"I'm offering you all I got. This is not just about football. Think about that." -CoachNow that Matt Saracen has placed Dillon in his rearview mirror, the latest episode of season four focuses on the characters who are still stuck in town, and focuses on new bonds being forged or old ones being strengthened.
Eric learns to place some trust in Vince over the gun situation, and Vince responds in kind. Julie leans on Landry and an extra-curricular overload to get her over Matt's abrupt departure. Landry realizes that the long distance thing with Tyra ain't happening and makes his move with Jess. After Becky's dad shows up briefly and turns out to be every bit the waste of a paternity test that Papa Riggins was to Tim and Billy, Tim steps further into the role of father figure for Becky, much as she'd like him to be interested in her in a different way. And Luke gets his dad to see the value of the football team in his life just an accident with the repaired fence and the cattle may sideline Luke from that team for a while.
And if Luke is out of commission, that's going to put even more of a burden on Vince - is the wildcat really the wildcat if one guy's taking all the snaps from center? - and his tenuous but growing relationship with Coach.
As I discussed around this point last season, one of the drawbacks of the 13-episode order, when combined with the show's desire to give its outgoing characters multi-episode send-offs, is that some storylines wind up with a lot of blanks left to be filled in by the audience. Vince's story here felt like it was either missing some pieces from his perspective, or else was designed to be told mostly from Eric's POV. In other words, Coach doesn't know if Vince has a gun at school, or why, or whether he's sliding back into the criminal life that landed him on the team, and therefore, neither do we. And if that's the plan, that's fine, but I'd like to get inside Vince's head more as the season goes along. We know from "The Wire" that Michael B. Jordan's good enough actor to carry whatever they want to throw at him here, and with Luke potentially sidelined and Landry a scrub-slash-kicker, the only other good active Lion that we know might be helpful, fry-mooching Tinker.
Landry has less time to work on his kicking game, as he winds up a one-man support system for Julie, who's still struggling to deal with Matt's departure, then hit harder when she learns that she (currently) comes in behind Grandma and Shelby on Matt's priority call list.
There was a time early in the series where I would have lumped Aimee Teegarden in with Taylor Kitsch and Minka Kelly as the cast's obvious weak links. But Kitch is now an indispensable part of the show, and it's been a long time since Teegarden hasn't been up to the challenge of a script. (Kelly? Well, at least the writers figured out how to write around her limitations.) Julie's reaction to hearing that Matt called someone other than her, and her trembling trip to the podium during Academic Smackdown!(*) were wonderfully played. We've been so focused on Matt's departure that it's easy to forget the girlfriend he left behind; this episode made forgetting Julie impossible.
(*) Vince McMahon has taught me that the word Smackdown! must be both capitalized and accompanied by an exclamation point. Who am I to argue with the man who made stars of the likes of Haku and The Brooklyn Brawler?
Of our four new characters, Becky has been the least integrated into the world as a whole. Other than her brief, currently on hold flirtation with Luke, she's appeared almost exclusively with Riggins. But even if she's still on the outskirts of the series, it's hard not to feel sympathy for her after an episode like this one, and also to see how complicated her relationship with Tim is going to get. She's crushing on him madly; he's not interested. Becky worships her daddy; Tim sees the guy as an exact replica of his own deadbeat dad, and while he's not necessarily wrong, it's clear Tim's taking out some anger towards Walt when he picks a fight he knows he can win with this guy. And by shattering Becky's illusions about her dad, Tim might chse her away (not in a way he intended), or he might make her lean harder on him than ever.
Lots going on here. Lots of characters in flux, and lots of potential for the latter half of the season.
Some other thoughts:
• Because there are so many new and old characters to service, and because Adrianne Palicki wasn't available to stop by this season the way Minka Kelly did, our closure (for now) on the Landry/Tyra romance has to come via a one-sided phone call. But it felt right to me (even if the show/Landry maybe waited too long to make that call), because as good as Tyra could be at times, and as much as she cared for Landry, she also was desperate to get the hell out of Dillon without looking back, and she has a history of treating Landry badly even though he went on a five-state killing spree for her that one time. So while it makes me sad that she didn't even have the courtesy to write a "Dear Lance" e-mail or text message, I buy that she would have moved on with her life and tried not to look back. (Or that she looked back but didn't have the heart to tell Landry it was over, possibly out of fear that he might kill her.)
• We've established a pattern by now that Billy Riggins is both none-too-bright and a little too eager to try on a life of crime when his finances get tight. So I can buy that he would let himself get drawn into Angry Necklace Guy's pitch about turning Riggins Rigs into a chop shop, and this could potentially tie Tim to Vince down the road, when for now the only new character he has a relationship with is Becky. But season two has made me incredibly wary of this show dabbling in crime, you know?
• And what are we to make of the final scene, with Tim and the renamed Skeeter stopping by a large piece of ranching property for sale? Is Tim going to take the Riggins Rigs cow and start his own cattle operation?
• As we see, West Dillon (formerly Dillon High) has its own Smackdown! team, so how did Landry the chess club nerd not know about it?
• Barry Tubb, who plays Luke's dad, knows a thing or two about TV ranching, as he played a supporting role in the original "Lonesome Dove" miniseries and the "Return to Lonesome Dove" sequel.
• When we met Glenn at the start of season two, I wondered if the writers were going to have him throw himself at Tami while Eric was still commuting to and from TMU. Two seasons later, he finally does it, fueled by booze and tequila and a blue ribbon award for West Dillon, which clearly has as many academic advantages over East Dillon as it does athletic ones. Tami's response to this, both in the moment and the next day (after Glenn has an attack of liberal guilt and says, "It's like I mouth-raped you!") was yet another example of how great this woman is under pressure.
Just a reminder, this is the last original episode to air until January 6, in the usual timeslot, Wednesday at 9 p.m. on DirecTV's 101 Network.
What did everybody else think?