"Backfire" was a definite "Do the ends justify the means?" kind of episode, as the producers appeared to shut down a number of storylines that weren't working, but in a far more abrupt manner than they could or should have.
I'm glad to have Coach back in Dillon and coaching the Panthers, for instance, but the dispatching of MacGregor felt much too easy. The previous three episodes (plus the disastrous game at the start of this one) had shown MacGregor to be such a stubborn tyrant that no one (except Smash) could possibly want him to stay, just as the TMU had been shown to be such a clearly bad fit for Eric that everyone could see he needed to leave it. Wouldn't it have been more interesting if one or both of those situations was reversed? What if MacGregor was a tinpot dictator but Eric was having the time of his life as a college coach? Or, what if Eric hated TMU and knew his family needed him but MacGregor hadn't made any obvious missteps with the Panthers? The scene at the end where MacGregor confronted Eric about what he and Buddy had done was well-acted by both Kyle Chandler and Chris Mulkey and had a moral complexity that the rest of this arc lacked, but that doesn't change the fact that MacGregor was a strawman bad guy.
(Also, how did Buddy go from being a drunken pariah a few episodes ago to having the political capital to pull off this coup d'etat? Even if the rest of the town felt uncomfortable with MacGregor, I'm sure Slammin' Sammy Meade wasn't the only one who resented the hell out of Eric for quitting after last season. It might have been interesting to watch Buddy build himself back up into the power broker he used to be, as we watched him sell the other committee members on the swap, but instead it got glossed over.)
Meanwhile, I'm sure many people are glad that Julie and Tami have stopped being at war with each other (I never minded this subplot, but that seemed to be a minority opinion), and yet the turnaround came awfully quick. Having Eric back in the fold certainly helped, as he convinced Tami to not ground Julie, which in turn made Julie slightly more willing to listen to Tami's story about losing her virginity (and also made a date with The Swede less an act of rebellion). But she's just now noticing that "Anton" is a no-account slob just floating through life after high school? It's not like she hadn't been to his dive of a house before. Some more superb acting from Connie Britton (albeit not up to The Talk from "I Think We Should Have Sex," where the virginity story was implied but not articulated), but there was definitely a feeling that the writers were in a hurry to wrap this one up.
I'd like to think that they've also wrapped up the dead rapist storyline, but I don't think that's what's happening. When the detective who interviewed Tyra talked about closing a case, he meant the attempted rape from last season, not the cause of this guy's death. I suppose this could go in a direction where the small-town Dillon sheriff's department decides not to waste resources looking into the death of some lowlife serial rapist, or that they assume he died from the fall into the river (barring a crossover with the people from "CSI: Dillon"), but there's been so much talk about Landry's watch and the impending grandfather visit that I don't think we're done with it yet. When Tyra talked to Landry about how they had no choice, how they had to stick to the path they were on, it felt unintentionally meta: once the writers chose this unfortunate storyline, they had to follow it through all the way.
On the plus side, one storyline I was dreading -- Street and Riggins road-tripping to Mexico for the shark surgery -- turned out to be the episode's highlight. I used to complain a lot about Taylor Kitsch in season one, but damn if he hasn't won me over. As the karaoke scene devolved from drunken fun into a very loud expression of pain from Street, you could see Riggins finally doing the math and realizing how bad this has the potential to become. In an episode where a lot of characters either shed tears or expressed deep feelings of remorse, the most powerful moment turned out to be Riggins begging Lyla to come help him talk Street out of this dangerous con game.
Now that Eric's back in town for good, I want to give the rest of the season a clean slate (murder storyline aside). Maybe all the narrative shortcuts of last night's episode will allow the show to go in a more promising direction from here. Glass half-full, I hope.
Some other thoughts on "Backfire":
- Loved Eric's confusion ("The what?") in response to Buddy's (no doubt rehearsed) "The eagle has landed" call.
- MacGregor's "I'll be seeing you again" threat implied another Voodoo arc where he winds up on a team that faces the Panthers in the playoffs. For the Texas high school football types, how realistic is that? Do teams often switch coaches in mid-season? And wouldn't the fanbase of the defending state champs be far more panicked at a loss in only the second game of the season?
- I wish the writers would treat Lyla's born again conversion as something other than a phase she's going through, and an excuse to meet new boys. The show usually does a superb job of portraying how faith helps govern these people's lives, but Lyla seems very much a poseur. If nothing else, she should have had an answer for Santiago the hunky delinquent's question about why God allows suffering. That's one that true believers get asked all the time, and they're supposed to have an answer.