After Season Three of Friday Night Lights was all about returning to status quo, Season Four is all about resetting it. The dust has settled from Chekov’s Redistricting and we turn our eyes toward the East Dillon Lions. How does the move across town impact the show? Read on as FNL newbie Shannon and Veteran (of both the series and our Season Two recap post) Jen join Sage and I as we break down all things East Dillon.
- Favorite Episode
Sage: Easiest season for this question. It’s “The Son.”
Anchored by an astonishing performance that should have gotten Zach Gilford an Emmy or at least a nod, this is Friday Night Lights at its finest. Grief must always be complicated, because people and relationships are too. Using the death of Matt’s distant dad, the show explores how confusing and eruptive those conflicting emotions can be, while at the same time showing us again what kind of man Matt has grown up to be. The fact that his father’s death was tragic, untimely, and in the line of duty puts Matt in the position of questioning his own character because he didn’t love him, when everyone around him can see that’s not his fault. It’s such a complex reality to play, and Zach just destroys it. The rest of the cast rises to meet him too, as the people who love him all want to be there for Matt but know ultimately that there’s nothing anyone can say that will bring him through this moment unscathed.
Shannon: It’s “The Son.” It’s got to be “The Son.” It’s the most stunning episode we’ve had to date; it’s certainly the one that will stay with me the most. The best Friday Night Lights has to offer, for me anyway, is its exploration of community. Of what makes that community. Of what happens when parts of it falter, or are left to carry on without the support — institutional or individual — that community needs and deserves. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the parts of “The Son” that meant the most to me were the moments when that same community rallied around Matt and his family. It was Landry and Julie coming over that night to keep Matt company with a movie rental. It was Tami driving the Saracens to the funeral home and taking control of the service preparations when she knew the manager was going for an upsell and taking advantage of Matt’s youth, his shock, and his insistence that he could manage it all himself. It was Eric walking Matt home and letting him cry without demanding a word. It was the Riggins boys and Landry being there for their friend, whether he needed to drink beers under the lights or to bear witness to Matt’s private, traumatizing farewell to his father.
The Saracens have pushed through, as so many of us do, because of and thanks to the community that’s been built up around them. There’s no better proof of that than “The Son.”
Kim: When I think of Friday Night Lights, I think of four episodes. The near perfect pilot, of course. Then there’s “Mud Bowl” and “Underdogs,” both of which I named as my favorite episodes of their respective seasons. Last, but certainly not least, we have “The Son,” one of the most devastatingly realized portraits of grief I’ve ever seen on television.
All emotions are hard, but to me, grief is the toughest one to unravel and process, and its depths can be incredibly difficult to communicate when you don’t even understand it yourself. Matt Saracen’s grief is further complicated by the fact that he was estranged from his father, bringing up feelings of resentment and anger and barely repressed hatred that he’s kept a tight lid on for years. It’s a stunning performance from Zach Gilford from beginning to end. He’s always been good, of course he has. We wouldn’t be rooting for Matt Saracen if he hadn’t been brought to life so brilliantly by Zach over the previous three seasons. But this episode? Zach leaves it all on the table from perfectly capturing the numbness and shell-shock that Matt feels at the beginning to his rant about giving a eulogy to his boys on the field to the moment where he finally breaks down at the Taylors’ kitchen table because he doesn’t like it when carrots touch the rest of his food. It’s nothing short of breathtaking and I am certain that it will be one of the defining moments of Zach Gilford’s career, if not THE moment.
I know we’ve screamed a lot about performances that should have gotten Emmys when we do these retrospectives, but this one feels especially egregious to me, especially in the light of the fact that they mounted a campaign for Zach in the guest actor category, due to his reduced role in the season. If you want to get really mad, they gave Guest Actor that year to John Lithgow for Dexter, in which he appeared in almost every episode of the season as the Trinity Killer. That is some category fraud nonsense and I’ll never be over it.
Jen: I was dreading watching “The Son” because I hadn’t seen it since my dad died. And it was a hard episode to watch because it gets so much about grief right. But it’s also a cathartic one because it doesn’t shy away from grief either. You see the mundane and the cruel. Why must people make financial decisions after they lose a loved one? Thank god for Tami Taylor telling that funeral director off. It depicts how people you never want to interact with (the military liaison, the McCoys) will show up at your doorstep. It shows the people who love Matt trying to support him in small gestures (Landry bringing a movie) and big ways (the boys going with him to that funeral home). It engages with the absurdity of how no matter how you felt about the person who died, you have to memorialize them in a short service. And it shows how while a community is part of grief, it’s ultimately about those people closest to the deceased.
The episode works because of how Zach Gilford portrays Matt’s struggle to hold it all together. It feels like a culmination of what Gilford depicted for four seasons. With a few exceptions, Matt has held it all together for four seasons as he “tried to be a good person.” Oh Matt, you really are a good one. I don’t care that his father just died, it’s so hard for Matt to say in front of the Taylors, “I don’t think I’m okay,” and to acknowledge how he really felt about his dad. And it’s all the more moving because we’ve watched this character for so long. How did they not give him an Emmy?!
- Least Favorite Episode?
Shannon: I get what “Injury List” is doing. It’s a necessary episode and it sets everything up for the final stretch of the season. And normally, I’m all for angst and tragedy. But all that being said, everything about this episode frustrated the hell out of me. It’s not just watching everything and everyone fall apart, although that is, of course, awful. It’s the willful distraction from Eric Taylor, who misses every single sign that one of his players is seriously injured. It’s the naivety of both Eric and Tami as the reality of the situation with Luke’s mother becomes more and more obvious. And it’s the repetitive, exhausting scene with Tim getting kicked out of yet another house for the same misunderstanding.
Cheryl’s motivations are completely different than Eric’s, back when he assumed Tim was taking advantage of Julie, but the plotline hits the same way. (And for the record, Eric and Cheryl’s reactions are both understandable and true to their characters.) The plot repetition goes beyond Tim never being able to get a fair shake, and rarely finding anyone who has true faith in him. That point has been made, and made well and with compassion. The thing that really got to me was that we didn’t get anything new, plot-wise, out of this trauma. It didn’t allow us to learn anything new about any of these people. It was just watching Tim take the same hit, in the same place, again and again. Which made it feel, to me, as gratuitous as a bad Tarantino movie.
Sage: Nobody is having a good time in “The Injury List.” Luke’s injury and addiction are getting worse. Another good deed of Tim’s (establishing a boundary with Cheryl) does not go unpunished. Tami becomes the subject of a witch hunt. Matt finally calls Julie and is extremely lame about it. And a child dies of gun violence, while Vince seems to be locked into the same fate. There’s a lot of suffering in this episode without much relief, as well FNL falling into some clichéd storytelling. (Which is rare!)
Jen: “In the Bag” sets up Riggins’ Rigs going criminal and I hate watching it. I hate seeing the stupidity of the American healthcare system. Poor Landry on the side of the road offering to wait as long as Rory Williams but knowing that he needs to draw a line. And I think maybe the paper bag gun storyline leans a little too hard into a stereotype of young Black men when so much of this season masterfully explores it.
