Questions I still need answers to after watching "How Did I Get Here?":
- Given the show's historical lack of any notable defensive players, not to mention Landry's ascendancy last week at tight end, why would the writers or Coach Taylor consider putting a completely inexperienced guy with bad hands like Santiago at a skill position like tight end?
- Why didn't Street or Lyla or even Riggins himself tell Coach the reason for his "sojourn," which just might have been compelling enough to get Tim out of the doghouse and back on the team?
- Why doesn't an apparently smart veteran lawman like Landry's dad realize that disappearing/burning one of the 20 cars in town that match the list the detectives are using will just point a shiny neon sign of guilt at his son?
As for the great car fire of '07... sigh. Glenn Morshower is so brilliant at depicting Chad Clarke's unconditional love for the son he's never understood, or maybe even liked -- my heart was in my throat as he tried to get Landry to confess -- that it makes me sad he was brought in for this silly, over-the-top subplot that doesn't remotely fit with the rest of the series. And this week, it turns out that the Clarke men share a tendency to make terrible decisions under pressure. If Woody had gone straight to the police... um, I mean, if Landry had just called the cops back at the time of the killing, he probably would've been fine. Even here, if Mr. Clarke had just said that they were going to get a lawyer and march into the station, I think some kind of plausible resolution to this story could have been reached that would have kept Landry out of jail and part of the high school world. Instead, he does something guaranteed to bring attention on himself and his son, and to drag this thing out even longer. Jason Katims promised this wouldn't turn into "CSI: Dillon," but that's exactly what it feels like.
That the rest of the episode -- back in the show's wheelhouse about the institutional grind of big-time high school football and the sense of hopelessness that comes from living in a place like Dillon -- was so strong only annoys/mystifies me even further. Clearly, Katims and the other writers understand what makes "FNL" great, and yet somehow they thought the Landry plot was a good idea and a tonal fit with everything else. I don't get it.
Oh, here's another question: has there been an episode yet this season where Tami didn't cry? This isn't a complaint, mind you -- Connie Britton is a fantastic crier, and if ever there was a time in a woman's life where she'd be justified in constant waterworks, it'd be shortly after the birth of a new baby -- but as I watched her deliver that hilarious/poignant speech about going through parenthood all over again and having another daughter who will hate her 16 years from now, I thought, "Boy, Tami's weeped a lot this season, hasn't she?" Not that Connie Britton ever has a bad episode, but this one felt like an especially strong showcase for her. The opening scene in particular was like one large palette of all the colors that make up Tami Taylor: the tough woman who can order Eric to fix the paycheck thing, the overwhelmed woman still dealing with the responsibilities of the new baby, the sexually vibrant woman proud of how her body still looks after all this mileage and another pregnancy, the woman who can still act all giddy and girly at the arrival of her sister, and the family woman who sometimes wonders what the hell she's doing in Dillon.
Tami's not the only one asking that last question. As the episode's title suggests, nearly every character with a significant storyline winds up questioning how they get into the mess they're in: Tami and her sister Shelly having a lot of grass is greener envy, Eric stuck with a reduced paycheck and the added pain in the ass of becoming the school's athletic director, Street realizing he doesn't belong in this world anymore, Riggins trying desperately to get back into that world while he still can, and Julie reaping what she sowed with The Swede. Even the Landry story, dumb and clumsy as it is, fits the "How Did I Get Here?" theme.
I don't know too much of the mechanics of Texas high school football economics, so I don't know the plausibility of Eric's new salary situation. I vaguely recall reading somewhere that a small school like Dillon doesn't have the budget to pay for a big football staff, and that the bulk of the salary for Eric and his assistants would come from the booster club; if true, this would make some sense. I'm glad that there are going to be some lasting consequences to Eric's, um, sojourn to TMU, though I'm undecided on whether I ever again want to see walking stereotype soccer coach Bobbi Roberts (the role that was allegedly written with Rosie O'Donnell in mind, God help us all).
