"You think you're gonna waltz back in here, and everything's gonna be okay?" -BillyI wrote in generalities about how much I like the new East/West Dillon set-up in today's column, so once you're done reading that (you do all read my columns, right?), I'll get to some specifics on "East of Dillon."
While characters like Eric, Tim and Landry are all struggling to walk into situations they think are familiar, but really aren't, "East of Dillon" felt very familiar in a good way. The colors of the uniforms have changed, as have some of the faces, but this is still the show we know and love so well.
The gerrymandering subplot from last season's "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" (done back when Eric had no idea he wouldn't be coaching the Panthers anymore) helped cover most of the potential plot holes. Buddy, Joe McCoy and company made sure that any kid with even a vague amount of football experience would be placed on the "west" side of town, which leaves Eric with nothing but scrubs like Landry or untrained athletes like Vince. And so the understandably desperate composition of the East Dillon Lions led to that stunning, typically "Friday Night Lights" spine-tingling, sequence in the locker room at halftime, with the Lions looking like they'd just stormed the beaches at Normandy, and Eric walking from casualty to casualty, trying to comfort each wounded, shell-shocked boy, and slowly recognizing that the only thing he could do for them was to spare them another 30 minutes of beating.
What a rough start to this new chapter of Eric Taylor's career. What a (typically) amazing performance by Kyle Chandler, who was just as good in quiet scenes like that as in loud, frothing-at-the-mouth moments like his rant to the jerk with the gold chains. Frankly, it's amazing he didn't scare away the entire team in that moment, particularly since most of these are guys with no experience in organized football, or in being yelled at by men like Eric Taylor. And you can see how much the frustration, and desperation, of his new job was fueling that rant, and how instantly he regretted it.
And while Eric is struggling to make something of the Lions, Tami finds herself in among some metaphorical lions, as she's stuck hanging with Joe McCoy, Wade Aikman and the rest of the horrible gang at West Dillon - not to mention taking all the blame from parents mad that their kids are going to East Dillon.(*) I loved seeing her take a tiny measure of revenge on Wade by not only choosing tails, but asking for the Panthers to start with the ball. It doesn't get her husband his job back, but in desperate circumstances, you have to take pleasure in the little things, and I always love watching Connie Britton play Tami smiling through well-hidden rage.
(*) Okay, so one obvious nitpick: didn't Tami say that both schools would get a lot of state money if the town agreed to the redistricting plan? Regardless of where all the best football players go, shouldn't East Dillon be less of a pit than it's being sold as?
As we move between two different high schools, and work in graduated characters like Riggins and Saracen, there's not a ton of time for the newbies, so we only get brief glimpses of Michael B. Jordan as Vince, and of Madison Burge as anthem-singing Becky, with the two other new regulars not turning up until next week's episode. And that slow integration is smart, especially since, much as I love both characters/actors, I'm not sure how much room the show really has for our two alums at this point. (That's more of an issue in episode two than here, though, so we'll deal with that next week.)
Like I said in the column, JD McCoy's heel turn was way over-the-top, particularly when he snarls, "This is my Dillon now!" (Shades of this infamous teen drama line?) I can see how he would resent Coach and even Matt after what happened in the last two episodes of last season, but they took a character who was compelling ambiguous last year and turned him into a cheesey mustache-twirler, and who's now 100 percent on his abusive dad's side.
But a few nitpicks aside (and I'll get to one or two more in the bullet points), this was a terrific return to Dillon, east or west.
Some other thoughts:
• I think that the moment where the Panthers assistant coach came to join Eric's threadbare coaching staff would have had more impact if we had any idea who this guy was, or even a name. But Mac's the only assistant coach to get any real screen time in the earlier seasons, so hopefully Random Guy and Crazy Stan will get a bit more developed as members of the Lions.
• Love that Tim once again finds himself in bed with a MILF. Did he and Lyla decided not to bother with the losing proposition of a long-distance relationship, or is this just Riggins being Riggins?
• Louanne Stephens remains a comedy machine as Grandma Saracen. "Landry? Stop throwing the ball. You look like a girl."
• "East of Dillon" seemed to have a higher concentration than normal of scenes where male characters are rolling around the floor fighting each other. An easy way to illustrate the tension in town, I suppose.
What did everybody else think?