Kim: Like with Season Three, it’s hard to pick a least favorite episode, because I truly find that all of the episodes are strong ones. There’s some good stuff in “The Lights in Carroll Park,” but the main plot of Eric and Buddy wanting to clean up the titular park after Eric witnesses a shooting dances right up to the line of a white savior storyline and does a little jig on it. They pull it together by the end, especially in how Virgil steps up as a leader and how Eric actually listens to the Black members of the community rather than just charging ahead and doing whatever he wants to do. To quote one of my favorite memes, they really had us there in the first half, not gonna lie.
Then there’s the matter of Becky’s unplanned pregnancy, which sets off a chain of events that impacts the rest of the season. I don’t have a problem with that, in fact, I am shocked that it took FNL four seasons to get to a teen pregnancy storyline, and I love how they followed through with it. (Because Tim Riggins, for as much as people joke about him being slutty, clearly practices safe sex, and that is THE TEA.) What I do have a problem with is how, once again, they bungle the boy’s reaction to said unplanned pregnancy. Like Jason Street before him, Luke Cafferty is a good Christian boy, and I know he’s shell-shocked at the news, but he does not handle it well. I suppose the whole “Are you sure you’ve really thought this through?” reaction is the most realistic one, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. (You know who has the right reaction to Becky’s plight? That’s right! Slutty Tim Riggins.) It’s Becky’s body and Becky’s choice, so shut the fuck up, Luke, and just help her out with the money, okay? Don’t make her feel guilty for doing what she has to do!
The third and final strike against this episode is that Julie’s Habitat for Humanity crush is played by Matt Barr, who definitely played a big part in ruining Sleepy Hollow, so I automatically have to hate him in retrospect.
- Underrated Episode?
Shannon: There aren’t many weak links this season, as proven by the overwhelmingly positive reviews for each episode in the run. So while this newbie isn’t too sure about listing “The Lights in Carroll Park” as underrated, I’m doing it anyway, because it’s one of the episodes I find myself thinking about the most. The first three seasons of Friday Night Lights speak to class and race from a character perspective, but they didn’t yet zoom out to the communities themselves. “The Lights in Carroll Park” stands out because of its focus on both communities that have come together because of the Lions; it clearly states that white saviors don’t work because they’re superficial, they’re interested in making themselves feel better, and they’re not rooted in the Black community. White saviors don’t listen; they barrel on, assuming they know best. They certainly do not take notes.
The white characters in this hour don’t deny their motivations, or that they’ve been driven by the shock of seeing a young Black kid shot in the park. The show’s not trying to ignore that it took Eric witnessing that shooting for him to want to do something about it. And yet, he listens to community organizers, and community stakeholders, and works together with Black leaders to get the lights back on. It doesn’t shy away from underlining our lead character’s internalized racism, either – take that moment when Tami and Buddy assume the other team’s arrival is some sort of harbinger of danger, instead of community members with every right to be there. It’s not a perfect hour, but it’s a damn fine one.
Kim: “A Sort of Homecoming” is one of those plot-heavy episodes of Friday Night Lights that doesn’t get enough credit for how much heavy lifting it does. It perfectly tees up Matt Saracen’s emotional state heading into “The Son,” where he goes on a hunting trip with Tim and explores his feelings of being trapped in Dillon as well as his building resentment towards Julie and her far-flung college applications. You know we love when the boys talk about their feelings and the campfire scene with Matt and Tim is a classic.
We also have the escalating tensions between Luke and Vince as they fight to establish themselves within the team hierarchy, Julie and Devon making a trip to the gay bar right outside of Dillon (Steers!! What a name!), and the beginnings of the Landry x Jess x Vince love triangle. The shining moments of this episode come from Eric trying to put boosters together for the Lions, from Tami VOLUNTEERING to have people over and cook for them (You know what that is? Growth.) to Buddy swooping in like a goddamn superhero because “You can’t fake boosterism, Eric. It comes from the heart,” to Virgil thawing ever so slightly and allowing the pep rally to take place at Ray’s.
Deacon: “Let us pray. Lord, we are gathered here today for a reason. We ask you, Lord, what is a group of Lions? It is a pride. And we stand before you today, Lord, your pride. We need pride in this world. And what do we have here? I say what do we have here?”
Deacon: “We are the Lions and we stand together. Who are we?”
Deacon: “Who are we?!”
For all of Eric’s previous efforts to get the community to unite behind his team, this is the one that sticks. This is the moment where things start to change, where we start to feel like everything is going to be okay. Which is a perfect set-up for that genuine GUT PUNCH of an ending with the military showing up at Lorraine Saracen’s house. It’s a hell of an episode and it deserves its moment in the sun.
Sage: “In the Bag” isn’t a pivotal episode by any means, but there are plenty of nice and significant moments. Continuing my appreciation for Billy and Mindy’s hillbilly romance, we get the Landing Strip baby shower of everybody’s dreams. Glenn goes buck-wild at karaoke, which foreshadows the hilariously murderous Eric reaction to come. Julie is allowed a good wallow, which she’s frankly owed. And three of our favorite boys once again exhibit the character we love them for. Tim can spot a deadbeat a mile away; and while he hasn’t been able to protect himself from being hurt by his father, he does his best to spare Becky a lifetime of pain and disappointment from hers. Meanwhile, Eric and Vince earn each other’s trust when the police show up to check for a gun in Vince’s locker. It’s an extremely sensitive situation, wherein Eric’s responsibility to Vince and his responsibility to the wellbeing of every other student may be at odds with each other. He’s able to walk that line and do his duty in both areas, giving Vince a safe avenue out of something he didn’t want to be caught up in in the first place. Kyle Chandler and Michael B. Jordan share a similar brand of quiet intensity, and they give those scenes the gravitas they deserve.
Jen: I looked at IMDB rating because I had not idea in this solid season what wasn’t rated highly. “Toilet Bowl” is on the lower end and I’m here to ask why. The comedy of a drunk Riggins instructing Becky on how to drive standard and dealing with Mindy. The absolute anger he has when he voices what we’ve all been thinking, “chop shop..that’s the stupidest thing.” One of my favorite fanvids uses Julie’s college interviews as a voiceover and so I’ve heard it countless times but I still love it every time. And this is one of the best football episodes. You’ve got Coach’s, “This is our time” speech. The brilliance of the lyrical choice of “killed myself when I was young,” echoing over Luke playing hurt. And the absolute joy when Buddy “I’m a Lion Now” Garrity delivers, “We won! We won a game!”
- Favorite Character?
Kim: No, I will not choose between Eric and Tami Taylor. You can’t make me. They are a package deal, you can’t have one without the other and that is never more clear than it is in Season Four. It is a season of change and adversity for both of them, together and separately. They’ve certainly faced adversity before, but it feels like they are getting it on all sides, testing them like they’ve never been tested before, between Eric trying to build a football program from the ground up with no money in a community that doesn’t trust him yet to Tami having to deal with both Joe McCoy and some conservative Christian pro-lifers going after her job on a near daily basis. No matter what comes their way though, Eric and Tami’s bond is unshakable and even when they go through lulls where they are like ships in the night, you never have any doubt that they will come home to each other in the end. They are each other’s sounding board and ultimate gut check. They are each other’s constant, each other’s touchstone.