The Street story is progressing the only way it can, even if that means he'll start having less and less connection to the rest of the cast (if he isn't written out of the show altogether, about which I know nothing). Sure, he coached up Saracen last year, and the spinal injury couldn't take away his greatest gift as a player -- the leadership that, as Coach put so powerfully, lets Jason "lift up everyone around you" -- but MacGregor, control freak tool that he was, wasn't wrong when he called Jason a glorified mascot. So long as he stays affiliated with the Dillon high school team, it doesn't matter how well he can communicate X's and O's to his players; he's always going to be the cautionary tale/ghost of the once-great franchise quarterback. (Hell of a way to spend your 19th birthday, watching game footage of the man you can't be anymore. Classy move, Mr. Street.) So what does Jason do now? Presumably he got his GED, and I got the sense he was an achiever as a student as well as an athlete; is there room on this series for "Jason Street: The College Years"? Do we go back to the quad rugby world, or is that no good now that the actor who plays Herc is busy helping the Bionic Woman save the world?
Whatever he does, the scenes where Jason asked Lyla for advice and said goodbye to Coach were both terrific. There's so much history between Jason and Lyla that they can each cut through each other's BS. Jason can warn Lyla not to proselytize, and she'll stop instantly, just as she can slice through his self-pity and explain that if he wants to change, he just has to do it. And Eric's exit conversation with Jason? I'm not sure I have the words for that one, or else I just used up the lump in the throat cliche back in the talk about Landry's dad. This is another relationship with a lot of history, some of which we've seen, but going all the way back to Jason's childhood. The child becomes a man, and Eric knows him well enough to understand why Jason needs to leave, but also that there may come a day where he wants those tapes back. Jason's one of the few characters on the show (along with Julie and Landry) who comes from an intact two-parent home, but Eric Taylor is more of a father to him than his actual dad, and that kind of bond has a power that doesn't need very much dialogue to convey.
Even if Riggins' banishment is a contrivance, I'm okay with it for now. Either Taylor Kitsch has grown on me or the character, epic in his self-loathing and self-destruction, has become actor proof (I think it's a bit of both). I like the idea of him taking his best friend's place as a tutor to the younger players on the team, even if he doesn't particularly want to be. Plus, Tim and Billy scenes are always gold, even if Tami the uber guidance counselor should have picked up on the whole "he's sleeping with my girlfriend" line as evidence of a deeper problem. (Back when she was teaching Glenn how to fill in for her, she talked to him about how important it was to stay tuned into problems at home.)
I can't say that I feel sorry for Julie in having to witness Matt finally taking advantage of his QB1 status and making out with a random cheerleader groupie, simply because her behavior was so horrible for most of the season to date, but it's a mark of Aimee Teegardeen's skill that I even thought about feeling bad for her for a moment. And while I'm glad that the writers have remembered that Julie and Tyra are somehow BFFs, Tyra the accomplice after the fact suggesting they watch "Thelma and Louise" was probably funnier than the writers intended.
A few other thoughts:
- My brain hurts trying to figure out how old everybody's supposed to be. Does Lyla -- Street's girlfriend since the womb, practically -- even go to high school anymore, and if not, why isn't college talked about for her? And shouldn't Tami/Tim counseling session been a perfect excuse for her to mention that he's been held back before, which would explain why Street's best pal didn't graduate after last season? And while Santiago must be high school age, since he got out of a juvenile facility, it seems odd that returning to school wasn't mentioned during his previous appearance.
- Smash still hasn't had much to do this year, and I still think the reconciliation between him and Saracen happened too easily, but I liked him finally taking his captain's responsibility seriously -- even if it was for selfish reasons -- by trying to get Riggins to dedicate himself to getting back on the team. Not enough Mama Smash for my liking, but I got a kick out of Smash's sisters taking Tim's side on the "don't flirt with my mother" issue.
- If I didn't want to visit a network website and therefore side with the studios over the WGA right now, I'd want to hit NBC.com to see if I can buy a Crucifictorius t-shirt like Landry was sporting.
- Who knew there was such a big airport right there in Dillon?