Spoilers for "Friday Night Lights" coming up just as soon as I order a Lemon Drop...
Dammit, why couldn't the show have been this good all season?
I watch a scene like Coach throwing Saracen into the shower, or Smash firing up the team, or Tami clutching Gracie as she watches Julie (who she could once hold that way) take her driving test, and I'm reminded of why I loved "Friday Night Lights" in the first place. And that only makes the bulk of this season so much more frustrating. How could the same people responsible for this episode -- and for season one -- have given us junk like the murder, the winter of our age-inappropriate discontent, the Riggins boys robbing meth dealers, etc.?
Which isn't to say that "Leave No One Behind" was perfect. The Smash story, for instance, conveniently overlooks the fact that a guy with Smash's profile doesn't have to worry about his football career being over. Even if no Division I school will touch him right now, even if, somehow, no other four year college will touch him (which simply wouldn't happen if he's as talented as the show keeps telling us he is), he would still be able to get a scholarship to a junior college, spend a year or two staying out of trouble and scoring touchdowns, and eventually transfer to a place on the level of a TMU. Happens all the time, to people who did things far worse than the trouble Smash got into. (For only one example, you can read this amazing Seattle Times story about all the trouble NFL tight end Jerramy Stevens got into both before and during his time at the University of Washington. I should warn you, though, that the story will likely make you sick to your stomach, as Stevens comes off as a horrible excuse for a human being.)
The Saracen story, meanwhile, suffered, as much of this season has, from bad episode-to-episode pacing. It was a bad idea to have Matt spend an episode after Carlotta's exit acting like nothing was wrong; they either should have moved this story into last week's episode, or else they should have had Matt seem much sadder during the handful of scenes he had last week, so it wouldn't seem like he got over the break-up just fine and then fell off a cliff all of a sudden. And, frankly, it could have been helped had some previous episodes dealt a little more with the awkward dynamic between Matt and Coach after Eric came back from TMU.
That said, Eric hurling a drunken Matt into the shower was the best scene of the season by a long stretch, great work by both actors and a moment that was about football and yet about so much more -- which, as I mentioned last week, is what the show should be, using football as the unifying force and a fishbowl to examine all these people's lives. Saracen getting his inner Riggins on may have come out of nowhere, and the scene may have spun out of a story no one really cared about (Matt and Carlotta), plus another story the show ignored for most of the year (resentment about Eric going to TMU), but damn if I didn't get chills when Matt started to unload on Eric and Eric was reminded of just how much weight this boy carries with him every day.
"There is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with you at all." Damn.
(Does any other current show use repetition of language as well as "FNL"? So many of the best moments in the show's history feature elementally simple dialogue that gains exponentially in power when it's repeated.)
And while the Riggins apprenticeship came and went in the space of an episode, it at least gave us a bunch of hilarious lines and moments: Riggins admitting he always skips on Wednesdays, Matt calling Carlotta "the break-up fairy," Landry worrying about Matt becoming "an at-risk youth" (followed by hungover Matt's "Oh my God! Stop talking!") and our first visit to The Landing Strip all season.
And after trying to pretend that the murder didn't happen -- much as we'd all like to forget it, it did happen and should affect the behavior of Landry and Tyra going forward -- this episode finally had Tyra acknowledge, to Landry if not to Tami and Julie, the nature and cause of their close bond. I love that Landry, much as he wanted to jump Tyra's bones right there, had enough respect for Jean to not do that to her in the middle of a date, and to make sure they had broken up before he made his move with Tyra. We've only got one episode to go this season (and maybe ever), so there won't be much time to see how this relationship goes, but a part of me sides with Jean about Landry making a mistake. Is Tyra with him because she really wants him or just because of that competitive streak she talked about with her mom? Was she using that as an excuse to not admit to anyone what her real feelings are? Or is this gonna crash and burn even worse than the Tyra/Landry 1.0 did?
Despite the above-mentioned plot hole at the center of the Smash story, I thought Gaius Charles and Liz Mikel were again terrific throughout, as was Kyle Chandler in those scenes with Smash.
Also good, albeit in another undercooked storyline, were Connie Britton and Aimee Teegarden. As with the Matt thing, I don't think we've gotten enough build-up of Julie's latest reason to resent her mom, but the scene outside the DMV just about made up for the out of left field-ness of it all.
Some other thoughts:
-Another great Kyle Chandler moment: after Coach chews out a drunk Saracen, Mac asks if he could smell the booze on QB One's breath, and -- after a pause that makes it clear how much of Eric's future suddenly rides on this kid -- Eric says, "No, I don't."
-And still another: Coach turning on the charm with Grandma Saracen. At first, the scene of her back watching TV in the housecoat and not being completely clear on Carlotta's whereabouts suggested that she had immediately backslid from all the progress she made this season, but she seemed clear-headed enough to tell Coach that Matt needed help, which suggests that her faculties come and go.
-Adrianne Palicki still can't play volleyball convincingly. Maybe my whole "Tyra to strong safety" idea wasn't such a good idea, after all. (Though with a helmet and pads, it'd be easier to use a stunt double.)
-Was I the only one laughing hysterically at the scene where Jean asked Tyra about her intentions vis a vis Landry? Jean only coming up to eye level with Tyra's chest was one of the funnier sight gags this show's done.
-I've been watching some early season one episodes on the Universal HD channel, and there's a scene in episode two where Coach visits Street in the hospital and Street talks about the ways Saracen is different from him, notably that he listens to Bob Dylan and likes to draw. Matt's artistic side hasn't come up much since then; are we supposed to have forgotten about it, or is part of the point of his obnoxious behavior in art class that he's acting out in one of the classes he likes best?
-If other characters like Street and other stories like Matt's can drop in and out of episodes all the time, why must we get a few minutes with Lyla and Logan Huntzberger every week?
-I think Landry absolutely made the right movie choice. "Wrath of Khan" is freakin' genius, but even when you're going out with a proudly geeky girl like Jean, isn't it much better to go with a movie where she'll be inclined to stay very close to you the entire time? (Though, from the sound of their post-flick banter, Landry may have been the one hugging Jean's arm instead of the other way around.)
So that's it. One more episode, and then...? Since the show came back with new episodes last month, the ratings haven't gone down or up from their usual crappy level, and Ben Silverman and Jeff Zucker don't sound like guys who really care to be in the scripted TV business any more than they absolutely have to. Although a lot of that is because Zucker failed so abysmally when he was in charge of finding scripted hits for NBC, and some of their talk now is assuredly writers strike rhetoric, I don't know if "FNL" comes back next year, even if there isn't time for development of new scripted series.
Had you asked me a week ago if I would be upset about cancellation, I would have said no. (Hell, I was arguing for non-renewal at the end of season one, because I feared... well, pretty much what we got here in season two.) But I watch a really strong episode like this one and I'm not ready to say goodbye to these characters just yet, you know?
What did everybody else think?