Eric and Tami can bicker like it’s a professional sport, but it’s also their love language. You KNOW that even when they are talking AT each other, they are still HEARING each other and that is the hallmark of a good marriage. (Or so I hear!) We throw around the phrase “goals” so casually in this day and age, but Eric and Tami Taylor truly ARE goals. The ins and outs and good and ugly bits of their marriage are truly what anchors this entire universe, and in a season full of change, it’s comforting to know that the center will most definitely hold.
Sage: Tami Taylor earned this one, y’all. She starts out the season already in an impossible position. Not only does she have to have cordial meetings with Wade Aikman, Joe McCoy, and the rest of the men who forced her husband out of his job, she also has to deal with the fallout of the redistricting in the form of many, many angry parents. And the hits keep on coming, from the abuses she endures for sending Luke to the right school to becoming the target of some loud and irrational pro-lifers. But Tami gets through it. And she does so by remaining as true as she possibly can to herself. (Okay, also by taking her petty revenge where she can. See: that first coin toss.) There is so much noise coming at her all season, but Tami never lets it distract her from who she is, why she cares about this job to begin with, or what those kids need from her. It goes against everything she believes to stand up in front of news cameras and apologize for counseling a child in crisis. Doing so would take the heat off of her, but to Tami, what matters most is that she remains an adult that a child like Becky can trust. Her arc this season is a lesson in fortitude and in keeping one’s cool. Tami may lose her job, but she undoubtedly comes out on top – just like Eric did in Season Three.
Jen: I refuse to choose between Tami Taylor and Tim Riggins and their respective dreams.
“I got my dream. I went to a good school, I got the degree I wanted, I met your dad, and I had you.”
So much of the delight of watching Tami Taylor on screen is seeing a well-rounded woman in a show that finds ways to give her grounded and compelling conflict. As she says to Julie in “Toilet Bowl,” she has a career, a partner, and a family she loves. For me, Tami’s arc this season is about when to stand her ground and when to let go. She’s not going to apologize for counseling kids who need her, she’s not going to take Joe McCoy’s bullshit, and she knows how to draw boundaries with her family.
It’s enraging and heartbreaking (her alone on her front steps breaks me), to watch those conservative and privileged assholes come for Tami. And it’s enjoyable to watch her stand up to them in small and large ways. I get a deep joy from watching her tell Joe McCoy, “I hope you get everything you deserve.” Her courage at that school board meeting gets me every time.
And she lets go. Can we give Connie Britton a retroactive award for the scene where Eric wakes up to her crying about Julie? She’s coming to terms with her daughter becoming an adult and it’s nuanced in a way I think only a show like FNL can deliver. Finally, she lets go of West Dillon after a season-long battle. I could watch Tami counsel teens for hours because she’s incredible at it. And so she goes to where they will let her do that.
And then there is watching Tim Riggins get his dream crushed. Tim Riggins wants a family and a home in Dillon. It’s his enduring character thread. Maybe he should have other ambitions but these are beautiful things to orient a life around. The trouble is that financial stability is useful when you’re trying to obtain it and Tim is grasping at straws. I love that Tim drops out of college because it doesn’t make sense for everyone and I love that the show depicts that. The absolute joy on Tim’s face when he buys that land. When he sees Billy with the baby. You can see Tim envisioning a future for himself. It’s moving and knowing what was coming this time around was some of the worst dread. He protects the people he cares about and I just want someone to protect him. Also, he should always have a dog.
Shannon: Landry has had better seasons. There are so many new, exciting people getting plots in Season Four — and deservedly so! — that he’s not as front and center as he’s been in the past. But I still have to go with my most true Friday Night Lights heart, and that heart belongs to my dear sweet forever fave, Landry Clarke.
Like Julie, Landry makes the move to East Dillon High happily because his closest friends have already gone. The redistricting gives him a fresh start and sets the stage for his own move after graduation. But most importantly, it creates a world where Landry MUST be seen as a leader of the Lions. He would never have gotten that kind of attention or opportunity with the Panthers, but in this new context, Coach Taylor knows the kind of loyalty he has with Landry and he knows he can’t put it to waste. Coach also learns, quickly, that Landry’s loyalty isn’t a given. Landry is a sweetheart and a gentle soul, but he’s not a pushover. It’s that combination of a gentle, generous spirit and firm loyalty and determination that makes Landry so special to me. It’s rare to have someone willing to go toe-to-toe with Coach when he makes a mistake, and then moments later still be happy to make himself vulnerable by learning a whole new skill for the sake of the team. Landry is as strong as he is kind-hearted, with a clear sense of priorities and a firm grasp on who he is and who he wants to be. Whether he’s winning games with ridiculous field goals or rocking out with Crucifictorious, I’m always proud of him, and I’m so grateful to have this character in my life.
- Least Favorite Character?
Kim: Listen. JD McCoy had my sympathy in Season Three because he was portrayed as a gifted but socially awkward teenager who buckled underneath the weight of the expectation of a monstrous father. However, all of that banked up sympathy is squandered immediately in “East of Dillon,” when JD makes a pass at JULIE TAYLOR of all people and then ends up in (long overdue) fist fight with Matt Saracen. Things just go downhill from there with JD, from the way he antagonizes Luke Cafferty (who is supposed to be his friend!!) to the blatant disrespect he shows Tami when she calls him into her office to leading the destruction of East Dillon’s field. Sure, the revelation Katie McCoy had yeeted could be an explanation for his sudden personality transplant, but at the end of the day, without Eric around to ground him, I truly just think he’s his father’s son.
Jen: Mrs. Cafferty. Mind your own damn business.
Shannon: There are worse characters in this season than Richard Sherman, the artist who claims Matt as his intern for a few episodes. But honestly, none of them made me quite as infuriated as he did. It’s just such a lazy characterization! Adult creative types are few and far between in Dillon, and while I am certainly under no illusion that artists are any less capable of emotional abuse than anyone else, the superficiality of it all made me see red. In a show that prides itself on thoughtful, considered examinations of small-town humanity, Sherman is nothing more than a sketch of a person. We have no idea what motivates his art, or why he asked to get an intern, or even why Matt should give a shit about his opinions other than the fact that a teacher connected them. It’s a wasted opportunity that doesn’t have anything to offer us as viewers — or Matt as a student.
Sage: I understand that it’s necessary to show that Vince and Calvin are just kids whose circumstances and economic anxieties are being exploited by adults, but FNL could have done better than a generic boogeyman gangbanger character. This one goes to Kennard, whose name I had to look up, because I’m not sure it’s ever said on-screen.
- Favorite newcomer?
Sage: I went into this season assuming that I’d pick Vince. I mean, we’ve got Michael B. Jordan in our cast now. But Jess Merriweather kept knocking on the ol’ brain door.
I love Jess. She’s so intriguing partially because she keeps her cards so close. With her mom gone, Jess has a huge amount of responsibility in her family. She’s had to grow up fast and essentially be the other adult in the house. We’re only just beginning to get an idea of what she dreams about for herself, and I am so, so excited for you all to see what’s in store for her.
Jen: Every time they cut to Jess in the stands, I fall in love a little more. You can see how much she loves the game and how much she wants to have somewhere to put that love.
