NOTE: This and all subsequent "FNL" season three reviews were written after viewing the DirecTV cut, which can be several minutes longer than the NBC version. So both my review and the early comments may refer to scenes that were not shown on NBC.
"Right here, right now, God has placed you to do what you do best. Go all the way." -Eric TaylorChills. Massive, massive chills.
"Hello, Goodbye" was easily the most spine-tingling episode of the season so far -- I enjoyed the previous three, but this was the first that felt on the same level as the best of season one -- and nowhere was it more chill-tastic than the moment where Coach charged across the A&M practice field to ensure that Smash got a fair shot at a walk-on job.
We've known for a long time that Eric is an all-around swell guy -- as Tami puts it, "You are a teacher first, and you are a molder of men" -- and his behavior throughout this Smash storyline, and through the quarterback controversy threatening to engulf the Panthers reminded us just how swell he is. Coach isn't some two-dimensional saint. He has flaws, and he doesn't always make the right decision, but the extent to which he puts himself on the line for these kids is one of the main reasons "Friday Night Lights" is so compelling. Eric risks embarrassment (and burning a professional contact) to make sure that Smash gets his tryout, and he agonizes more than your average coach would over a potential quarterback switch, less for football reasons than because Saracen's become like a son to him. Kyle Chandler was superb throughout this episode -- but then, isn't he always?
Just as good, for that matter, was Gaius Charles in what looks to be his final appearance on the series. The look on Smash's face when he got the call from A&M -- surprised, grateful, overwhelmed -- was just about perfect, as was that final shot of Smash at Herrmann Field, glorying in his element and hollering "Where you at, baby? Where you at?" I understand why Smash has to be written out, but I'm going to miss the cocky SOB.
Really, every element of the show was firing on all cylinders tonight. I could very easily have started out talking about how great Jesse Plemons and Adrianne Palicki were in Landry and Tyra's screaming match in the hallway, or how I like how gingerly both Matt and the writers are approaching this possible reconciliation with his mom, or the two wonderful Taylor marital moments (first at the bar where she supports him about the QB controversy, then in bed where he supports her about the Jumbotron). This was the "Friday Night Lights" I fell in love with, and I hope the show can stay at the level for most of the remaining nine episodes.
Where previously Matt has had one problem piled on top of another, I'm intrigued by the way that one potential bit of good news (his mom coming back to help out with Grandma) comes at the same time as some bad news (Eric's no doubt doomed attempt to split the QB job, King Solomon-style). I can see a circumstance where JD winds up as the full-time starter, only Matt will be less crushed than expected because other parts of his life are finally working out okay for once. Whatever happens, Zach Gilford, Kim Dickens and Louanne Stephens did a great job of letting their respective guards drop only slightly. Matt, Shelby and Grandma are all very much aware that this situation could blow up at any minute, and none of them wants to be hurt when that happens, but they can see the potential benefits if it does work.
Unsurprisingly, I'm less interested in Tyra's relationship with Cowboy Cash (whose need to pop some occasional "cowboy candy" painkillers was like a flashing neon "Danger!" sign) than I am in what it means for her friendship with Landry. That situation -- Tyra not feeling romantic towards Landry anymore but not wanting to give up the other aspects of their relationship, and Landry finally standing up for himself and explaining to her that it's all-or-nothing -- felt very real to me. And as powerful as it was to see them screaming their lungs out at each other, it was just as brutal to hear Landry's voice drop to barely above a whisper in the later scene where he asked Tyra to leave his garage.
The episode's only real misstep, I think, is that we didn't get to see the school board meeting where Tami tried to shame the boosters over the Jumbotron decision. Tami sticking Buddy with the charity auction was actually very funny (particularly for the half-smirk on Eric's face when she pulled that stunt), but they had prepared us for a very different kind of scene, and they either should have changed Tami and Eric's bedroom talk accordingly or else inserted some brief later scene where Tami realizes that revenge is a dish best served with a silent auction.
Still, that's a very minor complaint about a terrific, terrific episode.
Some other thoughts on "Hello, Goodbye":
* Okay, put this hour in the "misunderstood" column (instead of "villain" column) for JD. It's clear from his getting-to-know-ya conversation with Eric that his father has never allowed him to have much of a life outside of football. I'm thinking he's as much a victim of all of this as Matt, and that we may be in for some kind of "Bad News Bears" moment later this season where JD deliberately tanks a game to spite his old man.
* I'm also wondering what column Katie McCoy belongs in. Her advice to Tami was spot-on, as proven by the superintendent assuming Tami was getting angry with him when she had barely raised her voice at all. But is she just doing all of this so that her husband can get to Eric through Tami?
* I thought it was a nice touch that Mac wouldn't let the other assistant coaches question Eric's QB choice, but once it was just the two of them, he made the push for JD. That kind of nuance about the politics of the coaching staff is always welcome.
* Anybody know whose cover of "Dream Lover" was playing when Cash and Tyra kissed?
What did everybody else think?