giving up or making the decision to appease Tami; rather, he realizes that a marriage built on compromise can only be sustained by compromise, and a move to Philly not only brings new opportunities, but more importantly, it doesn’t detract from the the fact that coaching the East Dillon Lions was the best experience of his life. The family he created on and off the field will forever linger in his mind and influence his future endeavors.

That’s what “Always” essentially comes down to in a broader context than the Taylor marriage: family and friendship. Becky, back to living with Cheryl, but still very much an integral part of Mindy’s* and Billy’s family. Matt and Julie, taking the first step toward starting their family (with the help of Grandma Saracen, of course). Tyra and Tim, rekindling a friendship in which they each can acknowledge the other’s hopes and dreams. Tim and Billy, building a house together. Vince, reaching out to his father; not forgiving him, but telling him he wants him at the game. Jess, finding her own football family in Dallas. For all the goodbyes that have to be shared, there’s also appreciation of the past, reveling in the present, and looking forward to the future.

What will the future bring? Who knows? Right now, though, it looks like everyone will be okay, and that’s all we ask for. Whether the Lions win or lose isn’t as important as the maintaining of relationships and forging of futures, and that’s exactly what the transition from Vince’s pass at State to a player catching a pass in Philly is trying to convey. That’s not to say winning doesn’t mean anything, though; what was once somewhat of an exertion of power–the championship ring, which I mentioned back in my pilot review–has now become a symbol of the East Dillon Lions. The East Dillon Lions will live on, whether it’s with Buddy riding around the Panthers field, Billy coaching, Tinker on the super team, Luke in the army, Jess in Dallas, or Coach in Philly.

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“Clear eyes, full hearts…we’ll deal with that later.” When Coach Taylor came to Dillon, his star quarterback was injured. It hurt the town, crushed dreams, and paved the way for new opportunities. Coach mentored Matt Saracen and molded a man, molded a team, molded a town. We saw hardship and tears and heart-wrenching situations, but the clouds cleared up when we needed it the most; the lights stayed on when we watched. Eric and Tami Taylor walking off a field in Philadelphia as the stadium lights go out is the final image of the show, but we know that those lights will remain on for many, many years.

Let’s head back to the game. Let’s head back to Vince’s monster pass, the sixty-plus yarder. Let’s head back to the long flight of the ball, with each face staring up at it in anticipation and nervousness. That, in essence, is what the show is about. It’s about football, in a way, as it brings everyone together, but when Tami and Julie and Matt and Jess and Buddy and Levi and Eric and Vince and Luke and Becky and the rest of this vibrant, flawed, and compelling community are all gathered under those lights, sometimes, I want to look away from the ball and stare into the crowd. I’m sure I’ll find someone I like.

GRADE: A

SERIES GRADE: A-

OTHER THOUGHTS:

-We’re not done yet! I’ll be writing up one more post, and it’ll consist of my favorite episodes, moments, characters, etc., as well as final thoughts on the series as a whole. Then, the lights will truly go out in Dillon.

-*Special kudos to Stacey Oristano for that scene. The way she and Phillips developed their respective characters will forever be amazing to me.

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-That Jason Street signature and the Clear Eyes plaque…getting a little dusty in here, y’all.

-We DID get some last Texas Forevers. So, good.

-Luke heading off to the army threw me for a loop at first, but it makes sense for a kid in his situation who seems to need a greater stage to play on; he realizes he doesn’t have much here.

-Landry! He did get a bit of a goodbye in the premiere, but I would’ve liked to see more here; I understand time constraints, though. Of course, the scene we get with him and Matt is wonderful, and it nicely calls back to the early Matt-Julie relationship.

-I love the bickering at the beginning over the tree; sometimes, these Taylors seem like teens, but then again, we also see that in the end, they can still be adults.

-Callback Corner: the Lions walking onto the field before State, the interviews, etc.

-Man, Coach is not good with managing time, is he? It seems like in every game, he has no timeouts left at the most crucial moments.

-Coach’s gradual buildup of anger when Matt asks him for his blessing is a thing of beauty. Also, it’s great that Matt follows with a little bit of defiance, as we’ve seen before.

-Evidently, Scott Porter did shoot an alternate house-building scene for the final montage, but it was cut. However, he just wanted to be able to have the experience of shooting it; that was good enough for him.

-So, uh, how ’bout that Hastings Ruckle?

-All in all, they had a lot to wrap up in sixty minutes, so some things are left unfinished or wrapped up a bit too nicely. However, for all the things I wished the finale would explore more of, it still gave me plenty else to love.

-See Sepinwall’s review for a list of the music used in this episode. It’s all great music.

http://www.hitfix.com/blogs/whats-alan-watching/posts/friday-night-lights-always-texas-forever

-There are a ton of other links I’d like to post–three part oral history of Friday Night Lights, anyone? Tami Taylor “y’all” video? Cast reflecting on their experiences?–but I’ll hold off until my final post for that.

Photo credit: NBC, DirecTV, Friday Night Lights 

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3 Responses to “Friday Night Lights “Always” Review (5×13)”

  1. Matthew Thompson April 21, 2015 at 10:15 pm #

    Great write-up. This is on my short list for best series finale ever. I loved every bit of it with the exception of the Luke ending which seemed a bit random and sudden. Everything with Matt/Julie and Coach/Mrs. Coach was just so good. What a series this was. I look forward to your series wrap-up post though I think your favorite character is easy to guess. It’s obviously The Swede.

    • polarbears16 April 23, 2015 at 6:56 am #

      Thanks! And yes, The Swede is one of the most layered and fascinating characters I’ve ever seen.

  2. Nelson Linares June 5, 2016 at 3:30 am #

    It is great that Luke enlisted in the Military to get out of the family farm like he wanted

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