When she gives tips to Landry on how to kick, you know she’s thought about football a lot. Landry looks at her with amazement, because our boy appreciates a capable woman. And when he asks her if she studied Buddhism, her response reveals so much: “No, it’s my life.” She works, helps to raise her little brothers, figures out her love triangle, and she’s a top student. Jurnee Smollett portrays Jess with a humor, vulnerability, and strength that adds so much to this season.
Kim: Michael B. Jordan, once and future movie star. Can you believe we actually get to watch him working at this level at the beginning of his career, when he is only just discovering the potential of his greatness? I love that Vince Howard is our introduction to East Dillon, immediately establishing that he is our new protagonist. I love how Vince plays his cards close to his chest. A lot of the time, especially at the beginning, we don’t really know what’s explicitly going on with him internally. But he starts to open up as he begins to trust Coach, and it’s like he’s beginning to trust US as well, slowly peeling back the layers to reveal a sweet and vulnerable kid who was forced to become a man way too soon and has had to depend on himself for far too long. It’s truly a pleasure to watch his journey.
Shannon: We have an embarrassment of riches with newcomers this season! And while I could have easily gone with Jess or Vince or Tinker (stars, all of them!) it’s Virgil who really stole my heart. He’s exactly the kind of energy that was missing in the adult FNL cohort, and he’s the perfect character to guide us into the world of East Dillon. Virgil is suspicious of football in general and the Taylors in specific. He’s closed his heart off to football, despite his kids love for it and his own history in high school. Whatever it was that chased him away from the sport, it had to be vicious. But because he’s also got the history as an ex-state champ, he knows what that kind of camaraderie and faith can do in the right hands. Virgil is smart as hell and sees through every single person who walks into his restaurant, and yet, he won’t bother explaining himself to just anyone. Nope. With Virgil, you’ve got to earn it. Eric had to earn his insights on coaching the Lions. Vince had to earn his trust to spend time in the restaurant. But once you’re in, Virgil will be there in every way imaginable. I’m a sucker for that kind of hard-won loyalty, and when you fold in Steve Harris’ pitch-perfect portrayal, we get a high-water-mark entry into my short list of Good Adults in Dillon. Virgil Merriweather, I’m very glad you’re here.
- Best Moment on the Football Field?
Sage: On one hand, helping Luke to hide his injury from Eric is a stupid move that doesn’t work, but on the other, the way the Lions rally around him, going so far as changing the called plays to protect his bad side, proves how far they’ve come as a team. And that’s the transformation that Eric has brought about here. He preaches not that the game defines them, but that football can be an extension of their identity. How they play, how they support each other, how they lose, how they win — all of that shows, as he’s so fond of saying, what kind of men they are. That’s a tremendously motivating idea, especially to teenagers who are desperate to be understood. And that leads to them being able to function as a unit and to look out for their own. Eric can be pissed that they’ve kept something from him, but he also carries the responsibility of turning them into the team that didn’t think twice about doing it for one of their own.
Kim: I have long held the belief that while Eric Taylor didn’t know Landry Clarke’s name at first, he’s definitely known it for years and whenever he calls him “Lance,” it’s a sign of affection. (Honestly, do you really expect me to believe ERIC TAYLOR doesn’t know every single one of his kids? Bitch, please.) For example, he starts calling him Landry on a regular basis when they move to East Dillon because Eric wants him to be taken seriously on the new team, but he refers to him as “Lance” in “The Son” when he brings up Matt’s Dad, which is a sign of emotional intimacy and Eric’s way of checking in on him. TL;DR, when Eric Taylor uses Landry’s given name, he means business. And there’s no bigger business than the final moments of the game against the Panthers when the Lions need a field goal to win and Landry’s been on the sidelines since missing an extra point in the first quarter. No matter how many times I’ve seen the episode, my heart falls out of my ass the moment Eric bellows “LANDRY” when Luke has to leave the game after reaggravating his hip injury.
Coach: “You’re going in.”
Landry: “But that would be a 45-yard field goal.”
Landry: “I can’t kick a 45…”
Coach: “What do you mean you can’t?”
Landry: “I can’t kick an extra point…”
Coach: “What do you mean you can’t? You know what? I’ve spent three years turning you into a football player. You know what you’re going to do? You’re gonna go out there and you’re gonna kick that damn field goal. Do you hear me? And you know what? It could be worse, son. It could be 47 yards. So do us proud.”
I don’t care that this moment has been telegraphed ever since the moment Eric named Landry kicker, since Jess started giving him pointers and made him a playlist of crowd noise to help him focus. Because this is Friday Night Lights, we know this moment could go either way. If there’s anyone that deserves a win like this, it’s Landry Clarke. I don’t think there’s ever been a sweeter field goal in the history of sports.
Jen: “I spent three years turning you into a football player.” The Lions beat the Panthers and not because of some superstar but because sometimes solid coaching and hard work pays off. Coach Taylor risks it with Landry. And despite Landry’s lack of faith in his football skills, when it comes down to it, he always follows through.
Shannon: My heart grew three sizes when I saw the Riggins brothers barreling onto the field in “Stay” to help the Lions practice for their next game. It tapped into that perfect feeling of nostalgia and pride whenever an alumnus returned, not for something showy like a reunion or big game, but for something intimate. Something only the people who were a part of the community could really appreciate. I love that they were happy to do this for Eric, and for the Lions, and I love how excited the team was to see them jump in for the afternoon. Those Riggins boys are the very best boys.
- Best Tami Taylor Queen moment?
Kim: As I said earlier, Season Four is a spectacular season for Tami Taylor, and any number of her scenes would be worthy of being named as Queen Moment of the Season. But you all know my favorite Tami Taylor is passive aggressive Tami Taylor so I keep coming back to her fucking up the coin toss for the Panthers home opener. Just watch the way she walks out on the field! That is a bitch who knows exactly what she’s going to do. She intentionally calls tails after being told to call heads, and then when she wins the toss, she plays dumb and pretends not to know the difference between offense and defense. (A COACH’S WIFE! IT’S HYSTERICAL.) But the best part is how she struts off the field with a sugary sweet “Y’all have a great game now,” before getting in her car and heading over to East Dillon to support Eric and the Lions. That is PEAK petty queen shit.
Jen: Like I said in favorite character, Season Four is full of Tami Taylor moments. But the one that made me cheer loudest is when she sabotages the coin toss in “East of Dillon.” I love when a woman shows up men who underestimate her knowledge. (Tami Taylor knows football.) With the man who stole her husband’s job yelling at her, she strolls on the field with the confidence of a woman who is ready to show she is not to be fucked with. The coin toss is Tami’s gauntlet and she throws it with her trademark polite strength.
Shannon: I just about stood up on my couch and cheered when Tami crashed a booster meeting in “After the Fall” to put Joe Fucking McCoy in his place. Joe’s “warning” earlier in the episode about what would happen if the regulators started digging into that decoy mailbox was a vindictive, single-minded threat that completely ignored the history of the team he’s bought — and of the people he needs to keep on his side. Of course Joe doesn’t think about the ramifications! He has no interest in preserving a legacy or building a community. He wants to run his own shop, collect his trophies, be the big guy on campus and leave it at that. Meanwhile, Tami has spent the last three years learning the political ins and outs of the Dillon Panthers. She knows the history, she knows the types of characters who share that table in booster meetings, and she knows damn well that half those men would not abide their rings being taken away regardless of the star player they just lost. For this shining moment, Joe McCoy is simply outmatched. I could watch Tami take that man out all the livelong day.
