So let's see, where do we stand? Rapist, still dead and floating down the river. Coach, still in Austin with the TMU job. Tami, still overwhelmed and crying. Julie, still chasing after The Swede. Buddy, still on the outs with both his family and the new coach. Street, still crippled (and, possibly, still wanting to listen to Nirvana).
Show, still brilliant at times, maddening at others.
I don't want discussion to be dominated every week by talk of the killing and cover-up, but I can't not start there this time. The premiere left the door open, however slightly, to the notion that Tyra and Landry didn't go through with it, that they called the authorities -- hell, even that Landry did a bad job of taking a pulse. Sadly, no. Dead and dumped.
And for what? What benefit does this possibly bring the show compared to what's being lost -- in terms of Landry as a character and in terms of the series as a whole? Katims said the goal was to push Landry and Tyra closer together, that "their relationship would never become as intimate as it does if not for this event."
So, essentially, the writers came up with this storyline that no one can defend (even the people who aren't out on the ledge with me are saying things like "I don't like it but I trust the writers" or "I'm not ready to throw out the baby with the bathwater") so they could get Landry laid.
Okay, so that's cruder and maybe more reductive than the love confession scene at the episode's end deserves. Jesse Plemons played the hell out of that moment -- and, as Katims also said, another reason for this story was to give Plemons a dramatic showcase after he wowed everyone late last year -- and out of Landry's overall anguish over what he did (and what he then failed to do by giving into Tyra's panicked demands to keep the cops out of this), but I hate that the writers had to contrive this character-redefining, series-altering development to accomplish a goal that could have easily been met under different circumstances.
Okay, so you want to have Tyra and Landry hook up, right? Why does Landry have to kill the guy to accomplish that? And why does he then have to participate in a cover-up on top of that? And, more to the point, why does Tyra have to be turned into a damsel in distress (as opposed to the hellcat who chased her mom's boyfriend with a fireplace poker and saved her own damn self the last time the rapist came at her) to accomplish this? Why can't she come to recognize the awesomeness of Landry without such a melodramatic, ridiculous plot twist?
The only value whatsoever that I see in any of this has nothing to do with the dramatic reality of the show itself, but in NBC's ability to craft a more exciting promo. I get that this is a business, and that if "Friday Night Lights" can't hit a certain number, it's not going to be around very long. But this seems like Katims and company going for the nuclear option right away, when something much less drastic could have been turned into a loud commercial by the NBC promo wizards.
I know last week I said that the killing almost bothered me more than the cover-up because I couldn't see Landry being credibly funny again for a long time -- a fear borne out by the clumsy reintroduction of his one-liners like the one about Tyra writing a how-to book or Julie keeping a part of Saracen's anatomy in her panty drawer -- but at this point I'd almost be willing to let that go if it meant Landry had reported it and the story might be over sooner. I still think it does too much damage to Landry and is a betrayal of Tyra, but you get your killing, your brooding, your declarations of love, and we can move on to the next thing. Instead, the body's just out there somewhere -- possibly with Landry's engraved watch -- and this story's just going to keep going and going.
God. I promised myself I wasn't going to get so worked up two weeks in a row about that one story element, especially since I had a number of other concerns about episode two.
Start with the continuation of the TMU storyline. Individual parts of it are superb, I'll readily admit. I liked seeing Eric struggle with being low man on the totem pole and dealing with far more pampered college stars like Antoine (who may as well have been named Big Smash or Ax or Crush or something), as well as the way the TMU coach's line about Eric being a great high school coach played at once as a compliment and a condescending put-down. And I continue to love every minute Connie Britton's on screen; Mrs. Coach made this particular bed, and now she can't get any sleep in it.
But the TMU plot's a narrative dead end. We know that sooner or later an excuse will have to be made for Eric to come back to Dillon -- probably as a result of Buddy's ongoing resentment towards MacGregor (more on that later) -- and it feels like an artificial attempt to create friction and pretend like the status quo's really been altered. ("House" is doing something similar this fall, but with two key differences that make it work: the series can continue on long-term without the original status quo being restored exactly as it was; and in the meantime, it's really funny.)
I felt like "State" left things just ambiguous enough about what Eric would want to do -- especially with that slow-clap at the end -- that the writers could have easily come back this season with him having changed his mind and stayed in Dillon, and it wouldn't have felt like a cheat. Instead, they're sticking with the ramification of that story, and while it's providing some interesting material within the Taylor family, it's taking the show's central character out of its central world. It's not nearly as big a problem as the killing, but it's a direction the show might have been better off not taking.
I continue to be untroubled by what Julie's doing with The Swede -- it feels very teenage girl authentic -- but the introduction of Carlotta the Magical Latina live-in nurse seems like yet another bad direction. I hope to be proven wrong here, but I'm assuming this is going to lead to her and Saracen hooking up in a story that's going to make me long for the subtle nuances and emotional heft of Rigggins and the MILF.
Still, the other trouble spots are of a much more minor variety, akin to some of season one's speedbumps (the MILF, Smash on 'roids). It's that big matzoh ball with Tyra and Landry that's still hanging out there and still worrying me.
Some other thoughts on an episode ironically titled "Bad Ideas":
- Lord, Brad Leland is great as Buddy, isn't he? He and Connie Britton are the only carryovers from the movie's cast, and while it's been obvious from day one why Peter Berg wanted to keep Britton around, Leland spent a lot of season one as just one large piece of the tapestry of Dillon, adding to the verisimilitude but not gettin much to do beyond that. But he's been more than up to the expanded role, and his drunken meltdown at the kick-off party was my favorite part of the episode not involving Coach or Mrs. Coach.
- As a reminder that this show is often at its best at the little moments, I give you Eric calling Tami and being forced to endure a "conversation" with baby Gracie because Tami can't hear him asking her to get back on the phone. When our daughter was a baby, my wife and I both used to annoy each other with that particular stunt; I think it's one of those things that's hardwired into the DNA of new parents (and Eric and Tami may as well be new parents, given how long it's been since Julie was born).
- After spending much of the first season borrowing liberally from the documentary "Murderball" for the Street stories, it seemed only fair to have that movie's star, Mark Zupan, cameo as the guy who suggests that Jason check out experimental treatments in Mexico. Zupan's appearance, coupled with the news that Street had regained some small mobility in his hands, led my buddy Fienberg to point out that, under the rules of quad rugby -- in which players are assigned a set of points ranging from 0.5 (least mobile) to 3.5 (most mobile), and that the four players on the court at any one time can't exceed 8 points (to provide equal opportunity to people with various levels of impairment) -- Street gaining added use of his hands would actually make him a less valuable player, since it would prevent his team from having as many skill players on the court at once, even though Street would probably only be a marginally better player. (He kicked butt without even being able to properly open his hands, after all.) This then led to a long digression in which Dan and I tried to apply sabremetrics to the world of quad rugby and tried to come up with an equivalent to VORP, but this then proceeded down several avenues probably best not repeated here. Suffice it to say, we probably put more thought into the entire concept than was healthy for anyone.