Sage: Tami is on fire this season, especially when her back is up against the wall. But for this one, I just keep coming back to how she handles poor, sweaty, misguided Glenn after the kiss. She knows that he’s no threat to her in that he, one, won’t try anything again, and two, isn’t the type to punish her for rejecting him. And while she is also mortified, he’s about to literally fall apart. It’s typical of Tami’s kindness and professionalism (and not just her desire to move on) that she essentially orders Glenn to let himself off the hook for doing something that was indeed dumb, but also mostly harmless.
- Favorite Coach pep talk?
Sage: After a few grueling and frustrating weeks of practice, right before he takes the field with East Dillon for the first time, Eric tosses all of that to the side and connects with his players over their shared love of the game itself.
“And listen fellas, there’s a joy to this game, is there not? There’s a passion and a pleasure to this game. There’s a reason why we’re all out here. Other than the fact that the pride it gives us. And the respect that it demands, we love to play the game. So let’s go out there and let’s have fun tonight. Do you understand me? Because tomorrow, if you give 100% of yourself tonight people are gonna look at you differently. People are gonna think of you differently. And I promise you, you’re gonna look and think differently about yourselves. Clear eyes, full hearts…”
And then Landry, our sole former Panther, comes through with the “can’t lose.” That’s goosebumps material right there.
Shannon: Listen, I love the finale speech as much as the next person. It’s one for the ages. But I’m finding, as I think more deeply about Friday Night Lights in general and Season Four in specific, that the moments that stick with me the most are the smaller ones. Which brings me back to “After the Fall.”
I firmly believe that forfeiting the first East Dillon game was the right move. Those boys were literally bleeding, risking their bodies even more than usual, and nothing good would have come of one more moment spent on that field. But for those boys, it was also a betrayal. It was their leader — someone most of them didn’t know, someone they all were within their rights to doubt — saying he didn’t have faith in them. Which meant he owed the whole team an apology before he could even begin to earn their trust. He gives them that, along with the opportunity to truly let go of their past, both as a team and as players. Fire is a ritual for a reason. It IS cleansing. That fire, combined with a classic Eric Taylor speech, is what truly starts the East Dillon Lions on their way.
Jen: The fire scene. Coach spends a good portion of the first two episodes of Season Four trying to motivate these kids through yelling. But he needs to try something else, and boy does he. How many times do you think these boys have heard a man say something like, “I have got shame and I apologize to you.” Never, right? This is why Coach Taylor is a phenomenal coach and a good man. Imagine what sports culture would be like with more men like Eric Taylor. The moment Vince and Coach look across that fire before Vince throws his jersey in, you know these two respect each other and it’s gonna be a great relationship to watch. It had to be Vince first. And Vince is followed by our other Season Four boys, Landry, Tinker, and Luke. They’re a team now because Coach knows there’s more than one way to give a pep talk.
Kim: I really love how FNL handles the fallout of Eric forfeiting the season opener. As an audience, we know Eric made the right choice in calling the game. He had to be a responsible adult who had a duty of care over a group children, and it was obviously the right decision. (I do wonder how large the ghost of Jason Street loomed for him when he walked into that locker room and saw how beat up they were.) Still, “After the Fall,” does a spectacular job with making you see the forfeit from the team’s point of view. Because of COURSE these kids would think that their coach had quit on them. Of course they wouldn’t understand that Eric did what he did to protect them. Of course they would feel abandoned, especially because they were trying their fucking best in an impossible situation. Whatever modicum of trust Eric had earned with these kids has been destroyed, and Eric is good enough of a man to know that even though he was in the right, he needs to apologize to the team.
Eric: “Listen, last week we got our asses beat doing our best. And there is no shame in that, gentlemen. But I’ll tell you what, I got shame in me. I have got shame and I apologize to you. I apologize for not giving you the chance to finish your fight. I want to finish that fight with you. And I’m asking you, right here, right now, to allow me to help you finish that fight. (The team is quiet as Eric starts a fire in an old can. He picks up a plastic bag of old videotape and pulls one out.) See this gentlemen? This right here, this is the past. (He throws the tape into the fire and grabs one of their bloodied jerseys from a large pile.) Who wants to finish this fight? Who will finish this fight with me?“
The bonfire on the field is about so much more than burning the old uniforms. To quote one of our other favorite shows, “Great men are forged in fire. It’s the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.” Not that Eric Taylor is a lesser man, but he IS a molder of great men. This bonfire is about Eric submitting himself before his team, asking again for the chance to lead them. It’s definitely a dumb decision to burn the uniforms when the team has no money, but the gesture outweighs the cost. From this moment on, Eric and the Lions are like a phoenix coming out of the ashes.
And together, they will rise.
- Favorite ship?
Sage: I love that FNL never tells us exactly what happened between Vince and Jess before we got to East Dillon and instead relies on Michael B. Jordan and Jurnee Smollett’s chemistry to communicate that there’s a history there. There’s also an inevitability. Whether they’re conscious of it or not, Vince and Jess are always seeking each other out in a crowded room. And they look out for each other, even when they do it without the other one knowing. These two characters are being slowly pulled back to each other the whole season, to the point where you realize that Landry, as good of a boyfriend as he’s become, never really had a chance.
Shannon: I love Billy and Mindy so much, y’all. I love how genuinely they love each other, and how clear and true their motivations are for each other. Billy and Mindy are the young couple who made it work and couldn’t imagine a life with anyone but the other, and in a show surrounded by complicated, messy, real teenage love, they’re clear-hearted without being naive. Sure, they can be silly and a bit of a mess. But we’re never just laughing at them. The portrayal is never cruel, and that lets us see how sincerely these two love each other. And yes, Billy’s method of support for Mindy and little Steve Hannibal Riggins (!!!!) is questionable at best and criminal at worst, and god knows I hate the results of that whole storyline. But the love these two have for each other and their little one is undeterred, and it makes Tim’s sacrifice almost worth it — and definitely understandable.
Jen: The Taylors set the bar for what a marriage should be and this season illustrates this perfectly. A lesser show would have made the Glenn kiss into a larger conflict. Instead, we get the best example of the Taylors talking over each other and the hilarious line, “By proxy, I have now kissed Glenn.” This works because Eric and Tami trust each other. They screw up (Eric taking forever to tell Tami about the check) but they know how to work through their disagreements and they are each other’s #1 fan. The little moments of support when they wake up in the middle of the night communicate so much. When Tami says she was having nightmares and Eric says “Don’t do it…Come to bed.” How adorable are they when they’re cuddling on the couch with a teddy bear as a pillow and Eric says, “‘You’re good at what you do. You wear a lot of hats.”?! And there are the big moments, when you know that Tami has the courage to refuse to apologize because Eric is standing in the back of the room with a look that says, “I got you.” After focusing on Tami supporting Eric in previous seasons, the reverse comes to the forefront in Season Four.
Kim: If you were to look up a visual definition of “love at first sight,” you’d see a picture of Tim Riggins bathed in the light of the golden hour, looking out on that gorgeous piece of Texas farmland and seeing his entire future falling into place. It’s the one soulmate that will never leave him. Texas Forever.
- Favorite Shipper moment?
Shannon: I hope Lyla is living her very best life in college, but goddamn did I love seeing her back with Tim Riggins. The sparks are undeniable and the nostalgia for our beloved graduates was perfectly timed and I loved every minute of it.
Sage: Official answer: Fall break sex romp in Tim’s trailer of love. (“What do you want?” “You.” “What else do you want?” “You.”)
Slightly cheating answer: There’s a deleted scene in “Stay” that shows that Buddy was originally supposed to drive Lyla to the bus station, but Tim shows up on his doorstep and pleads with her dad to let him do it. It’s so Tim Riggins to not only want to spend as much time with Lyla as possible, but also to send her off knowing that he still loves her and will never hold her decision against her.
Kim: “What do you want?”
“What else do you want?”
Alexa, play “‘Tis the Damn Season” by Taylor Swift x infinity.
“We could call it even,
You could call me babe for the weekend.
‘Tis the damn season, write this down:
I’m stayin’ at my parents’ house
And the road not taken looks real good now.
Time flies, messy as the mud on your truck tires.
Now I’m missing your smile. Hear me out:
We could just ride around
And the road not taken looks real good now
And it always leads to you in my hometown…
It always leads to you in my hometown.”
Jen: Tami and Eric may be my ship but I did not anticipate how much I would love Tim and Lyla this time around. And their goodbye is my moment. They both know that they want different lives. And you can see in their faces how much they love each other. Lyla clearly doesn’t want to say no to Tim but knows she has to stay true to herself. And Tim has to say with such sadness that what he wants is her knowing this is goodbye.
- Funniest Moment?
Jen: The shot of Tim leaning over, hair mussed, clearly having been in the dress shop for far too long cracks me up. And then he delivers the line, “My mother never took me shopping for a pageant gown.” He’s trying to cheer Becky up and it’s hilarious and it shows where their connection comes from — they’ve both been so let down by their parents that they just have to laugh.
Sage: Maybe because it’s now tradition for Billy Riggins to have a nervous breakdown when he’s at the Taylors’, but his way-too-personal and way-too-dramatic Thanksgiving toast had me rolling. Kudos not only to Derek Phillips but also to the rest of the cast for their reactive face-acting on that one.
Kim: I will always chortle at Billy Riggins running around like a chicken with his head cut off in his very tiny briefs screaming at Tim over the phone that Mindy’s in labor. God bless Derek Phillips for always going literally balls to the wall with his performance.
Shannon: That whole stretch between Glenn going all the way to East Dillon to fall over himself apologizing to Eric for something he didn’t even know happened, to Eric finally asking Tami about it in bed and launching the best Taylors-talking-over-each-other sequence we’ve had to date, to “Do you realize by proxy I have now kissed Glenn?!”, to the two of them joking about Glenn drinking all of Eric’s Scotch. All of that. That whole bit. I’ve giggled about it for WEEKS.
- Best Warm Fuzzy?
Kim: If your heart doesn’t explode at the way the Lions react when they see their brand spanking new uniforms hanging in front of their lockers, then I don’t know what to do with you.
Shannon: Seeing Matt, Julie and Grandma Saracen cheer Landry on in “Thanksgiving” warmed every single bit of my heart. For so many games, Landry was the one in the crowd with Grandma and Julie. He’s been the best friend and stalwart companion to Saracen’s QB again and again, and for all of their ups and downs, Landry never resented that attention on his best friend. Which made it even more beautiful for Matt to be the one with his family, yelling for Landry and his FORTY-FIVE-YARD field goal.
Jen: Did you see how happy Tim looked when he became an uncle?!
Sage: Becky is a challenging character for sure, and I think she brings up some internalized sexism and ageism specifically in female viewers. (I like her a lot more now than I did when I first watched in my early 20s and hadn’t quite caught onto that shit yet.) But she’s such an interesting foil to Tim, in all her sweetness and naïveté. And, as I kept yelling on Twitter, she becomes his literal only friend in Season Four.
Becky feels neglected by her parents, and we all know that Tim thrives when he has someone to take care of. They’re a surprisingly fitting friend-match, though it’s plenty understandable that Becky gets confused about what it means or what she owes a man who cares about her that much. In the wake of her mom kicking Tim off of their property though, she knows the exact right thing to say. Because Becky knows Tim well enough to understand that he’s heard words like Cheryl’s so often that he’s starting to believe that they’re true.
“You’re not a loser. And you’re not nothing. You’re kind, and you’re good, and you’re strong. You’ve protected me from my dad, and you drove three hours all the way to that crappy pageant. And you didn’t even know me then. And you helped me through the hardest thing I have ever had to go through. And you were the only one there. So, I just wanted to thank you for that.”
We’ve talked before in these posts about how Tim goes through life lifting other people up. He doesn’t go around seeking that validation for himself, but Becky is one of the few people who can spot that he still needs it.
- Thirstiest Moment?
Shannon: I have to speak my heart here, even if it means breaking the rules. And my heart says that the thirstiest moment not of this season but of the SHOW was that one time Eric Taylor punched a dude out in Season Two. Nothing has beaten it and at this point, nothing will.
Sage: Lyla Garrity riding a mechanical bull, duh.
Jen: In the first episode of Season Four, Tami turns to Eric and says, “I’m gonna flip my coin,” and you know she is not just talking about a football game. I appreciate how many times Michael B. Jordan and Taylor Kitsch are shirtless this season but the way Connie Britton delivers that line is the sexiest moment. I played it on loop.
Kim: I have to shout out every single time Vince looks at Jess like THAT. You know which look I speak of. This look:
Seriously, Michael B. Jordan has no right oozing that much sexual charisma at twenty-three, much less when he’s playing a teenager and I feel gross about how he makes me feel things in my special places.
- Right in the Feels moment?
Sage: Matt Saracen gets up after his dad’s funeral, takes the shovel from one of the caretakers, and rains dirt down on his coffin until his hands are bleeding. An indelible image.
Kim: Leaving “The Son” aside, as it’s in a league of its own, I’m going with Vince Howard, always so stoic, finally breaking down at his mother’s bedside after her overdose. It’s the way Michael B. Jordan’s voice wavers when he asks why she keeps doing this to him? It’s so easy to forget that Vince is a sophomore in high school, thanks to his innate swagger, but he cracks himself wide open here, expressing all of his vulnerabilities as he boils her struggles with addiction down to his most basic, childlike fears. “Am I that bad? Why don’t you want to be with me? Why do you want to leave me by myself?” It’s quietly devastating and the fact that the entire scene is done in tight close-up, so you can see Michael B. Jordan coming completely undone, just makes it even more so.
Shannon: From start to finish, it’s the sequence in “I Can’t” from the moment Vince shows up at the Merriweather’s doorstep up until the end of Jess’s monologue to her father after listening in the hallway. There’s so much in that whole scene that just goes right through me. The fact that Vince has come to trust Virgil enough to ask for an advance to send his mom to rehab, and that Virgil says all the right things even though he doesn’t have the money himself — and that we know it won’t be enough. There’s nothing Vince won’t do for his mother. It’s undeniable. This kid has poured his heart out, and he feels the responsibility not just of taking care of his mom, but of worrying that he’s part of the cause. And of course he’s not, but of COURSE he feels it. Any child in his position would. On the other side, for all my adoration of Virgil, he HAS been distant and removed with his own kids and their love for football, even as he finds his way back to the game while watching Vince play with the Lions. He hadn’t shown up for Jess and the boys on the field, not yet. After taking Vince’s trauma into his heart, he’s immediately hit with his own weakness — and he steps up.
This sequence is so interconnected, so layered. Virgil and Vince are extremely similar; Virgil knows it, and Vince probably does too. So seeing Virgil take this hit and come out stronger gives us hope for Vince, even as we know what he’ll ultimately do to get that money. There are ramifications throughout the rest of the season from this scene, of course, and I expect them to continue through the next one — but the push and pull of this makes me feel more certain that Vince isn’t alone, even when he thinks he is.
Jen: I remember how much the plotline with Becky’s abortion stood out to me at the time it aired for it’s all too rare honesty. But I didn’t remember how damn good Madison Burge is in the scene where she owns her choice. I wept wishing that all scared kids had a Tami Taylor in their life.
- Best Hero Moment?
Sage: Julie does her fair share of millennial posturing throughout the series, and it can be tiresome. But I can’t help but cheer for her whenever she decides to test her mom and dad’s liberalism by declaring that she, too, will be transferring to East Dillon. It’s a question that Tami is already being asked by parents furious with the redistricting, so it’s only fair that Julie also ask it herself. Her decision forces the Taylors to put their money where their mouths are and is a terrific example of how the younger generation can influence their already progressive parents.
Jen: “If I get back in that car. My momma’s not supposed to bury me. Alright. I’m supposed to bury my momma. Do what you gotta do.”
It takes immense courage to choose a different life. And to do it with a gun to your head is a level of pressure I cannot fathom. Vince’s journey is about believing that he can have something different when it has never been offered to him before. We all know that Michael B. Jordan is a movie star and he already has it here. The nuance on Jordan’s face in that moment. There is fear and resignation and absolute heroism.
Kim: Dallas Tinker, my unproblematic fave and stealth MVP of the Lions, could easily have been written off as comic relief. Instead, he’s actually one of the most perceptive and emotionally astute players on the team. He sees that Luke Cafferty is struggling and he asks him about it. Then he makes good on his word, showing up to help Luke and his dad mend their fence, even if he couldn’t convince anyone else to join him. Not only does Tinker stay well into the night, doing professional level work, thanks to the fact that his granddad worked in construction, he spends that time hyping up Luke’s importance to the team to the one person who needs to hear it the most: his father.
“He’s one of those players that’s holding this team together. He’s pretty much a star. Never acts like it, though. You know, I figure you know that. Anyways, I figure if I’m helping out Luke, I’m helping out the team.”
NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES.
Shannon: I am a Buddy Garrity fangirl through and through. Hell, I had to have a serious conversation with myself to decide if Buddy was my true favorite character of the season. His arc is quieter this season than it has been in previous ones, but Buddy’s growth in Season Four is some of the most substantial he’s had to date. It’s a quick build to my best hero moment, which comes just three episodes in, at the end of “In the Skin of a Lion,” and yet the path to get there was anything but.
Buddy needed the loyalty of the Taylors behind him to get here, from Eric especially. He needed people who have been there for him through his darkest moments, and who have shown him the true heart of the team he loved more than anything in the world. That genuine connection had to take hold for Buddy to see Joe McCoy and his cronies for what they truly are.
Buddy has always thought of the Panthers as the best Dillon had to offer — in every sense of the word. The most loyal. The most true. The most dependable. The most honest. The most formative. Even when those qualities haven’t exactly been front and center in Buddy’s behavior, they’re the ones he thought he was protecting. Remember, this is the man who started the first season reciting old Panthers victory commentaries. So for him to finally snap at Joe’s pool party, to declare loudly and clearly that he’s “not a Panther anymore,” is huge. It’s Buddy saying that the qualities the team represents are more important than the team itself. And it’s Buddy saying that, above everything else, nobody gets to say a word against Tami Taylor without him burning them to the ground.
- Favorite pop culture reference?
Shannon: Remember how everyone was obsessed with Chuck Norris in the aughts for… reasons? I for one had blocked it out until Landry wore his Chuck Norris tee in “In the Bag.” It’s such a great character touch (of COURSE Landry Clarke had a Chuck Norris shirt!) and since every cute cool boy in my college choir had one too, it just solidified my attachment to that child. (And yes, I am aware of the irony in… all of that.)
Jen: I spent a lot of time going to anti-war protests in the mid to late 2000s and half the boys at those protests had the Homeland Security shirt Landry wears in “In the Skin of the Lion.”
Sage: Assuming that the mini The Wire reunion of Lawrence Gilliard Jr. (a.k.a. D’Angelo Barkdsale) guesting doesn’t count, I don’t know what gets me more: that Becky chooses to sing “Popular” from Wicked as her pageant talent (spot on for a middle-of-the-country theater kid in 2009) or that neither NBC nor DirecTV wanted to pay for those rights.
Kim: As we were watching “In the Bag,” I compared Julie’s post-Matt depression to Bella Swan moping about in New Moon, and then minutes later, Landry made a Twilight reference when he said it was the book club’s book of the week. Were they re-reading the series because the movie adaptation of New Moon was about to open? My sparkly vampire super senses say yes.
- Favorite Friendship?
Sage: When I told Kim I was picking Buddy and the East Dillon Lions for this, she wrote back, “Slow burn realness,” and isn’t that the truth? Like all great loves, Buddy’s new passion for the Lions is somewhat narcissistic (Joe McCoy stripped him of his identity, after all), but it’s also wholesome af. Because with the Lions, Buddy sees another place where he can make a difference doing what he very legitimately does best. It’s the perfect marriage of person and purpose. East Dillon needs a champion, and Buddy steps up.
Shannon: We’ve laughed about Eric being Buddy’s only friend for ages, and while their bond is something really special, it turns out we were missing out on a piece of Buddy’s life the whole time. The friendship between Buddy and Virgil is completely different than the one between Buddy and Eric, and yet, it seems like they’re on more even footing. Virgil and Buddy have a mutual respect that’s built from years of owning small businesses in the same town — and maybe even knowing each other’s old football histories. Buddy trusts Virgil’s instincts in “The Lights in Carroll Park,” and Virgil is comfortable enough with Buddy to tell him the truth of the situation. The trust we see in that episode doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. It comes from years — or maybe even decades — of mutual respect.
Kim: It is I, Associate Pastor of the Church of Tim Riggins, here to deliver a sermon on the importance of the friendship between Tim Riggins and Becky Sproles. Settle in.
I honestly don’t know how anyone can NOT be charmed by the dynamic between Becky and Tim. Over the course of the season they go from Tim begrudgingly driving Becky to school after banging her mom to Tim considering her part of his FAMILY, making sure she knows that Billy and Mindy will take care of her if anything happens while he’s in jail. Sure, there are a couple of ill-advised kisses initiated by Becky, but in her defense, she’s a sixteen-year-old girl and it’s TIM RIGGINS, and he obviously cares about her, so why wouldn’t she take her shot? I don’t blame her in the slightest. The thing to note about those kisses is that in their aftermath, Tim treats her with nothing but respect and care, and that’s so fucking important.
In fact, Tim never treats Becky with anything less than respect, and even when he’s annoyed with her, he’s never cruel. (Again, show me how this kid was a bully growing up, cause I will never believe it.) And because he’s Tim, of COURSE he gets invested in helping Becky succeed, from helping her shop for a pageant gown to actually sitting in the audience and showing his support, on the same day that he has to be at a wake, no less. Don’t even get me started on how wonderful he is to her when she confides in him about her pregnancy, from taking her straight to Tami Taylor to a deleted scene where he tells her that’s okay if she doesn’t know how to feel about the whole thing. (Get the DVDs, y’all! There is so much good Riggins content.)
At the end of the day, Tim Riggins is a caregiver who desperately needs someone who makes him feel needed and seen. Someone who validates him. While he’s remained in Dillon by choice, Tim’s still been left behind by Jason, Lyla, Smash, and Matt Saracen. It leaves a big hole in his life. Becky, in all her girlish innocence, gives him the kind of companionship he desperately needs. She listens when he talks and she believes in him. He does his best to protect her from the evils of the world he’s faced already. They are each other’s ONLY FRIEND and the significance of that friendship should not be dismissed in the face of Becky’s crush.
Thank you for listening. Fellowship hour at the Landing Strip to follow. Please rise for our closing hymn, “Devil Town.” May the peace of the number thirty-three be with you.
Jen: Am I cheating using this as a Billy Riggins defense column? I get it — Billy Riggins makes some BAD choices. And he gets Tim wrapped up in those bad choices. These two have so much hope for each other in a town that doesn’t give them a lot of options. I can never quite pinpoint how old Billy is supposed to be, but he was too young to raise Tim and that’s what he did. I know that college wasn’t right for Tim but I also understand wanting the world for your sibling. And they want the world for each other. When he’s waiting to confront Billy at Riggins’ Rigs, Tim doesn’t know it’s not about an affair. Billy had strung a life together until medical debt came smashing through. I mourn these two idiots being brothers and friends running a successful garage. I wanted to see Uncle Tim spoil a tiny baby. And Billy helping Tim to build his house of dreams. Tim is kind and good and strong so he takes the fall for Billy. Because Billy is a new dad and his brother. But also because Billy is his friend and he’s been there for Tim in the best way he knows.
- Sum up your feelings about the season?
Sage: Season Four is obviously a reset in a myriad of ways, but there’s never any sense that you’re watching a changed show. Its concerns remain the same, but FNL only flourishes for widening the frame a little and showing us a community that has been just outside of it all this time. Bringing in so many new Black characters, it does falter occasionally, particularly with Vince. But the world-building and mood-setting remain impeccable. We felt like we intimately knew West Dillon and its residents before the pilot was even over, and the show does the same with the East side. It’s also pretty incredible how quickly FNL turns us on the Panthers, showing how much of an impact people like Eric, Matt, and Jason had on that team culture and how quickly it became monstrous after they were gone.
Kim: Season Four of Friday Night Lights should be given to every showrunner of a teen-oriented drama as a primer on how to handle your characters aging out of the universe you built for them. It’s truly masterful how seamless the move to East Dillon feels, almost like it’s a simple camera pan over to the world that’s always existed right outside of frame. There are still enough of the characters we’ve spent three years investing in, and it doesn’t suddenly backtrack to keep them around either. (Other than a definite retconning of Landry’s age, but that happened in Season Three.) Of COURSE Tim Riggins comes back to Dillon because he never wanted to leave in the first place. Matt’s presence and eventual departure make total sense, and his presence still looms large in the show, even when he’s not on screen. Jason Katims and company do a masterful job in balancing the comfortingly familiar with the exciting unknown that all of our new friends bring.
I think what I appreciate the most about the new characters is that it doesn’t feel like they are trying to find the new Smash or the new Lyla or the new Tyra. Our new core four of Vince, Luke, Jess, and Becky stand entirely on their own and the confidence with which that group of young actors bring them to life is as outstanding as it is exciting. And then, of course, you have Eric and Tami Taylor, steadfastly holding down the center. Season Four is the first season that earned Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton Emmy nominations, and while it was infuriating that it took the Academy SO LONG to recognize the work they’d been doing, at least they finally got there. Their performances are why FNL was able to pull off an almost complete reboot four seasons into the run, and no one batted an eyelash at it. Their devotion to each other and to the young people of Dillon are constant, even as their world pivots around them, and it’s why we’re instantly onboard with the new team. Like I said, it’s nothing short of masterful storytelling.
Jen: At first, it felt a little ridiculous that this rough side of Dillon existed and we never knew. But resetting the show around the less privileged and less white side of town feels like it pays off. At times the show teeters a little close to racial stereotypes — maybe the rough side of Dillon could have been where Smash was from, not where a twelve-year-old boy gets shot? But Friday Night Lights is actually engaging with what it means for white people — however well intentioned — to come into a community that isn’t their own. Elden asks Eric, “Do you really want to make a difference or are you just feeling sad because you saw a boy get shot?” It’s a real question that the show is willing to engage with when it certainly could have made Eric, Buddy, Tami, and even Landry into some version of the Great White Hope. And it leads to unexpected, hilarious, and realistic moments like all of the older Black football players loving Buddy Garrity as much as I do.
Friday Night Lights manages to tackle these big topics — racism, poverty, substance abuse — because they’ve developed these characters and are willing to let them change. You see Eric trying to adapt his coaching style to a different setting. It’s not one-note. You see the negative aspects of being on the “good side” of town. And is there a show that has their high school students move on as believably as FNL? Matt, Lyla, and Tim all get their own perfect post-high-school storylines here. And it gives the show narrative space to introduce these phenomenal new characters. I didn’t get to write nearly enough about Vince and not at all about Luke and Tinker. There are so many characters I love and I could write about this season forever.
Shannon: If I’m being honest, I never felt at home in Dillon. It was nothing I could put my finger on at the time. There were always characters I loved, and great episodes, and interesting examinations of what it REALLY means to live in a small, rural town. But I was kept at a distance from the town itself, and Friday Night Lights is so intrinsically linked with its sense of place that the distance carried through to my experience with the show.
My love of Buddy Garrity aside, the boosters in Dillon were too shiny. The stands were too professional, the school lines between football and everything else were too bold. All of that fell away the moment we moved to East Dillon. Suddenly, the community was comprehensive and more complex. The experiences of every surrounding character couldn’t be neatly assumed. The stakes were drastically different. Even their new principal is hostile towards football, and understandably so! That change gave Eric Taylor and his Lions something to fight for. A community to build, inroads to solidify. And personally, it gave me something steady to hold on to. I don’t miss Dillon and I can’t imagine I ever will — but East Dillon’s got my heart. Let’s go, Lions.
Our watch of the final season of Friday Night Lights kicks off August 16, 2021 at 8/7C. Track #ClearEyesFullHearts to follow along!